‘Climate change will hurt the most vulnerable members of society if we fail to act’ – UP student activist

Posted on May 30, 2023

A climate change student activist at the University of Pretoria (UP) has challenged governments, industry leaders and the broader global community to join hands and commit themselves to tackling climate change.

Third-year student Natalie Kapsosideris, who is doing a dual major in genetics and plant science, delivered a presentation titled ‘Just energy transition’ to academics, renewable energy enthusiasts and fellow students at UP’s Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship (CAS) as part of the seminar series Engaging the Environmental Publics.

“Just energy transition is a move from fossil energy to renewable energy in a way that ensures that everyone has equal access to that energy, and ensures that there is the least amount of job losses or that everyone retains their livelihood,” Kapsosideris said. “There are three key players in the climate activism space; two from the private sector and one from the government. The first is the Climate Justice Coalition and their Green New Eskom campaign. The second one is from the Climate Justice Charter Movement and their Deep Just Transition campaign and framework. The last one is from the Presidential Climate Commission established by President Cyril Ramaphosa.”

However, she warned, if these efforts do not succeed, consequences could include water insecurity, which already affects South Africans as a result of aged infrastructure; food insecurity, which could result from drier and hotter weather; natural disasters, as a result of extreme, unpredictable weather; economic instability; and the opportunistic privatisation of scarce resources like water and energy. These could lead to civil war as frustrations compound.

Resistance from industry and governments

Drawing from her experience of working with various climate justice organisations and chairing UP environmentalist group Tuks for Climate Change Justice, Kapsosideris said more needed to be done because climate change was undeniable and real.

Fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas are the leading contributors to global climate change, she detailed, accounting for over 75% of global greenhouse-gas emissions and nearly 90% of all carbon dioxide emissions. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s sixth Synthesis Report of 2023, human activities, principally through the emission of greenhouse gases, have unequivocally caused global warning.

“Everyone experiences climate change, and they are going to continue to experience it because it affects our entire climate system on Earth,” Kapsosideris said. “The issue is that people who are already vulnerable or marginalised will be marginalised even further because when resources become scarce, the people who have more access to resources are not affected as severely as those who are disadvantaged or do not have resources. For example, people who live in informal settlements do not have proper infrastructure, so when a flood occurs, their infrastructure, which are shacks, experiences significant damage that is far worse.”

She said big industries and governments are either resistant, sluggish or hypocritical. In South Africa’s mining sector, it was found that miners and labour unions such as the South African Federation of Trade Unions are aware that an energy transition could result in fewer profits for CEOs and shareholders. Globally speaking, countries in the Global North might appear to be transitioning to green energy, yet they export their dirty energy resources to poorer countries, where leaders might act out of corruption or desperation.

“It makes you angry because you can clearly see how climate change is going to destroy people’s lives, specifically the most vulnerable people,” Kapsosideris said. “You can see how dangerous it is to keep doing what we are doing, but you can also see how certain people are benefitting from the system. It is so selfish to continue to ignore all the signs, to know that what you are doing is putting people in danger and ruining their lives.” 

“I believe Natalie has raised a very important issue about the global climate, but from a South African standpoint,” history lecturer Professor Tinashe Nyamunda said. “She is well informed and knows a lot about the global climate. She inspires me. As adults, we can help by assisting them to ask the right questions, because climate issues raise a lot of complications when it comes to issues of rethinking economies and the policies that manage them.” 

- Author James Mahlokwane

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