South Africa can’t afford to ‘climate-proof’ its infrastructure

 ·19 Mar 2024

While much talk from cabinet has been about ramping up funding for climate-resilient infrastructure to mitigate the negative effects of climate-related weather events on property, there is a big problem – the government can’t afford it.

Speaking at the Southern Africa – Towards Inclusive Economic Development (SA-TIED) policy dialogue on Monday (18 March), Deputy Minister of Finance David Masondo said that “the fiscus cannot afford to financially support the amount of investment that is required.”

South Africa, along with global peers, has committed itself to various optimistic climate change agreements – including that of an energy transition toward renewables.

However, this proves costly for nations (especially developing economies) that simply struggle to make up the funds needed to actualise these commitments.

“Africa needs an annual investment of about $190 billion for its clean energy transition [yet] 57% of African countries spend more on debt than on education,” said Masondo

Despite committing to various targets which require a huge amount of money, the deputy minister said that South Africa needs “to discuss other innovative financing mechanisms such as green bonds and carbon credit [in order] to fund these climate-resilient infrastructure projects.” 

“Yes, challenges exist, such as securing funding… [however] these challenges should be treated as opportunities for… forging robust public-private partnerships,” added Masondo.

As such, the South African government is looking to attract as many private investors as it can.

The government has been establishing numerous pools to raise funds from both public and private sectors to counter climate-related impacts on the country.

These include the Climate Change Response Fund, and to a lesser extent, the Infrastructure Fund.

According to President Cyril Ramaphosa, an essential part of this funding is for “climate-proofing existing essential infrastructure and facilities, such as water and food systems, roads, rail and ports, human settlements and health care.”

Climate-proofing infrastructure is infrastructure that is planned, designed, built and operated in a way that anticipates, prepares for, and adapts to changing climate conditions.

According to the Disaster Risk Finance Diagnostic report by National Treasury, South Africa “is highly exposed to climatic shocks, particularly droughts, which undermine efforts to stimulate growth,” resulting in over 3,000 deaths and R172 billion (just under R29 billion was insured) in losses experienced over the last 51 years.

This does not include the approximately R2 billion in damages caused by the floods in KwaZulu Natal at the end of 2023.

Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries Barbara Creecy said that without climate-proofing infrastructure, South Africa would be in a consistent cycle of playing catchup with funds allocated for repairs almost certainly getting lost.

“Unless we build climate-resilient infrastructure, [the funding] for loss and damage [suffered as a result of extreme weather events] will become a bottomless pit,” she said.

Read: Government promises South Africa’s new climate fund won’t get looted

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