A climate-smart Nelson Mandela Bay makes business sense
The pledge signed in January by multiple local stakeholders, committing to work together to build a climate-smart city, marked a huge milestone for Nelson Mandela Bay.
Representatives of organised business, civil society, the youth, higher education, the NMB municipality and the Presidential Climate Commission (PCC) pledged to participate in a collaborative process towards a climate resilient development strategy (CRDS) for the Bay.
The aim — to build resilience, enabling the metro to withstand the impacts of climate change while using the opportunity to forge new, green economic pathways that maximise our bounty of human and natural resources.
More than merely the signing of a document, the launch of the CRDS process at the Mendi Centre in New Brighton two weeks ago was significant for a number of reasons.
First, as PCC executive director Crispian Olver put it at the launch, this climate-smart initiative is “not just about a bunch of greenies — if we are serious about climate resilience, we have to work with industry to ensure an enabling environment for their operations now and into the future”.
At the same time, as we prepare for the physical impacts of climate change, both in terms of adaptation and resilience of public infrastructure and services, and of sustainable use of environmental resources, the world economy is also radically changing.
Technological advances in general are changing the way we work and do business, and specifically the technology to support transition to net zero carbon emissions by 2050 is rapidly evolving.
The shift of global automotive manufacturing to new energy vehicles (NEVs, powered by electricity, hydrogen, and so on) is a crucial concern for our metro.
Solar photovoltaic and other renewable energy technologies are evolving fast, along with development and manufacturing of new types of batteries for renewable energy storage.
All these new types of vehicles and technologies are fast becoming cost-competitive and more accessible, and the world’s developing economies — including SA — are in competition to host development and expansion of these future value chains. (We should not fool ourselves that being part of Brics is about collaboration only; we are also in competition.)
Thus, protecting existing investments and jobs, as well as attracting new investments in new kinds of manufacturing, technology and services, developing the skills to meet new job opportunities, with an enabling environment including energy security and efficient logistics — all of these are crucial, and mean that business, labour and civil society must be at the table in partnership with the “greenies”.
Which is exactly what this initiative to develop our metro’s climate-resilience is doing, with the aim of an inclusive, socially and economically just transition.
Everyone needs to be brought along so that real progress can be made in addressing issues of job creation and poverty alleviation.
Which brings us to the second point of significance. The initiative to build a climate-smart and resilient city has emanated, and is being built, from the ground up; rather than being a top-down, government-imposed initiative.
While the current work does build on the municipality’s 2015 Climate Change and Green Economy Action Plan, it also has a baseline in the 2021 climate risk assessment by then Business Chamber president and Wilderness Foundation Africa CEO Andrew Muir.
And, crucially, these latest developments have come about through role players in business, environmental and other civil society organisations, and the education sector, along with local and national government, working to build consensus and willingness to collaborate.
The PCC began engaging with local stakeholders on the climate challenges facing the metro about 18 months ago and found multi-stakeholder collaboration and commitment already in progress, providing a solid foundation for forging an inclusive path.
They have appointed a team of local experts to assess the best science and data on the metro as it relates to climate change, and to engage as wide a range of stakeholders as possible to develop the strategy framework — hence the launch of the process and the pledge signing two weeks ago.
Now begins the process of research, stakeholder engagement and public participation in drafting the strategy framework, set for completion in early 2025.
A third element of significance is the heartening sense of urgency and speed with which initial discussions with the PCC have moved to concrete action.
Too often, talks and plans just lead to more talks and more planning, with little action and implementation.
The commitment behind the pledge is to action.
Given that development of the Bay’s climate-resilient strategy is being driven by local experts and a broad range of local stakeholders, which will be further built out, we are confident that these concerned and committed role players will not allow this plan to gather dust.
It is clear, and agreed by all, that in the face of climate change impacts and the fundamentally changing nature of the Bay’s economy, that working collaboratively, spreading the load and sharing expertise and resources is our best route to turning potential adversity into new opportunity.
Which is why the Business Chamber established a local economy reinvention think tank in 2023 to proactively develop a local response to the huge global and local economic changes and environmental challenges.
Our efforts to reinvent the economy — and our manufacturing sector in particular — ties in perfectly with where the PCC and diverse local stakeholders are going in terms of positioning the Bay as a climate resilient city, seeing the potential of this metro as a model for climate change response in other centres.
That is the final point of significance — that the Bay can lead the way in building a better economic and environmental future for all.
Kelvin Naidoo is manufacturing and technical executive at Auto X, vice-president of the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber, and board lead for the Local Economy Reinvention Think Tank.
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