“Fight climate crisis or die frying,” read one of the hundreds of placards in front of parliament as Capetonians joined in the worldwide climate strike on Friday.
A large crowd gathered in front of parliament from around midday, much like the throngs of protesters in Paris, Berlin and New York.
Most of the protesters were young people.
The worldwide groundswell of activism comes on the eve of a meeting of the United Nations Climate Action Summit 2019.
Local activists want the South African government to declare a climate emergency.
“We are already living with the impacts of the climate crisis with ever more extreme weather events like droughts and floods, loss of wildlife and increasingly scarce freshwater resources,” reads Greenpeace Africa’s webpage with a petition to government to declare a climate emergency.
“We’re facing an air pollution crisis in South Africa too. Both the air pollution crisis and the climate emergency share the same solution: we must shift away from fossil fuels in an urgent Just Transition, and create a future powered by renewable energy.
“But South Africa’s biggest emitters continue to pump deadly amounts of greenhouse gases in the air, and our leaders are just letting this happen. In response, a youth-led #climatestrike movement is building, calling for action to safeguard their future. The government’s inaction on the climate crisis shows a clear disregard for the future of young South Africans.”
The South African chapter of global lobby group Extinction Rebellion has a similar demand: “Government must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency, working with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change.”
In July, Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries Barbara Creecy was asked during a briefing about her budget whether she agreed that it should be declared a crisis.
“How would declaring a climate crisis help people implement solutions? Isn’t that what we want? Solutions,” she responded at the time.
“I think what we already have is all spheres of government having signed agreements in terms of the Paris Accord. So we have all agreed that there is a problem. What’s the implementation? And I’m saying what we have to discuss in order to take concrete steps to implement is what does the just transition look like.”
In a statement, the City of Cape Town said some of its staff and the mayoral committee member for energy and climate change Phindile Maxiti supported calls from Cape Town school pupils for President Ramaphosa to ramp up South Africa’s climate change actions.
The City said it was fully in support of the initiative and claims to be at “the forefront of the fight to diversify energy resources in South Africa to ensure that everyone has access to cleaner, more affordable energy”.
Maxiti said the City was looking at the sustainability and resilience of Cape Town in general, including water sensitivity, ecologically healthy, innovative in terms of managing landfill sites, recycling and reducing the carbon footprint.
“We say the youth is our future and if we believe that, we must listen to our youth. As a local government, we’ve undertaken to submit the memorandum from Cape Town’s learners to our President as the voices of the youth must be heard,” said Maxiti, according to the statement.
“Today we are also demanding that South Africa move away from its heavy reliance on destructive fossil fuels towards cleaner sources of energy which could create many jobs and reduce poverty and inequality.”
“We have taken our fight to move away from Eskom’s fossil fuel-based energy supply to the court as we want to be able to buy cleaner energy from independent power producers. Cities can play a huge role in immediately reducing the levels of carbon emissions and increasing resilience to future shocks,” said Maxiti.