Job creation through green SMME development in SA

Shamiela Reid is the Senior Project Coordinator - Climate Policy, at Indalo Inclusive. Photo: Supplied

Shamiela Reid is the Senior Project Coordinator - Climate Policy, at Indalo Inclusive. Photo: Supplied

Published May 2, 2024


By Shamiela Reid

As the negative impacts of climate change increases and livelihoods and local economies erode, and as jobs continue to shrink and dwindle leading to upheavals in societies, governments need options to addressing the crisis of unemployment as well as create new patterns of economic inclusion.

In the light of the potential job losses and or regional shifts in job markets, one needs to argue that small medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) will remain the net job creators in the green economy as the subsequent mitigation and adaptation policies on labour markets is being unbundled in search of for alternative models of growth in the midst of the net-zero growth and development paradigm.

The challenges of achieving a net -zero ambition and creating decent work for all are closely linked and an integrated approach to tackle these challenges is a necessity, as the goal of net-zero economies will only be attained without the active contribution of the world of work and local enterprises.

The case for green job creation and a just transition

Enterprises, workers and governments represents essential agents of change, able to develop new ways of working in sustainable enterprises that safeguard the environment, create decent jobs, and foster social inclusion and to this end, they should drive a green job transition.

We have already established that there is major job creation potential from tackling the climate crisis, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and transitioning to a low-carbon, sustainable economy most of these jobs can be created through sustainable small and media enterprise.

Moving toward a low-carbon or zero-carbon economy requires substantial improvement and expansion of public amenities like transport, energy, ports, the manufacture and installation of renewables and more sustainable food and agricultural production.

All these economic activities create untapped opportunities for green SMMEs development which is a quick win to absorb low-skilled workers otherwise will struggle to secure jobs in larger corporations.

However, South Africa has not succeeded in moving green enterprises in the regions in transitions, although job losses particularly in the coal, are already occurring and have dampened enthusiasm for the promised “green economy” and localised industrialisation opportunities for enterprises and workers that are anxious to address the climate crisis and build and equitable green economy.

Framed within this context, it is vital that the role of green SMMEs in delivering on South Africa’s just transition; the opportunities and challenges for green SMME development in South Africa and the recommendations to create an enabling environment for green SMMEs to thrive, be explicitly addressed as regards their most significant challenges.

Decent job creation and green entrepreneurship

A bold, ambitious, and equitable climate jobs programme can overcome barriers to a vibrant green economy. While other countries are maximizing the opportunities climate change adaptation offers especially in areas of green technology, energy, and agriculture.

Green SMME development is gaining traction in South Africa as entrepreneurs continue to observe the negative impacts of climate change in their communities. Instead of seeing this as a challenge, they see an opportunity and capitalise on it through a business model that develops and boosts the demand for green products and services.

It is anticipated that 1.8. million green jobs can be created by 2030 through city climate actions alone if a capital investment of R570 billion per year is injected into urban centres in the next five years.

A number of studies have shown that more jobs can be created in low-carbon sectors than currently exist in high-carbon sectors like the fossil fuel industry in absolute numbers, and are all more labour-intensive than capital-intensive sectors such as oil, coal, and gas, which tend to not significantly recognise and tap into the SMME value chain.

Public sector reform is a critical to unlock financing for green SMME development by including financial and non-financial interventions in relevant policies and in doing so, sends out a clear message that SMME development is critical for South Africa’s just transition.

For the majority of South Africans, these bigger issues are about finding a job and the daily hustle to make ends meet.

Shamiela Reid is the Senior Project Coordinator - Climate Policy, at Indalo Inclusive (NPC). She is part of the Youth Writer Series by the Presidential Climate Commission (PCC). Reid holds a BSc in Environmental Sciences from University of Cape Town.