Wednesday 10 February 2016

SONA: Will Zuma Become a Climate Emergency President?

Published in the Conversation:

Author: Dr. Vishwas Satgar

If Zuma cast himself as a climate emergency president and statesman, 
this is what he would say

February 10, 2016 5.20pm SAST
Can  Zuma’s SONA Make Him a Climate Emergency President?

Post the Cold War  and in the age of high finance, the performance of narrow representative democratic politics has spawned three types of Presidential politics: (i) populist presidents from Berlusconi, Bush to Zuma. Policy is made on the hoof, is erratic, and there is no moral and intellectual leadership except to allow markets to rule (ii) the technocratic ruler guided by the numbers, markets  and keen to ensure policy-making is about certainty and the right signals. This is about being a manager of deep globalization. Clinton, Merckel and Mbeki epitomize this. (iii) then there is the statesman who is visionary, trying to ensure a home grown master narrative and a strategic class project, carrying a cross section of social forces and inventing innovative engagements to shape a globalized political economy.  Evo Morales and Mandela stand out in this regard.

Jacob Zuma’s speech can be statesmen like if he embraces and articulates the following three priorities. First, he calls for a new mode of governance to tackle the ecological crises facing the world, Africa and South Africa. In this regard he actively champions climate emergency governance as the starkest expression of this crisis, to ensure systemic adaptation and mitigation. He will not be the first in the world because threatened island states have already thrown up such leadership but he will certainly  be the first in Africa. This means the drought narrative is shifted away from  being part of a cycle or ‘national disaster’ but rather is cast as part of the new normal of climate shocks that requires a new paradigm of state practice, governance and citizenship. The drought with its destruction of agriculture, water challenges, heat waves and pressures on state capacity is a window into the future. He stakes out climate emergency governance  as a response to this worsening systemic crisis of capitalist civilization and the need for a deep just transition to sustain life. Central to this is reaffirming a non-racial approach to these challenges to unify  and ensure the survival of all South African’s.

Second, he affirms a policy shift to climate emergency governance. This means moving policy in the direction of a new metric of  sustaining life and a low carbon society. In this regard, he actively calls for transitional policies, that deepens mass initiative, such as climate jobs, a universal basic income grant (set at a high level to enable choice), integrated public transport, food sovereignty pathways, solidarity economies, participatory budgeting at municipal level, zero waste, socially owned renewables (including feedback tariffs as part of embedded generation , the lifting on the ceiling of renewables in the national energy mix and calls for the establishment for a socially owned renewables parastatal), rights of nature legislation, scaling up cooperative banking in every locale, a new sustainable water management framework, a suite of new progressive carbon taxes and the retrofitting of households, government buildings and private corporations with locally manufactured renewable energy technology.

At the same time, he announces an end to fracking and all nuclear deals. He sets a deadline to stop producing coal and  calls on unions to work with government to ensure workers utilize the climate jobs policy and universal basic income grant to leave behind dirty industries. A new  democratic planning Ministry and mechanism is introduced which works with local governments and which is central in streamlining government. It absorbs  trade and industry,  minerals, energy, environment, water, public transport, local government, agriculture and local development and the finance Ministries. He commits to dismantling provinces (governments, parliaments and the National Council of Provinces) through a constitutional amendment and which will be replaced with 3 inter-provincial administrations, calls for cuts on the spend on the department of foreign affairs, calls for a new policy on politicians salaries and perks so they are not so excessive and calls on the public services commission to improve working conditions for health professionals, teachers, municipal workers and government administrators as part of a new framework of professionalizing the public sector.

Finally, he announces a revamp of foreign policy which entails re-priorisiting Africa, instead of the BRICS. Africa is recognized as the continent that has and will be hardest heat by global warming. Yet it does not have the necessary finance, technology and institutional capacity to deal with this. Commitments made by Western countries to Africa, coming out of COP21, are dismal. Africa is meant to be a zone of climate chaos. Zuma challenges this calling  for an emphasis on developing a just transition and climate emergency plan for Africa, through the AU, and realigning all foreign engagements with this imperative.

All of this will not happen because Jacob Zuma is not a statesmen, the ANC-led Alliance is married to a fossil fuel and extractivist accumulation path and fixated  on a growth centred version  of  deep globalization. This  has not worked and is the opposite of remaking society to fit into ecological constraints to survive.. Finally it will take more climate shocks including more extreme weather events, food crises, water shortages, heat waves, floods and other catastrophes  to wake up the worlds ruling elites and citizenry to understand we have entered unchartered territory in human history. We are now officially at  a 1 degree Celsius increase in planetary temperatures since the industrial revolution and are rapidly heading towards a two degree increase in this century: we need to think, act and govern differently if we are to survive and ensure future generations have hope.

Author: Dr. Vishwas Satgar, Senior Lecturer International relations, WITS. He is the editor of Capitalism’s Crises: Class Struggles in South Africa and the World, Wits Press, (2015).


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