South Africa Should Take a Sustainable Development Approach to Economic Recovery from COVID-19

South Africa Should Take a Sustainable Development Approach to Economic Recovery from COVID-19

South Africa is particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 given its levels of poverty, unemployment, inequality, and vulnerable employment, as well as the prevalence of HIV and tuberculosis. An R500 billion economic and social support package was announced by the President as the government’s response to stimulate economic recovery hindered by the COVID-19 pandemic. The bulk of the funding was allocated towards propping up businesses, subsidizing wages, and creating new jobs. “The virus has significantly deteriorated the economic activity in our major trading partners, a sudden drop in international tourism and severe instability across all global markets”, the President said. Regardless of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in South Africa, the economy was already overwhelmed with headwinds, including a technical recession, credit ratings downgrade, load shedding, and persistent unemployment.

Both the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate change crises are a manifestation of wide income inequalities. Low-income populations can be especially at risk for the virus and for the cause of the social and economic disruption by climate change, given the crowded living and working conditions where they often reside.

Effective sustainable solutions are necessary. The response to climate change and to COVID-19 should lead to improvements in the lives of vulnerable communities. It is essential to build a more socially and economically-just, renewable energy-powered economy, and resilient society that promotes human rights and addresses poverty and inequality. This is now required more than ever as it will also help counter the current damage caused by COVID-19.

Climate Scorecard urges the following climate policy recommendations be taken into account as our country develops economic recovery policies and plans that respond to the COVID-19 virus:

i) A Combined Collaborative Approach

We urge that climate change issues be considered when COVID-19 stimulus and economic recovery policies are put in place. Fighting climate change and COVID- 19 requires a collaborative approach involving all levels of society. It must redirect resources towards local, sustainable activities, including education, health, sustainable agriculture, renewable energy, and the circular management of resources.

ii) Supporting Cleaner Transport Modes

As more people move to the city seeking better living standards, reducing emissions from urban transport is among the most urgent priorities for climate change policy. Undoubtedly, many city dwellers spend a portion of their time stuck in traffic inside their private cars specifically during peak hours—at great cost to climate, economic productivity, and public health. Responding to this situation may mean implementing a modern traffic management system, improving the design of public spaces to promote cycling and walking, or, very importantly, investing in reliable mass transit systems such as metro, light rail, Bus Rapid Transit, etc. All of these solutions can help keep cities moving while reducing the carbon footprint of urban transport.

iii) A Just Transition

A just transition to a sustainable model of development should become part of the COVID-19 economic recovery policies. Such policies should seek to create more local employment; reduce exposure to volatile, expensive, and largely imported fossil fuels; and should support innovation and improvements in human and ecosystem health. 

iv) Political Will

Political will is required to embark on a deep transformation of the economy and society, challenging the status quo and vested interests. Our leaders should emphasize the need for us to respond to lessons brought about by the COVID-19 crisis; lessons related to the need to embrace a just transition to a sustainable society.  They need to press forward with long-stalled efforts to create a carbon tax that will help reduce emissions and fund COVID-19 economic recovery efforts.

Activity Rating:** Standing Still

The setback in establishing a carbon tax — as part of the COVID-19 response — raises concerns that the interests of polluting industries will be prioritized over the health of people as we make a recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The response to COVID-19 needs to also include efforts to mitigate climate change.

Take Action

Action Alert:

South Africa should deal with the COVID-19 and climate crises with a combined strategy that builds a more socially and economically just country. Climate mitigation policies need to be integrated into COVID-19 economic recovery plans; that such plans emphasize the following

  • A Combine Collaborative Approach
  • Supporting Cleaner Transport Modes
  • A Just Transition
  • Political Will

Contact Information

Director External Communication: Mr Peter Mbelengwa                                         


Tel:  +2712 399 8842

Department of Environmental Affairs                                                                                            

Private Bag X447, Pretoria, 0001

This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard South Africa Country manager Tabana Mailula

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