Archbishop Thabo Makgoba has told national government and business leaders that the climate emergency presents South Africa with a “Kairos moment” – a critical turning point and an opportune moment for new and creative initiatives towards a just solution to the crisis..
He was speaking on Friday July 30 to the third meeting of the Presidential Climate Commission (PCC), a body set up by President Cyril Ramaphosa in 2020.
In its account of the meeting, the newspaper Mining Weekly reported that President Ramaphosa agreed with Archbishop Thabo. It quoted the president as responding: “I welcome this, particularly as he [the archbishop] raises the fact that climate change is a moral issue and calls on us to look at this challenge that faces us – and, may I add, opportunity really – as a Kairos moment.”
Other speakers at the meeting included the Minister for Forestry, Fisheries and Environment Minister Barbara Creecy, the Minister for Mineral Resources and Energy Minister, Gwede Mantashe, the CEO of Anglo American, Mark Cutifani, and the CEO of Eskom, André de Ruyter.
The full text of Archbishop Thabo’s contribution, which includes resource material provided by Green Anglicans, follows:
Third Meeting of the Presidential Climate Commission
30 July 2021
Archbishop Thabo Makgoba
Thank you for affording the faith community an opportunity to give an input into these critical deliberations. I see it as a recognition by wider society that climate change is not only an environmental, economic and social issue but essentially a moral issue, which needs a moral basis for the solutions it requires, and that the religious sector has a role to play in establishing this moral basis.
That is not to say that faith leaders can be holier than thou in the debate over how to avert climate disaster. Six years ago, fellow Anglican bishops from all six continents – some from areas already far more seriously affected than us by climate change – came together in South Africa and recognised that we are as responsible as anyone else for the crisis we face. As I said at the time, “the problem is spiritual as well as economic, scientific and political. We [that is, we in the churches] have been complicit in a theology of domination. While God committed the care of creation to us, we have been care-less…” We have been guilty of thinking that God put humankind on earth to control and exploit the world, unmindful that humankind is but one part of a complex environment, part of a delicate network of interdependent units of creation.
As a result, we have in our churches committed ourselves to begin at home: to ensure that energy conservation measures are implemented in church buildings; to nurture biodiversity on church land; and to support sustainability in water, food, agriculture and land use. In our campaigning on the issue, for example at the Paris climate talks, we have taken it upon ourselves to advocate for the most marginalised in this debate.
So for example, in Paris we supported the Least Developed Country group, representing 48 countries – mostly in Central, East and West Africa – in aiming to curb rising temperatures not by the two degrees was being advocated at the time but by no more than 1.5 degrees. We have also pressed for the voices of women to be heard more clearly. In the words of Bishop Ellinah Wamukoya, the Bishop of Swaziland and Africa’s first woman bishop, and I quote: “Women are more often dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods, so the contribution of women is essential in decisions around climate change.”
Today I think I can claim that the religious community recognises that, in the words of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, “Climate change is the human rights issue of our time.” And as I have also said of climate talks, we don’t only need initiatives to develop renewable energy, sustainable development and resilience; people need help to adapt, and when that is not possible – when people face loss and damage to the extent that no further adaptation is possible, there must be assistance to help them to move on.
In the 1980s, when the fight against apartheid reached its peak, many of us adopted what was known as the Kairos Document. It recognised that South Africa had reached a “kairos” moment – in ancient Greek, a moment of truth, a critical turning point – requiring a deeper commitment to the struggle on the part of the churches. Today we are standing at another Kairos moment for SA – an opportune moment for new and creative initiatives towards a just solution to the climate crisis.
And it’s doable: just look at Chile. Already 43% of their energy now comes from renewable energy and they will shut eight coal-fired power plants in three years time. Their goal is 60% renewable energy in the next ten years and 70% by 2050. They have 5,000 renewable energy projects already operational – 5000 places creating jobs and hope. 32,000 more projects have been approved and by 2023, taking into account jobs lost from the coal sector and new jobs created, they predict an increase of 23,000 jobs overall. We can have the same objective, given the political will.
Decentralised renewable energy projects offer hope to young people. Imagine small factories placed in areas where youth unemployment is highest – building solar voltaic panels, wind turbines, solar geysers. Imagine targeted training courses preparing young people for careers in renewable energy so that we don’t have to employ technicians from abroad. New factories can be created in areas where the coal mines are closing. China created 2.2 million jobs in solar photovoltaics, why must we still import these items?
For a just transition we need to prioritise the areas where jobs will be lost. New green jobs will require international climate finance. Part of the $100 billion a year of climate finance for 2020-24 first promised over a decade ago still isn’t forthcoming. South Africa should be a champion of climate finance in places like the G20, as we advocate for the Global South.
Given our economic challenges it is tempting to see gas as a quick fix. But large oil and gas explorations create environmental pollution, push rural people from their land, pollute our precious water sources and create wealth for the ‘one percent’ who have shares and stocks. As the rest of the world moves away from oil and gas, we would run the financial risk having ‘stranded assets’ which were unsellable. Things are moving fast!
Let me end with the words of Christiana Figueres, the former executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change:
“Know that you can make a transformative difference to the future of all life on earth. You are not powerless. Your every action is suffused with meaning and you are part of the greatest chapter of human achievement in history.”