As one of the world’s biggest carbon-emitters dependent on coal for 80% of its electricity, South Africa’s pivot to renewable energy, as part of a just transition, is imperative.
Through its event for International Human Rights Day ‘Accelerating a Just Transition through Human rights,’ Earthlife Africa Johannesburg highlights the urgent need to recognise the intersection between climate change and our human rights.
While unpacking the disappointing outcomes of COP26, the panel of climate justice experts, including Former Amnesty International Head Kumi Naidoo, reminded activists that the people must have a stake in addressing the climate emergency.
According to Earthlife Africa’s Makoma Lekalakala, “The human rights violations resulting from government’s persistent inertia on climate action and its ongoing obsession with fossil fuels, mean more activists defending nature, are needed. However, ecojustice activists are under attack since we are often painted as being anti-development. But how, in the face of a looming climate catastrophe, can we continue with business as usual, destroying our natural environment and violating people’s rights at every turn?”
“In this country, it seems that preference is given to money and profits, over the lives and livelihoods of people or the health of our natural environment, which we need to live. The protection of our environmental activists has never been more important. Last year, from what was reported by Global Witness, 227 eco justice activists were killed around the world, as a result of the work they do. In South Africa. Fikile Ntshangase, who was murdered in her home for opposing a local coal project. We also remember ‘Bazooka’ Radebe, killed in 2016, and many others whose deaths were not reported or linked to them opposing extractives.”
Ambassador for African Rising for Justice, Peace & Dignity Kumi Naidoo says, “You have a simple choice. You are either part of the solution or you are part of the problem. The struggle for justice is a marathon, not a sprint. Those fossil fuel giants responsible and benefitting from the injustices, they will fight tooth and nail to maintain the status quo and their economic advantage. This is a time to intensify, agitate resistance to injustice, in a peaceful way. This moment calls for moral courage. What inspires me now is seeing the power of young people, they are speaking out most strongly. Do not undermine your actions. No matter how small it may seem, do something. Not everything that counts can be measured, and not everything that can be measured counts.”
Naidoo says, “We urgently need systems change and not climate change. We must remember, there are no jobs, no human beings, and no human rights on a dead planet. We all must develop the mentality that we are all leaders. People must recognise that they still have power, and we must reclaim it. Given that we are at a global average temperature of 1.1 ̊C, and that we may not even survive 1.5 C warming. With such little time left, where best do we allocate our resources?”
GenderCC’s Ndivile Mokoena, also on the panel, says, “Human rights should be at the centre of all climate action and women should be at the forefront. This is a critical moment in our world’s history and the people must be involved in the decisions around climate action. The time has come for our country’s decision-makers to recognise the emergency for what it is and start to look forward to the role all citizens should play to address these crises. We need more innovative thinking and a desire to explore the possibilities that come with renewable energy, instead of being stuck in our old ways. The transition to renewable energy is inevitable, but by avoiding it during this crucial time, government, has become an obstacle and reducing how equitable and just it is.”
Greenpeace Africa Climate And Energy Campaigner Nhlanhla Sibisi says:
“We need to remind those in power that we see their corrupt actions, and they cannot silence us! We must be both bold and courageous in calling them out. Mine comes from the heart because I cannot tolerate intolerance when it comes to protecting our environment.”
Earthlife Africa’s Thabo Sibeko adds, “Access to clean, safe, and affordable energy is a basic human right, just as the right to clean water. However, the ongoing financing and licensing of coal mega-projects, which are water-intensive and cause pollution, while destroying ecosystems and the environment, is a violation of people’s basic human rights. Mpumalanga and Limpopo. These people’s lives are being ruined by deadly air and a disintegrating environment.”
“With the Covid-19 pandemic taking the foreground for the past 2 years, we should not forget that many people are struggling to access basic human needs covered in both the South African Bill of Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Access to clean water, free basic electricity and a clean and healthy environment is still a struggle for many in South Africa. The violation of people’s rights has reached pandemic proportions. While Covid-19 rampages across the globe, our environment has taken a backseat,” says Earthlife Africa’s Ulrich Steenkamp.