The United Nations Environment Programme defines a green economy as low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive. It says that in a green economy, growth in employment and income is driven by public and private investment into economic activities, infrastructure and assets that allow reduced carbon emissions and pollution, enhanced energy and resource efficiency and prevention of the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services.

As environmental, social and governance (ESG) imperatives place an increased focus on sustainability and drive a transition towards a green economy, the impacts will be felt in the labour market. A recent Financial Mail Green Economy Dialogues LIVE in partnership with Sanlam Investment, Wits Business School (ALEC), Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) and Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA) and moderated by Andile Khumalo, focused on better understanding how an energy transition will cause shifts in the volume, type and quality of employment opportunities and whether the green economy will create more and better jobs.

Mervyn Shanmugam, CEO of Alternatives at Sanlam Investments, explained that Sanlam’s Alternatives business is a division within Sanlam Investments which aims to invest both for returns and sustainable impact focusing on growth, job creation and mitigating. Its investments provide access to a diverse range of alternative investment strategies. Explaining that investors increasingly want both a commercial and social return on their investments, Shanmugam said Sanlam’s Alternatives business believe both are possible. The trick, he added, will be how SA implements a just transition. It is estimated that around R250 billion is required to put sustainable infrastructure in place. Shanmugam revealed that there is sufficient capital available both locally and internationally to meet SA’s carbon reduction targets by 2050.

Pointing out that Africa faces the unique challenge of being an energy poor continent while still required to recarbonise, Professor Lwazi Ngubevana, director of the African Energy Leadership Centre (AELC) at Wits Business School, said the role of the AELC is to develop future energy leaders, research innovative solutions and try to influence energy policy.

Energy security, he added, is the continent’s biggest challenge and any focus on green energy had to take this into account. The AELC, he revealed, proposes a pragmatic approach to the green economy; an approach which has energy security as its north star. “Without energy security we won’t grow the economy or create jobs,” he said, adding that there was no question that the green economy has the potential to be a catalyst for job creation and innovation.

Vusi Skosana, acting executive responsible Innovation Enabling at the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) explained that the organisation is mandated to be a catalyst and enabler for innovations and transfer technology solutions to start-ups, researchers, and enterprises, particularly small and emerging enterprises. A key part of the organisation’s mandate, he revealed, is skills development and the readiness of all stakeholders in the green economy in order to ensure nobody is left behind in SA’s energy transition.

Malembe J.D. Mtsweni, acting senior manager responsible for the incubation Network at the Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA), said the organisation’s role is to strengthen the incubation network of small businesses so that they are in a better position to create jobs. The green economy will create more jobs than most people think, he said, adding that it is a big opportunity.

To watch the full discussion, click here.

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