Topic: Green Economy


There is growing international consensus on the need to harness green economy as one of the pathways towards achieving sustainable development, eradicate poverty and create jobs within the context of global climate change and degradation of ecosystems. The recently concluded Rio+20 Summit sought to find this common denominator by launching ‘‘Sustainable Development Goals’’ and laying down “the ground-breaking guidelines on applying green economy and growth policies as useful tools in advancing sustainable development and ending poverty”.[1]


The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) defines a green economy as one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities. In its simplest expression, a green economy can be thought of as one which is low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive. While the green economy emerged from a need to find lasting solutions to multiple global crises - notably global warming, climate change and degradation of ecosystems - it has the potential to help countries address many other pressing problems such as unemployment, income inequality, food security, energy insecurity and environmental degradation (e.g. water, soil and air quality). An influential study recently suggested that the number of green jobs in the world might increase from 2.3 to 20 million from 2006 to 2030 (UNEP/ILO 2008). This implies creation of 750,000 green jobs per year. China alone was estimated to have a potential to create 4.5 million jobs in the wind and solar power sectors by 2020.

African countries have justified the push for a transition to green economies on the basis that it would promote long term equitable growth, green and decent jobs, resource efficiency and sustainable production and consumption, human health and well-being[2]. For example, South Africa’s Green Economy Accord concluded by the tripartite parties of government, labour and industry estimates a potential to create 300,000 green jobs in the economy by 2020.  To effect this, the South African government established an 800 million Rand Green Economy Fund in 2012. Achieving a green economy requires different sets of actions by governments and private sector actors. For governments,  this includes inter alia: reforming institutions and policies to provide new incentives for green enterprises, green jobs, green products and services and green or sustainable investments; levelling the playing field for ‘green’ products, investments, sectors and industries by phasing out antiquated subsidies to ‘business as usual’ business models and codes of practice; strengthening infrastructure and market-based mechanisms;  greening public procurement and redirecting public investment towards green economy and sustainable development goals.

For the private sector, this would involve understanding and sizing the true costs and benefits represented by greening the economy across a number of sectors, and responding to policy reforms and price signals through higher levels of ‘green’ financing and investments(e.g. Green Bonds, Socially Responsible Investments (SRIs), Green Banking, Loans and other responsive financial instruments.[3]

Key Issues


How can a green economy contibute to sustainable development in Africa? The African Union (AU) has responded to this question by identifying four key thematic areas through which ‘greening the economy’ would contribute to sustainable development in Africa: through inclusive growth and poverty eradication; employment creation; food security; and by addressing resource scarcity and environmental risks.[4] The AU further identifies three key pathways towards  greeening the economy in Africa: building on natural capital assets, green opportunities for industrial growth and creating enabling policies and instituions.[5]

Whereas there is growing consensus and willingness on the part of many African countries to green their economies, a key question is whether African governments and private sector actors have the requisite capacities to do this. Transition to green economy must… be supported by a proper package of capacity building, technology transfer and financial assistance. The Rio+20 outcomes document -The Future We Want - recognizes this and dedicates a section to  issues of Green Capacity Development. The document emphasizes the need for enhanced capacity-building for sustainable development and calls for the strengthening of technical and scientific cooperation, including North-South, South-South and triangular cooperation.[6]



At the centre of the transition to a Green Economy is the need to address climate change. The primary policy approach in respect of climate change response is framed within the National Climate Change Response (NCCR) White Paper (2011). This document outlines strategic priorities, provides direction for action and delineates responsibilities for the different spheres of Government. Section 10.2.6 notes the key role of Local Government as a site of climate change response delivery flowing from its responsibilities as detailed in the objectives and powers and functions accorded to Local Government in the Constitution of South Africa (108 of 1996) and the Municipal Systems (32 of 2000) and Structures (117 of 1998) Acts.

Municipalities are expected to plan and respond to climate change in the midst of facing challenges such as the inability to predict with certainty the future conditions to which adaptation is needed, limited skills and capacity at the local level and pressing short-term needs drawing on limited municipal funds. It is against this backdrop, that a need to prepare South African municipalities towards transition in the field of green economy emerges.

