Earth, Wind and Fire: Unpacking the Political, Economic and Security Implications of Discourse on the Green Economy

Earth, Wind and Fire: Unpacking the Political, Economic and Security Implications of Discourse on the Green Economy


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This book examines issues ranging from global and domestic climate change and sustainable energy issues to the mineral-energy complex issues that have given rise to local and sector-specific problems.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781920655099
Publisher: Real African Publishers
Publication date: 04/01/2016
Pages: 342
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Marie Blanche Ting has nine years working experience in areas related to sustainable development. Saliem Fakir is the Head of the Policy and Futures Unit at the World Wide Fund for Nature, South Africa. Manisha Gulati is an Energy Economist with the World Wide Fund for Nature South Africa. Simone Haysom is an independent researcher. Lynn Krieger Mytelka is Director of the Division on Investment, Technology and Enterprise Development, UNCTAD, Geneva. Dr Velaphi Msimang is the former Chief Director: Hydrogen and Energy Subprogram at the Department of Science and Technology. Lyndall Mujakachi has experience in policy development and has worked in the SADC region. Edison Muzenda is a Professor and Head of the Chemical, Materials and Metallurgical Engineering Department at Botswana International University of Science and Technology. Radhika Perrot is a Senior Researcher in the Knowledge Economy and Scientific Advancement Faculty at the the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection. T. J. Pilusa holds a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Johannesburg. Louise Scholtz is Manager in the Living Planet Unit at WWF-SA. Ogundiran Soumonni is a Senior Lecturer in Innovation Studies at the Wits Business School in Johannesburg. Fumani Mthembi is the founding member of the Pele Energy Group.

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Earth, Wind and Fire

Unpacking the Political, Economic and Security Implications of Discourse on the Green Economy

By Marie Blanche Ting, Lynn Krieger Mytelka, Velaphi Msimang, Radhika Perrot

Real African Publishers

Copyright © 2015 MISTRA
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-920655-11-2


The Trojan Horses of Global Environmental and Social Politics

A Discourse on Sustainable Development, the Green Economy and Climate Change

Radhika Perrot

One has to make up his mind whether he wants simple answers to his questions – or useful ones ... You cannot have both.

J. A. Schumpeter


This chapter offers a critique of the dominant discourse on sustainable development, the green economy, and climate change policies from the perspective of developing countries. It examines how the hegemonic discourse around market-led economic growth principles, such as green growth, have led to decades of mitigation deadlocks and further widened the gulf between the countries of the North and the South. Indeed, a few considerations are critical in reframing the discussions around sustainable development and its recent reincarnation – the green economy – through an understanding of interpretative flexibilities from a sociological perspective; and of the interdependencies of sustainable development such as society, the economy, technology and the natural environment.


Our Common Future was the first document that placed environmental issues firmly on the political agenda and made it an international mandate. It aimed to discuss the environment and development as one single issue with focal attention given to population, food security, the loss of species and genetic resources, energy, industry, and human settlements. The report sought to address these critical issues by proposing new forms of international cooperation whilst a crucial part of its mandate was to 'raise the level of understanding and commitment to action on the part of individuals, voluntary organizations, businesses, institutes, and governments' (1987: 347). An international scientific committee was constituted in 1988 called the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which aimed to raise the level of understanding of human-induced climate change through scientific information and evidence.

Although the Report understood the complexity and interdependence of the impact of human-induced climate change (such as industries, land, forestry, population and sub-sectors), it is the lack of analysis around economic growth and its sustaining modes of production and consumption that diluted an in-depth understanding and discussion of a development that was truly sustainable. Many developing countries not only had cheap resources and labour, they had less stringent environmental regulations than developed countries. As a result, many large industrialised countries set up pollutive factories and other industries in many developing countries of the world that had low environmental standards or weak enforcement. Extractive industries such as coal, metals and petroleum are major sources of environmental damage with a direct exploitative relationship with the natural environment, and yet, the effects of pollution from such industries had received less attention (Stollery, 1985). So, in the absence of a critical analysis of economic growth and the market-led principles governing it, the report further postulated that such growth could be reformed and expanded (Ahmed, 2004) and unsuccessfully attempted to bring together environmental protection and economic expansion (Hove, 2004).

Section III, Article 27 of Our Common Future postulates that:

In the short run, for most developing countries except the largest a new era of economic growth hinges on effective and coordinated economic management among major industrial countries – designed to facilitate expansion, to reduce real interest rates, and to halt the slide to protectionism. In the longer term, major changes are also required to make consumption and production patterns sustainable in a context of higher global growth.

The changes suggested, regarding the modes of production and consumption of existing economic growth trajectories, which were in effect responsible for the degradation of the environment, were not identified; nor were the modes in those of developed countries seriously questioned. Rather, the 'changes' and 'expansion' for sustainable development were suggested for developing countries, with explicitly guided considerations of what was perceived to be 'higher economic growth'.

