EASTERN Cape economic environment MEC Mcebisi Jonas yesterday announced significant new green economy investment to boost green economy skills in the province. Briefing media during the Eastern Cape Climate Change Conference in East London yesterday (June 09 2011) Jonas said the commitments were geared to improve the skills of officials managing green economy projects in the Eastern Cape, to give them their best shot at accessing the national finance minister's R220-billion job stimulus fund.
Just how much the new Eastern Cape funders are committing to will likely become clearer today (June 10) after a second scheduled meeting, but Jonas was clearly delighted.
"It is significant financial backing. It appears like the spirit of the Eastern Cape Climate Change Conference is spreading all over, including amongst the funding community," he said.
Commitments came from five major donors including the Development Bank of South Africa which, it is understood, will be supporting the creation of a spekboom corridor linking Baviaanskloof, Addo and Great Fish game reserves. The initiative is part of the Spekbom Project, unveiled on Wednesday, which is aimed at restoring biodiversity, protecting water catchments, creating jobs, sequestering CO2 and creating the opportununity for carbon trade.
Jonas said that, in line with the East London industrial development zone's aim of "becoming a green IDZ", it had committed itself to supporting four green projects. Chief among these was a technical centre which will concentrate on renewable energy skills training. This centre will in turn link with a school climate change programme, he said.
A third major donor is the UN and the SA chief of the global agency is himself due here today (Friday June 10). It is understood that the agreement will focus on unlocking the economic development potential of the Wild Coast, with emphasis on eco-tourism, strengthening protected areas, and involving communities.
Earlier, Dr Alan Carter, the lead writer of the Eastern Cape Climate Change Response Strategy, on which much of the conference deliberations are focusing, said that the province "is faced with a unique window of opportunity".
"Globally, we are moving from an era of reliance on what was produced by the industrial revolution..... to renewable energy. It's a huge challenge with huge opportunities. But we have to move fast if we want to seize our market share. Who is going to be the green manufacturing hub for the country? Is it going to be us or is another province going to be quicker off the mark?"
One contribution that received delighted applause came from Port Elizabeth political and environmental activist Janet Cherry who was at the conference representing Transition Network PE. Cherry said she had committed herself to not getting rid of her old motorcar "until I can replace it with an electrical vehicle".
She challenged the rest of the delegates to do the same, and also called on the motor industry to work faster to produce an electric vehicle, that does not rely on burning fossil fuels, arguing that it was a big opportunity for the province because of the strong presence of the motor sector.
Audible above the debate here over the last two days has been the sound of the heavy rain on the roof of the convention centre. East London usually has its rain in Summer, brought by a south-west wind -- so this deluge, driven in by a north-easterly, is completely uncharacteristic, Carter noted.
"Along with this situation, one could note that farmers in the Free State (also a Summer rainfall area) are right now struggling to harvest their crops because of their heavy rains.
"This is one example of the catastrophe that would result if we allowed climate change to continue unchecked. There is no doubt that dealing with it is an urgent necessity."
While the prediction is that climate change will make South Africa "drier in the south-west and wetter in the north-east" it is predicted further that the ferocity and frequency of storms, droughts and floods alike will increase in line with the global trend.
South Africa has committed itself to ensuring a peak in 2020 for greenhouse gas emissions, which drive climate change, followed by a plateau period -- and then decline from 2036. The EC response strategy is formulated around these targets.
A mark of the conference has been its open-ness, with regular criticism of government's support for energy-intensive industry coming from the floor, although the conference is being hosted by Bhisho and there is a strong government presence here.