Unlocking green jobs

Photo Credit: WWF

Five biorefineries that convert biomass to oil, are currently in development, and have the potential to reduce our heavy and expensive reliance on oil, 75% of which is currently imported

The government and private sector in South Africa are increasingly researching and investing in green-economy developments, in line with green job creation strategies. These efforts entail beneficiating biomass from invasive alien plants (IAPs) for a range of value-added industries such as those involving oil, biochemicals and wood pellets.

Five biorefineries that convert biomass to oil, are currently in development, and have the potential to reduce our heavy and expensive reliance on oil, 75% of which is currently imported. The first of these, a R37,5 million biorefinery, was launched by the Department of Science and Technology at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research campus in Durban in March 2018.

The manufacturing of wood pellets from IAPs is another significant value-added biomass opportunity. If households adopted their use at an incremental rate of 5% a year, this could result in the clearance of an estimated 2,3 million ha of IAPs, which in turn would generate about 1 480 000 direct day jobs until 2028. This could pave the way for workers in the fossil fuel sector to move horizontally into the renewable-energy sector.

At the same time removing IAPs from our water catchment areas would free up water for the economy. IAPs consume an estimated 4,7% of mean annual water runoff, which represents significant potential for addressing South Africa’s water security challenges.

These are some of the case studies explored in Unlocking Green Jobs in South Africa, a two-year research initiative undertaken by WWF-SA and Trade & Industrial Policy Strategies (TIPS) during 2017/18 and funded by Nedbank through the WWF Nedbank Green Trust, together with Agence Française de Développement (AFD).

TIPS is an economic policy research institute supporting the public sector in South Africa and the region, notably the Department of Trade and Industry.

‘We researched and identified three nodes of economic and social innovation, environmental risk and state activity where there is a high potential and opportunity for green jobs,’ says Gaylor Montmasson-Clair, Senior Economist at TIPS.

Montmasson-Clair was the lead analyst on the Unlocking Green Jobs project steering committee, which also included Glenda Raven, Head of Environmental Leadership at WWF-SA; Eureta Rosenberg from the Rhodes University Environmental Learning Research Centre; and Olivier Grandvoinet from AFD.

The three high-potential green jobs nodes and case studies explored in the Unlocking Green Jobs report are as follows:

1. Water as a basis for life and jobs

Recent estimates (United Nations, 2016) indicate that three out of four jobs in the global workforce are heavily or moderately dependent on water. Taken together with local employment statistics, this means a total of 3 057 362 jobs are highly water-dependent.

Based on 2017 data this figure is expected to rise, according to the Unlocking Green Jobs report, which also indicates that water supply in South Africa amounts to 15 billion m3 and demand is projected to rise to 17,7 billion m3 by 2030. Without appropriate interventions this will result in a shortfall of water supply and demand of at least 17% by 2030.

The National Water and Sanitation Master Plan was published on 31 March 2018. Given the enormous budgetary implications of this plan (an additional R533 billion is required over the next 10 years), the job creation and poverty alleviation impacts are key considerations informing National Treasury

For years the Department of Environmental Affairs has been advocating an exponential increase in the extended public works IAP clearance programmes through Working for Water, but it has not been successful. However, the opportunities exist and things are moving in the right direction now that the financial and economic benefits of these programmes are better understood.

‘TIPS is actively supporting the development of the country’s Industrial Policy Action Plan and one of the key areas is around water, sanitation and industrial development – to understand the linkages between water and the economy and the opportunities to create businesses and entrepreneurship around water,’ says Montmasson-Clair.

‘One of the new technologies developed is next-generation sanitation, notably onsite, non-sewered sanitation for larger-scale infrastructure such as schools, hospitals stadiums, shopping malls, residential estates and villages. The toilets work with a very limited amount of water or no water, recycle urine into grey water for gardens or green areas and convert faeces into fertiliser or gas to create electricity and fuel.

‘People don’t like talking about waste matter or how to deal with it, but the technologies are first-class and very safe, with considerable input from organisations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In South Africa non-sewered sanitation is a challenge because sewered toilets, which use a lot of water, are still the preferred option. The best approach to get buy-in for next-generation sanitation technologies is to roll them out in higher-end areas to create a positive story. The politicians also need to get on board and show why these technologies are preferable.’

