For the majority of South Africans, climate change remains a rather abstract notion. While some may dispute the science, others are more likely to accept that it is an important reality, yet without really understanding the nature of the issue or seeing what difference their individual contributions could make in the broader scheme of things. Given that there are many uncertainties about the actual impacts of climate change, many of which will only be felt some time into the future, it is perhaps not surprising that strong political leadership and concerted action is largely lacking. In South Africa, social mobilisation on climate change and environmental justice has often been at loggerheads with organisations campaigning for social justice and equitable development, who fear that the pursuit of sustainability is deflecting attention away from the imperatives of addressing systemic poverty and unemployment.
The dialogue reflected on a number of questions, such as:
- What impact is South Africa's macroeconomic policy and development trajectory likely to have on climate change? Are the paths chosen sustainable?
- To what extent are the impacts of climate change likely to undermine the anticipated goals of the current development trajectory?
- How are the impacts and burdens of climate change distributed – who is most directly affected, both now and in the future?
- Is it possible to have environmental justice without social justice or, vice versa, is it possible to pursue social justice first before paying attention to environmental considerations?