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Open Letter to the President

Honourable President Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa

Dear President Ramaphosa

We write to you as youth collectively concerned about the future of our world, particularly the ocean, air and environment all living things rely on. We are just a few out of the millions of youthful South Africans who are conscious of the state we live in. Inspired by the sentiment of heroes past, we aspire to play a role in building a better future for our country. To this end Mr President, we seek to bring to your attention a host of environmental issues as well as the dangerous move conducted by Minister Gwede Mantashe last year December which lifted the moratorium on Offshore Hydrocarbon Exploration. Ill-advisedly and unwittingly, Mr Mantashe and the larger South African governing body, are betraying the social compact between the government and those of us who are young as well as those yet to-be-born.

South Africa is one of the most unequal societies in the world. An inequality that strongly emerges in the face of inescapable natural disasters and adverse weather events brought about by a changing climate, as evidenced by what has befallen us here in KwaZulu-Natal and in Mozambique. One does not have to look very far back to recount the devastation brought about by the drought in the Western Cape, the severe sea storms of KZN in 2017 and the now annual assault of wildfires that affect the garden route. As stated, the effects of climate change are felt most by those who have caused the least harm – the poor, ultimately costing the government and relief organizations severely. It therefore makes little economic sense to invest in industries which exacerbate climate change, as immense externalized costs eventually emerge down the value chain. The United Nations in fact, stipulate that $2.2tn (R30.4tn) of fossil fuel projects are at risk of stranding, i.e. being left valueless as the market for fossil fuels shrinks.

Concrete, peer reviewed, globally accepted evidence supports the influence of climate change on weather and our people are not prepared for it. Specific to SouthAfrica, research shows that climate change is moving economically viable fish stocks such as anchovy, round herring and sardines in an eastward direction, there is a southward movement of spotted grunter among other fish, an increase in the occurrence of algal blooms which are detrimental to west coast rock lobsters and an overall increase in dangerous wind conditions in the Southern Cape.These impacts do not occur in isolation. Profitable and sustainable industries such as tourism, fishing, hospitality and agriculture are compromised due to the harmful impacts of climate change. South Africa once had to take unpopular but necessary decisions to address malignant, institutionalized racism. It can be argued that this situation is not altogether dissimilar. 

For a long time, the petroleum, coal and other fossil fuel industries have perpetuated this inequality by denying or diminishing the extent of climate change, subsequently trivializing the environmental and socioeconomic insecurity faced by so many. But dear President, this is not news to you. As the country’s first citizen, you are privy to the geopolitical utterances made at high level congregations like the G20, G7 and BRICS summits you are obligated to attend. Climate change being a persistent issue at these gatherings must surely warrant the same decisive action we took against racism.

Sadly our very own government ministries such as the Departments of Mineral Resources, Energy and Environmental Affairs, through the goggles of sunset industry development, are creating an enabling environment for adverse climate impacts, not just limited to those being born in the future. Many vulnerable and unprepared South Africans are already experiencing the dreadful repercussions of a fossil fuel reliant global economy today, via the impacts of accelerated climate change.

Honourable President we would like to raise a few salient points of order to make our case:

  • Abstraction of Natural Gas to be used as a transition fuel is one of the justifications for Oil and Gas sector development. However, natural gas must undergo refining from gas to liquid to be more readily economized and transported. Natural Gas in both gaseous and liquid forms is a fossil fuel product, comprised largely of methane which is non-replenishable and not-climate neutral, as methane has a high global warming potential. Critics in years past have concluded that “natural gas” is eco-friendlier than coal, though it is a flawed energy source. 
  • In South Africa however, the flaws do not just end with liquefied natural gas (LNG) as an energy source. Oil Refineries, like coal mines, have materially and physiologically deprived the peripheral poor who work and live near these polluting industries for generations to come. Regions like Mpumalangaand the South Durban Basinsuffer from prolific air pollution and the related health issues. Recent research shows us that particulate and gaseous pollution has a very long-term impact. Air pollution, for example, has been linked to a substantial decline in cognitive performance, which translates into a crippling of basic competencies of the next generation of South Africans. We are literally allowing the pollution of countries future gene pool.
  • It is correct for all of us to be in a desperate scramble to divest from fossil fuels like coal and therefore save lives; however decision makers in working groups must make sure not to inadvertently compromise the hydrological security of arid regions like the Karoo whilst also ensuring that more South Durban Basins are not created by the pursuit and refining of “Natural Gas”. Those decision makers also need to ensure not to transfer the burden from the “flawed energy source” consequence onto us, the youth who will inherit the future.
  • Active South Africans are aware that the renewable transition is complicated by the loss of livelihoods that may occur once coal mines, coal fire power stations and hopefully oil refineries close. A livelihood loss that Unions have rallied against, despite it being in their best interests climatically. Mr. President you are therefore stuck in a catch 22 position where the need for rapid fossil fuel divestment is countered by the need for livelihood security by a fossil fuel dependent workforce. We believe that in the midst of this impasse, an avenue emerges for a Just, logical transition away from fossil fuel extractivism towards sustainable industries such as those in the renewable energy, tourism and agriculture sectors.
  • Being such a topical issue, land restitution has a role to play in achieving this transition. The youth, like most South Africans we hope, are cognizant that land redress is underpinned by the need for rectification of previous, present and perpetual dispossession of dignity. The process however is being observed from conservative corners as unwarranted, but legislated, chastisement for past injustices, subsequently brewing societal discord. Mr. President, the concept of the renewable transition may be employed as a “green” supplementary impetus for consolidating national conviction towards land reform. Let our people work the land towards sustainable industries in the name of combatting climate change and once more make South Africa a beacon of transformation at a fundamental level. 
  • Ricocheting from a growing malcontent towards environmentally unsound industrialized agriculture and the employment fallout from the inevitable fossil fuel divestment, extractive manual laboring in mines and power stations should be replaced with more wholesome labor-intensive permaculture, ecotourism and agroecology as a means to address critical contemporary issues. This is where the land debate should be directed and it may be accomplished in conjunction with a just energy transition facilitated by relying on science as well as the indigenous knowledge of our people. One only has to look to the people of Matatiele, the Mantis Assistance Project, African Conservation Trust and Gift of the Givers for selfless inspiration in this regard.
  • We have the capacity for alternatives here in South Africa, Mr President. Power Fuels, Hydrogen Fuel Cells (which can give the struggling platinum industry a reboot), as well as solar, tidal, wind, hydro, geothermal and concentrated solar (CSP) are all options before us.
  • As a first step in this direly necessary transition, please urge Mr. Mantashe to reinstate the moratorium on Offshore Hydrocarbon Exploration which threatens our oceans, air and future.

Madness was once defined as repeating the same process but expecting different results. The extractivism heavy mineral-energy complex, which the country’s economy was once built on, has led to the rampant disconnect we experience in society today. It would therefore be madness to double down on fossil fuel extractivism and expect a different result apart from further tearing of South Africa’s strained social fabric. The climate issue is no longer one of rich vs poor, black vs white, haves vs the have-nots. It transcends all societal boundaries and surely we will all suffer. Please take decisive action on fossil fuels Mr President.

Kind regards

Youth4ClimateAction – KwaZulu-Natal

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