Sustainability and inclusion must be the priorities for all societies and economies over the next decades.
It is easy to gloss over these two words, but the tragic impact of the KZN floods this last week, the loss of lives and homes and hope, drive home the urgency of getting it right.
Climate change, and the escalating impact of rising temperatures, is the main sustainability challenge we face in our generation. We need to adapt our cities and their infrastructure for extreme events such as these floods, and for gradual changes, such as sea level rise and altered weather patterns.
Such efforts, commonly referred to as adaptation measures, are not cheap, and are often put at the bottom of the budget shopping list; we don’t know exactly how climate events will unfold, and so the temptation is always there to wait and see and hope. KZN shows us that this cannot be the way forward, the human and the financial cost is simply too high.
We need determination, and partnership, and resources allocated to adaptation, and we also need greater awareness of climate change realities amongst South Africans: some surveys suggest many of us still don’t regard this as an epoch-defining challenge.
It is worth emphasizing that addressing climate change while there is still time is not about whether we like malls or forests: unchecked temperature increases will threaten the very foundations of our economies. Sub-Saharan Africa, an emitter of only 2–3% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, is more vulnerable to climate change impacts than other continents. Millions of people across Africa rely on agriculture for their livelihoods and climate disruptions threatens their very way of life.
As we have tragically seen with Covid, it is the poorer and more vulnerable segments of our society who suffer most when adverse shocks occur. Disasters often exacerbate exclusion.
On the other hand, inclusive societies are better able to deal with disaster, to move fast and effectively, with compassion and cohesion at the centre of their efforts. We have seen, indeed, in the response to the KZN floods, solidarity and unselfish efforts. Among them, the Motsepe Foundation in partnership with King Misuzulu Zulu, traditional leaders, religious organisations, affiliated development forums and government entities, lent a helping hand with a R30 million donation for immediate assistance to affected families.
The climate change challenge is particularly difficult because we will increasingly be required to deal with immediate crises like this one whilst also putting in place a new energy framework and new ways of doing business that prevent accelerating future crises. We must put our trust and accountability onto global Climate Change Relief Funds that have a primary purpose to assist governments with the long-term safe relocation of affected communities, and to help rebuild more resilient infrastructure in safer locations.
At African Fashion International (AFI), we have given a great deal of thought to bringing sustainability into an industry that has often been associated with the opposite.
Fashion production contributes 10% of humanity’s total carbon emissions. It has, historically, often emphasised ‘fast fashion,’ restless consumption of new items rather than unique, quality products. Materials have been very synthetics-based, which has polluted our oceans and ground-soil.
Production has generally occurred through a global supply chain that not only generates greenhouse gasses on an immense scale but also locks in regional inequities: developing countries all too often provide raw materials and factory labour, as well as the dumping grounds for discarded items, but do not claim enough of the value add.
A new fashion landscape may, however, be emerging, one which is more likely to have localised value chains, gives more thought to the materials used in products and the circumstances of workers, and uses fashion as an emphatic means of activism for the planet.
These trends are important and must be supported, and are very relevant to sub-Saharan Africa, where we still do not engage in enough clothing and textile trade with one another, and do not give sufficient weight to establishing regional hubs for fashion and other industries. The AFI Fashion Experience in Botswana next week, in partnership with the Forbes Under 30 Summit Africa, is an opportunity for us to explore and showcase exciting, sustainable approaches to fashion events that integrate sustainable local development as a priority.
We will be highlighting the work of Botswanan designers at the event, but we are going beyond this by using local models, performers and hair and beauty artists, and by providing for meaningful skills transfer. We will also be using natural settings and natural light to emphasise our embeddedness in the natural world.
Our hope is that rethinking events like this can contribute to changed mindsets and, from that, changed priorities in our relations with the planet.
As this week has shown, again, we cannot afford to delay when it comes to securing a more sustainable and inclusive path for ourselves and those who come after us.