Soon thereafter, in 1991, a Hague Report on Sustainable Development published the outcomes of a symposium to inform the upcoming UN 1992 Earth Summit in Rio. This report, however, acknowledged that it was impossible to pursue a global dualistic model of development – one which suggested that the North would continue to pursue the same path to material consumption, while another model was suggested for the poor South. The report estimated that, 'If the same material standards had to be replicated in the South, it would require 10 times the present amount of fossil fuel and roughly two hundred times as much mineral wealth' (The Hague Report, 1991).

Thus began the junkie politics of sustainable development and climate change between the countries of the North and the South. The sceptical countries of the South, with their colonial and neocolonial experiences imposed by the North, felt they were once again being handed down solutions and impositions, many in the form of restrictive trade agreements that undermined economic growth. One of the recommendations in the Our Common Future report, which had no direct evidence of a link to sustainable development, required developing countries 'to halt the slide to protectionism' (Article 27, Section III). The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), one of several major international agreements that sought to liberalise trade by removing protective tariffs, quotas, and other barriers, was established in 1994. Many formerly protectionist developing countries were slowly coerced into embracing free trade and market-led principles and joined the GATT, while around the same time, the United States and Europe, the original framers of the GATT, adopted protectionist measures on entire industrial sectors like steel, chemicals and electronics, including food and agriculture.

Although developed countries meekly acknowledged their role in massive environmental degradation and pollution in their quest towards industrialisation, they did not fully accept that high economic growth trajectories based on often harmful and long-cycle modes of consumption and production patterns had been the main cause. The infamous London smog of 1952, and the covering and diverting of the polluted river Zenne that runs through the city of Brussels in Belgium, filled with massive garbage and decayed organic matter, were cited by developing countries as examples of the developed countries' quest to industrialise without regard to air quality and environment.

So, amidst distrust between countries of the North and the South, it was therefore not surprising that in 1992 the Rio Earth Summit agenda on sustainable development failed to make a plausible impact. The notion of sustainability that emerged from this summit politicised the debate on environment and growth – negotiations between government, business, and 'pragmatic' environmentalists assumed that new markets and technologies could simultaneously boost economic growth and preserve the environment (Kallis, 2015). Environmental problems were largely confined to the realm of technological improvement (discussed below), and thus sustainability decisions and mitigation agreements were to remain within the domain of technical experts, technocrats and policy elites.

Production and consumption decisions and patterns that are directly linked to economic growth, and upon which most national growth policies are premised, were never questioned as the direct source of unsustainable practices. This outlook, which persists to this day, is especially problematic for countries that are still 'developing' or 'emerging', for the definition and intention of the goals of economic development (as always understood from the perspective of economic growth theory and practice) emerge as conflictual with sustainable development. The 1992 Earth Summit in Rio failed to provide a framework for action or to articulate specific and tangible ways in which the achievement of sustainable development could be put into action. In the process, the dire development situations of many developing countries were watered down (Hove, 2004). There was little appreciation of extractive production processes and wasteful consumption that sustain such production as part of the problem, which had led to rampant mining and deforestation.

So, since the 1992 Rio Summit, sustainable development has been lost in a myriad misinterpreted translations, and for many it 'appears at best an empty phrase and at worst a Trojan horse for the redefinition of the public interest by a powerful few' (Voß and Kemp, 2005, p. 3). It became a loosely interpreted word for Brazil, India and China (or the BASIC countries) that were emerging as economic strongholds in the early and late 1990s. In their context, social progress meant following the industrialised or developed countries in the pattern of building skyscrapers, bridges, concrete houses, and putting more cars on the road. Deforestation, uprooting indigenous people, and vanishing wetlands, hills and mountains were seen as unavoidable in the quest for such 'development' (Perrot and Soummoni, 2015). Modernisation and the imperative of high economic growth rates were pursued from the perspective of Modernisation Theory, which is largely based on the view that to develop means to become 'modern' by adopting Western cultural values and social institutions.

In all the discussions on sustainable development as articulated in Agenda 21 – the summary document of the outcomes of the Rio Summit – developing countries were considered the main (and new) culprits of the environmental crisis. According to Lippert (2004), the three major causes of the environmental crisis (which formed the hegemonic discourse of sustainable development after the Summit) were:

* Poverty in developing countries

In their argument, poverty meant too little development and proposed that it could be overcome by economic growth or the trickle-down effect of economic growth. Such an argument also implied that countries of the North did not have to change their growth paths. Section 3.2 and 3.3 of Agenda 21 explicitly argued: 'An effective strategy for tackling the problems of poverty, development and environment simultaneously [... is ...] economic growth in developing countries that is both sustained and sustainable and direct action in eradicating poverty by strengthening employment and income-generating programmes.'

