Development aid: Enemy of emancipation?

Published on Pambazuka News, by Firoze Manji, February 17, 2011.

Painting the country as both a contributor to and potential victim of global climate change, South Africa’s green paper ‘seems to fit within an all too predictable Pretoria formula’, writes Patrick Bond. It’s up to civil society to demand genuine solutions … //

… South Africa’s Green Paper authors obviously weren’t paying attention to the markets, in arguing, ‘Limited availability of international finance for large scale fossil fuel infrastructure in developing countries is emerging as a potential risk for South Africa’s future plans for development of new coal fired power stations.’ If so then why did Pretoria just borrow US$3.75 billion from the World Bank, with around US$1 billion more expected from the US Ex-Im Bank and $1.75 billion just raised from the international bond markets? The North’s financiers are as short-sighted about coal investments as they were about credit derivatives, real estate, dot.coms, emerging markets and the carbon markets. 

The Green Paper is also laced with false solutions. For example, attempting to ‘kick start and stimulate the renewable energy industry’ requires ‘Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) projects.’ Yet the miniscule €14/tonne currently being paid to the Durban methane-electricity conversion at three local landfills shows the futility of the CDM, not to mention the historic injustice of keeping Bisasar Road’s dump (Africa’s largest) open in spite of resident objections to environmental racism.

Similarly dubious policy ideas include ‘a nuclear power station fleet with a potential of up to 10 GWh by 2035 with the first reactors being commissioned from 2022’ and, just as dangerously, a convoluted waste incineration strategy that aims to ‘facilitate energy recovery’ through ‘negotiation of appropriate carbon-offset funding.’

Talking left (with high-minded intent) to walk right (for the sake of unsustainable crony-capitalist profiteering) is a long-standing characteristic of African nationalism, as Frantz Fanon first warned of in The Wretched of the Earth in 1961. But the Green Paper fibs way too far, claiming that SA will achieve an ‘emissions peak in 2020 to 2025 at 34% and 42% respectively below a business as usual baseline.’

Earthlife Africa’s Tristen Taylor already reminded Yawitch in 2009 that the ‘baseline’ was actually called ‘Growth Without Constraints’ (GWC) in an earlier climate policy paper: ‘GWC is fantasy, essentially an academic exercise to see how much carbon South Africa would produce given unlimited resources and cheap energy prices.’ Officials had already conceded GWC was ‘neither robust nor plausible’ in 2007, leading Taylor to conclude, ‘The SA government has pulled a public relations stunt.’

And if, realistically, we consider South Africa’s entire climate policy as a stunt, required so as to not lose face at the Conference of Polluters’ global meeting, then the antidote (short of Tunisia/Egypt-style bottom-up democracy) is louder civil society demands for genuine solutions not found in the Green Paper:

  • Turning off the aluminium smelters so as to forego more coal-fired plants, while ensuring Green Jobs for all affected workers (such as solar hot-water heater manufacture);
  • Direct regulation of the biggest point emitters starting with Sasol and Eskom, compelling annual declines until we cut 50 percent by 2020;
  • Strengthening the Air Quality Act to name greenhouse gases as dangerous pollutants (as does even the US Environmental Protection Agency now); and
  • Dramatic, urgent increases in investments for public transport, renewable energy technology and retrofitting of buildings to lower emissions.

Those are the genuine solutions whose name cannot be spoken in South Africa’s climate policy, given the adverse balance of forces here, and everywhere. Changing that power balance is the task ahead for climate justice activism. (full long text).


Frantz Fanon Archive at;

2011, year of Frantz Fanon / 2011, année Frantz Fanon.

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