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Picture: PEXELS/RON LACH
Picture: PEXELS/RON LACH

The quarterly Critical Conversations discussion, designed to foster debate and identify solutions that will set SA and the continent up for long-term sustainability and growth, was held recently and focused on a topical issue: climate change.

The second Sanlam Investments Critical Conversations event was hosted by business and news presenter Lerato Mbele. The panel comprised Prof Guy Midgley from Stellenbosch University (who spoke in his personal capacity); Ramez Naam, co-chair of energy and environment at Singularity University; Dr Lucian Peppelenbos, environmental, social and governance (ESG) climate strategist at Robeco; and Jason Liddle, head of distribution at Sanlam Investments.

Liddle said it is impossible to attend an investment summit without ESG at the forefront. “And it is impossible to talk frankly about ESG-focused asset allocation without acknowledging the elephant in SA’s investment engine room, namely our heavy dependence on fossil fuels.”

The panel agreed that climate change was real and addressing it was urgent, saying South Africans “most certainly don’t have a choice in addressing this challenge”. The panellists felt that a delay of just five years would have a huge long-term effect on the Earth and society as a whole.

But in every crisis, there are also opportunities. When delegates ranked investment opportunities, 50% believed that renewable energies were the most attractive opportunity while 29% believed energy management solutions were the biggest opportunity and 17% felt that the best opportunities were in energy distribution.

Both the government and the private sector are working on a sensible and sustainable transition to renewable energy

It was clear to all the panellists that social, energy and climate issues were interconnected. While a mammoth task, if the necessary social and political will could be harnessed, SA could make a big dent in all three simultaneously by employing South Africans to build a new energy system. This would create employment and have a positive effect on the climate.

This part of the discussion highlighted how beneficial a just transition — a gradual move away from fossil fuels, fully cognisant of the effect on the economy and society — would be for SA. Not only could it create millions of jobs but it would also build the secure and abundant electricity supply this country needs to thrive and reduce carbon emissions.

Both the government and the private sector are working on a sensible and sustainable transition to renewable energy, which will play out over decades. The government has started to procure clean energy from independent power producers (IPPs) with a specific emphasis on solar and wind. The real challenge will be how to meet the funding requirements for the growing appetite for renewable projects.

Once regulations are amended in favour of sustainable energy sources, the abundant natural “assets” in SA — sun and wind — mean the country will be perfectly positioned to harness some of the cheapest power sources on Earth.

It is estimated that a five-fold increase in investment would be required to achieve sustainable energy system outcomes between now and 2050. This represents myriad investment opportunities, particularly for countries with abundant weather-linked resources like ours. 

In addition, panellists felt sure that global capital directed towards carbon reduction would eventually come SA’s way.

If you missed the event, watch the full discussion below. Join us for the next Critical Conversations on November 15 where the topic will be “The Future of Sustainability”.

Watch the full discussion:

This article was paid for by Sanlam Investments.

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