2. Beneficiating alien biomass to further incentivise IAP clearance

The Unlocking Green Jobs report notes an increase in emergent opportunities and research and development activity in the areas of biofuels (torrefied biomass), biomaterials (biochar, filtration and absorbents) and biochemicals and nutrients (tannins, cosmetics and chemicals). This points to the range of policy choices the state has regarding beneficiation of biomass from IAPs.

The implications of including wood pellets as an important component of a diversified value-added industries strategy were evaluated in the report using a multicriteria analysis.

The report states: ‘Strong socio-economic benefits would stem from the rollout of wood pellets, with the conversion of 1 060 000 non-electrified households from “dirty” fuel use to wood pellets. Of the 3.4 million non-electrified households in South Africa, 68% use paraffin for lighting, cooking and heating and 74% use firewood for cooking (Diederichs, McKenzie and Knox, 2014).

‘The side effects of this high usage of paraffin and firewood (from cooking smoke and fumes) contributes (sic) to lung diseases, such as cancer, pneumonia and acute lower respiratory infection, and cataracts. In addition, cooking on open fires and paraffin usage increase the risk of house fires, with an estimated 45 000 house fires and 3 000 deaths caused annually due to the use of paraffin in South Africa. Even focusing purely on the financial implications, a strategy to roll out wood pellets as an alternative could result in significant downstream savings in the healthcare system and more widely.’

Despite these strong arguments for promoting the green economy and an initial surge in wood pellet manufacturing activity, the production of wood pellets in South Africa has suffered major setbacks, with many facilities being mothballed as of February 2018.

Montmasson-Clair explains that while the industry has so far focused on large-scale production for the export market, a more decentralised and localised business model would be a more successful approach as it would combat some of the barriers associated with large-scale production, such as transport costs. Such a proposition supports localised economies, which encourage entrepreneurialism and, in this case, the creation of a localised industry of wood pellet production and associated products or distribution networks to service surrounding towns and households.

A promising development in the biomass industry and a first for South Africa is the new Durban-based Biorefinery Industry Development Facility mentioned earlier, which supports innovation in a range of industries, including forestry and agro-processing. The forestry sector is under financial strain globally and this sort of technology innovations has been earmarked to help prevent job losses and enable growth in this sector.
At present wood, pulp and paper waste ends up in landfill sites or is burnt, stockpiled or even pumped out to sea. The potential to extract value from it is a significant opportunity for the country’s economy. High-value speciality chemicals can be extracted from sawmill and dust shavings, while mill sludge can be converted into nanocrystalline cellulose, biopolymers and biogas.

3. Promoting a biodiversity economy

The Unlocking Green Jobs report goes on to discuss the Essential Amathole in the Eastern Cape, one of several essential-oil projects initiated in line with the Bioprospecting Strategy (part of the National Biodiversity Economy Strategy) and the Agricultural Development Strategy. The essential oils are derived from IAPs and used in the perfume, medical and other industries.

Essential Amathole is a partnership between the state, private sector, rural communities in the Amathole District Municipality, and staff and students at the University of Fort Hare. According to the report, the concept is sound but several essential-oil projects have collapsed around the country. If they are to succeed, astute management, monitoring and evaluation need to be put in place to achieve the policy vision set out in the National Bioeconomy Strategy. The aggregate target for the National Biodiversity Economy Strategy as a whole is 300 000 jobs.

‘The results from all three case studies have been taken forward by government departments,’ says Montmasson-Clair. ‘The quantitative and qualitative data is being used as a basis for achieving policy buy-in at a national and provincial level (as well as being used in a review of existing polices and strategies), and the three case studies can be taken to scale through further investment from the state and private sector. The case studies also need to be extended to include other parts of the green economy.

‘It goes without saying that developing a greener economy and green jobs comes with many challenges, but all the areas are moving forward step by step and all of them are part of a more circular economy where there is no such thing as waste; where waste products are a resource or by-product that can be sustainably used, and where water conservation and innovative water use are recognised as vital drivers of the economy.’

The Unlocking Green Jobs report can be found at http://www.tips.org.za/research-archive/sustainable-growth/green-economy/item/3509-unlocking-green-jobs-in-south-africa-a-catalytic-intervention-synthesis-report.