* Population growth

It was argued that if too many people depended on the limited resources of the planet it would create a stress on the earth's carrying capacity and destroy its ecological systems. Population stabilisation was proposed and population growth was seen as 'evidently' a problem of the developing countries. Fred Pearce, in his recent 2010 book The Coming Population Crash: and Our Planet's Surprising Future, disproved the half-century presumption that population growth is the driver of ecological apocalypse, arguing that it is not overpopulation that causes climate change it is overconsumption. Pearce (2014) writes, 'But why do we blame the poor in Africa for having babies when the real issue is overconsumption closer to home? It is the ravenous demands of the rich world that is enlarging the human footprint on our planet – pumping greenhouse gases into the air, polluting the oceans, trashing forests and the rest. Any further rise in numbers of poor people will barely figure in that.'

* Lack of ecological modernisation

An opinion argued that the cause of the environmental crisis is the lack of 'ecological modernisation'. Such a focus is techno-centric as solutions to the crisis are seen as existing only with technical experts and users, ignoring the fundamental issue of socio-economic transformation. Evidently, all developing countries lacked the technological sophistication and machinery and technical knowledge for 'ecological modernisation', and such machinery and technological expertise were evidently with the countries of the North.


As evident from global discourse from the 1990s to the present, sustainable development has been understood as an end state rather than as a kind of problem framing. It cannot be determined once and for all but it is rather about the organisation of processes and not about particular outcomes (Voß and Kemp, 2005). There are many different ways in which a problem can be resolved and different strategies that can search for solutions to reach sustainable social and technological development paths. According to Voß and Kemp, 2005, the process towards sustainable development goals is reflexive when there is recognition of the complexities and uncertainties of the natural reality of the problem. When the complexity of an issue is not reflexively addressed, the required impact and importance of interdependencies of sustainability (viz. the interdependencies between society, the economy, the technological and the natural environment) are missed. This is precisely because socio-economic, technological, and ecological elements are embedded within each sustainability problem.

So a key feature of sustainable development is the enormous complexity of systemic interactions and levels, for the process of sustainable transition also takes place through interactions between multi-level structures – the local, regional and global levels. Further, the interaction between these levels and the sub-systems of each level, and the interactions within each, add to the structural complexity of the issue (Voß and Kemp, 2005). And without a proper understanding of the systemic interactions between the various meta-levels structures, it would be impossible to transform an existing system into a sustainable one or provide solutions to the issue. Such a multi-level understanding takes a sociological perspective into account by analysing the process of alignment between the different levels and each level's sub-systems and social and technical elements.

So then, the framing of a sustainability problem should come from a perspective that links the sociological with an evolutionary analysis. A sociological perspective gives importance to interpretative flexibility, which means that different actors have different understandings of the same idea. If an idea is to be accepted there has to be wide and shared understanding. At the climate change negotiations, interpretative flexibility persists around the setting of sustainable goals and emission targets – what it means to be sustainable or to grow economically widely differs between countries. An evolutionary perspective, on the other hand, understands the process orientation of sustainable development. It characterises the transitions of, say, an existing fossil-fuel-based transport or electricity system to a cleaner or more sustainable system, through an understanding of the characteristics of a systemic transition, akin to a biological evolution: variation amongst the actors of a system or a population; retention of systemic characteristics from one generation to the next; and selection of better or superior characteristics that survived a competitive environment.


Excerpted from Earth, Wind and Fire by Marie Blanche Ting, Lynn Krieger Mytelka, Velaphi Msimang, Radhika Perrot. Copyright © 2015 MISTRA. Excerpted by permission of Real African Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

List of Contributors 10

List of Abbreviations 15

Introduction 22

Section I Co-evolutionary Role of Governments, Civil Societies and Industries

Chapter 1 The Trojan Horses of Global Environmental and Social Politics Radhika Perot 31

Chapter 2 LTMS and Environmental and Energy Policy Planning in South Africa: Betwixt Utopia and Dystopia Louise Scholtz Manisha Gulati Saliem Fakir 53

Chapter 3 Historical Review of the Relationship between Energy, Mining and the South African Economy Marie Blanche Ting 81

Chapter 4 Lost in Procurement: An Assessment of the Development Impact of the Renewable Energy Procurement Programme Fumani Mthembi 111

Section II Transition to a Low-carbon Economy

Chapter 5 Making Transitions to Clean and Sustainable Energy in the South African Urban Transport Sector: Linkages to Growth and Inclusive Development Lynn Krieger Mytelka 145

Chapter 6 'Green' Policymaking and Implementation at City-level: Lessons from Efforts to Promote Commuter Cycling in Johannesburg Simone Haysom 163

Chapter 7 The Energy and Water Nexus: The Case for an Integrated Approach for the Green Economy in South Africa Manisha Gulati 187

Chapter 8 Waste Re-use: Oil Extraction From Waste Tyres and Improvement of the Waste Tyre Industry T. J. Pilusa Edison Muzenda 213

Chapter 9 Energy-efficient Low-income Housing Development in South Africa: The Next Build Programme Lyndall (Lynda) Mujakachi 241

Section III Regional Integration: Exploring Optimal Energy Strategies

Chapter 10 Off-grid Renewable Electrification as a Viable and Complementary Power Planning Paradigm in Southern Africa: A Quantitative Assessment Ogundiran Soumonni 279

Section IV Summary of Policy Recommendations 323

Index: 333

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