One of the most important challenges facing South Africa and the world in general, is the need to meet the socio-economic needs of citizens without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
This sustainable development challenge encompasses two aspects: equity within the present generation which looks at how people living today can all have access to at least a similar basic standard of living; and equity between the present and future generations which looks at how future generations can have a similar (or better) standard of living compared to those living today.
The main problem affecting the ability of future generations to meet their own needs is the ability of the environment to continue to supply the resources and deal with the waste generated by present generations.
The more this generation takes non-renewable resources from the environment, the less there will be for future generations to use. The more this generation pollutes the environment and damages its ability to deal with such waste, the more future generations will have to live in a poisoned world.
The government’s Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative of South Africa (ASGISA) plan, launched in 2006, looks at the first of these aspects of equity within this generation, but is silent on the second aspect of equity between generations.
The plan sets itself the objective of halving unemployment and poverty by 2014 by growing the economy at 4.5% - 6% of Gross Domestic Product a year. The plan also identifies six initiatives, ranging from infrastructure development, skills development and second economy interventions, but none of these consider if resources will be available for this growth path into the future and how the waste will be dealt with.
As a result, the plan does not consider if future generations will also be able to fulfill themselves and address their own needs.
The ASGISA plan as it currently stands is likely to lead to future generations having, for example:
- less ability to transport themselves and their goods from place to place as transport costs increase with ever-rising fuel costs;
- more food shortages and higher food prices as climate chaos leads to more extreme weather conditions like floods and droughts which disrupt food growing;
- less ability to make a living from farming as soil fertility is reduced due to over-reliance on petroleum-based chemicals;
- more diseases like malaria as areas of infections shift due to changes in global temperatures;
- more water-borne diseases as water pollution increases due to sewerage and industrial contamination; and
- less access to life-giving water as more is taken from dams for present industrial uses, than is available.
The ruling ANC’s 2009 election manifesto is similarly strong on the issue of equity within this generation with an emphasis on decent work, health, education, crime reduction and rural development: but it is relatively weak when it comes to equity between generations with only passing reference made to ‘green’ jobs, and building sustainable communities.
The governments own National Framework for Sustainable Development (link to http://www.environment.gov.za/HotIssues/2008/nfsd/nfsd.html ) approved in July 2008 includes a principle that basic human needs must be met in a way that ensures resources necessary for long-term survival are not destroyed for short-term gain.
The Long Term Mitigation Scenarios, approved by cabinet in July 2008, also point to the need to develop the economy within a sustainable development framework that takes the needs of future generations into account.
The plan sets out how reductions in greenhouse gas emissions can be achieved. As the then Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, Marthinus Van Schalkwyk, said in his media statement at the time, “government’s vision (for meeting the challenges of climate change in the decades to come) and the implementation of this policy framework will be the best insurance policy current and future generations will have against the potentially devastating impacts of climate change”.
The fact that the government’s current development planning document, ASGISA, and the ruling political party’s new election manifesto are both silent on equity between generations, while other arms of government give serious consideration to how development can be sustainable, highlights the urgent need for more co-ordinated planning within government.
The new National Planning Commission in the President’s Office is welcomed and it is hoped that one of its first tasks will be to ensure that all existing and future government plans include both objectives of equity within and between generations.
Ronald Eglin is a Senior Projects Co-ordinator at Afesis-corplan. This article was first published in the June-July 2009 edition of The Transformer and is republished here with permission from Afesis-corplan.