South Africa has a fairly long list of Green Economy related policies and programmes, most of which are recent, including: the Long Term Mitigation Scenario, New Growth Path, South Africa Renewables Initiative, Industrial Policy and Action Plan 2; Medium Term Strategic Framework, National Solar Water Heating Strategic Framework, Draft Carbon Tax Option, Integrated Resources Plan (2010-2030), National Climate Change Response Strategy, National Development Plan -Vision for 2030, Renewable Energy Feed-In Tariff Regulations, National Energy Efficiency Strategy, Green Economy Accord, Atlases (including Wind, Carbon Capture and Storage, Solar, and Risk and Vulnerability), the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), CDP Water, Energy Efficiency Accord and King III.

Contributions to the Green Economy go further than our choices for energy and transportation; and require active and sustained investment in protecting the natural environment. Water resources, functional ecosystems and biodiversity have emerged as critical inputs to both rural and urban livelihoods and wellbeing. Moreover, programmes such as the Expanded Public Works Programme, which encapsulates initiatives such as Working for Water, Working for Wetlands and Working on Fire continue to create significant numbers of jobs and opportunities for skills development and the growth of small to medium enterprises. Continued investment in ecosystem-based adaptation and conservation practices will set us on a vital path to meeting employment and sustainable development goals.

Critical Success Factors


Although the greatest gains made in the transition to a green economy will be in actual projects; SALGA recognises that a policy environment that enables a smooth transition is necessary. In an effort to complement the work of Department of Environmental Affairs in modelling, i.e. The South African Green Economy Modelling (SAGEM)  Report; SALGA has initiated a local government benchmarking process to draw lessons of best practice in green economy endeavours in local government. This benchmarking study will establish the level of engagement our municipalities have with the Green Economy; the policy imperatives they have put in place; as well as the progress they have made in implementing projects that contribute to the green economy and meet development goals such as green jobs; energy efficiency and resource optimisation. A key outcome of this study will be a Best Practice Model to support policy alignment within municipalities to entrench and implement the Green Economy Accord, whilst reducing the carbon footprint of municipal operations and meeting primary development goals.

Whilst comprehensive policies are necessary, and greater investment in cleaner production is imperative; information and the commensurate knowledge that it creates are critical. To this end, SALGA has developed a knowledge programme for local government on the Green Economy. This programme, which commenced in August 2013, comprises a series of seminars for local government practitioners on the institutional, capacity and investments required to support the transition of our country to a low carbon economy. These seminars draw on best practices and research generated by our partnership with UNISA and Exxaro, and presents a solid foundation for local government to explore their contributions in driving the green economy. The month of October saw the conclusion of seminars, held in nine provinces, and the inception of the second phase of the knowledge drive upon which SALGA and its partners have embarked. The second phase is anticipated to be a programme of learning and exchange between municipalities towards crafting SALGA as a knowledge hub of local government excellence in delivering on the Green Economy promise.

Look out for a continuation of the seminar series in the next year, with a list of topics that will include the following:


  • Green economy readiness: A national level perspective
  • Green economy readiness and provincial government
  • Green economy readiness and local government
  • Green economy readiness and corporate South Africa
  • Green economy readiness and labour



SALGA wishes to acknowledge that intellectual property, enthusiasm and content of Professor G. Nhamo; the Exxaro Chair in the University of South Africa (UNISA). Professor Nhamo is a key contributor to this piece, and a firm partner of SALGA in the knowledge drive and a thought leader on governance and the green economy.

SALGA also wishes to acknowledge the efforts and dedication of the Centre of Municipal Research and Advice (CMRA) team as key partners in the Green Economy Benchmarking programme.

[1] Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Secretary-General of The 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20).

[2] See Malawi Statement to the Rio+20 Summit; Keynote address by His Excellency, Mr. Jacob Zuma, President of the Republic of South Africa, at the Green Economy Summit, Sandton Convention Centre, Johannesburg

[3] UNEP, (2011), Towards a Green Economy: Pathways to Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication - A Synthesis for Policy Makers, p8

[4] UNECA (2011) A green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication: What are the implications for Africa?

[5] UNECA (2011).

[6] UNCSD (2012). Rio+20 Outcomes of the Conference: The Future We Want.


Practical Knowledge

Title & Detailssort descending User Ranking Popularity
A Guidebook to the Green Economy
Author(s): Cameron Allen, Stuart Clouth
Year: 2012
Format: Guidelines
No votes yet
City of Cape Town Smart Building Handbook: A guide to green building in Cape Town
Year: 2012
Format: Guidelines
Average: 5 (4 votes)
Framework and Tools for Assessing and Understanding the Green Economy at the Local Level
Author(s): Randall W. Eberts
Year: 2011
Format: Guidelines
Average: 3 (4 votes)

Theoretical Knowledge