Response to Mboweni Budget Speech 2020: Time to Break the Coal Addiction

While thoughtful and measured in terms of conventional wisdom, Minister of Finance Tito Mboweni’s budget speech is largely an investment in the past, with little understanding of the scale of action needed to move South Africa towards a Just Transition before it is too late. 

In his speech, Mboweni made no mention of the need for urgent mitigation of, or adaptation to, the growing threat of climate chaos or the threat of environmental breakdown affecting our economy. Rather he made way for old, carbon-spewing, environmentally harmful technologies to power it.. 

Minister Mboweni’s budget relies on coal like a chronic alcoholic depends on a drink.

He is not alone. Many can scarcely imagine life without our current carbon fix. So instead of envisioning what it could be like to be freed from the corrupt, colonial legacy of fossil fuels, the constant obsession is to feed the addiction. 

As the youth of South Africa, we reject this. We object to the current and historic injustices caused by coal, not only climate change, but the social injustices that come with it such as the removal of communities from ancestral lands and health issues from air, water and soil pollution. 

We reject the decision to continue to rely on coal, oil, gas and even nuclear power: as today’s youth will not stand idly by to bear the brunt of this shortsightedness. We will not stand for a climate apartheid.

Climate change is already an economic and humanitarian crisis in South Africa. Devastating floods and landslides, as well as widespread droughts, worsened by climate breakdown, are crushing the agricultural sector and leaving towns to run out of water. As climate chaos becomes more prolific, where will funds come from to provide relief for those affected by these catastrophes?

What we need is a budget that prioritises creative initiatives to address these threats. 

A budget that forcefully motivates culpable companies to lower their carbon footprint. One that treats water as the lifeblood of our economy, promoting responsible use, cleaning up fresh water supplies and penalising those who pollute. One that enables communities to become more resilient and prevent the poorest and most vulnerable from paying the highest price. One that prioritises the restoration of degraded landscapes, soils and oceans. One that seeks to move away from a supply chain that has been steeped in corruption, to create a clean industry with transparency and accountability. A budget that acknowledges that renewable energy provides the best-cost, most job-rich and least water-intensive option for energy generation.

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