Is South Africa Operating in a Safe and Just Space? Using the doughnut model to explore environmental sustainability and social justice | Poverty

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The world has entered an era of unprecedented environmental change and social inequality. South Africa is no exception having suffered unique challenges following decades of injustice under apartheid. The future of South Africa depends on the country’s ability to end social deprivation and manage environmental stress, enabling its people to live in a space where it is both safe and just for humanity to exist. This paper uses Oxfam’s ‘doughnut model’ to describe the multi-dimensional nature of poverty and environmental change, providing a snapshot of South Africa’s current position against the suggested set of domains and indicators. It reveals that a significant proportion of South Africans are living below the social floor, while the country has already crossed its safe environmental boundaries for climate change, freshwater use, biodiversity loss and marine harvesting.
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  OXFAM RESEARCH REPORTS MAY 2015   Oxfam Research Reports  are written to share research results, to contribute to public debate and to invite feedback on development and humanitarian policy and practice. They do not necessarily reflect Oxfam policy positions. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of Oxfam.  www.oxfam.org   IS SOUTH AFRICA OPERATING IN A SAFE AND JUST SPACE?   Using the doughnut model to explore environmental sustainability and social  justice MEGAN COLE   The world has entered an era of unprecedented environmental change and social inequality. South Africa is no exception having suffered unique challenges following decades of injustice under apartheid. The future of South Africa depends on the country’s ability to end social deprivation and manage environmental stress, enabling its people to live in a space where it is both safe and just for humanity to exist. This paper uses Oxfam’s ‘doughnut model’ to describe the multi-dimensional nature of poverty and environmental change, providing a snapshot of South Africa’s current position against the suggested set of domains and indicators. It reveals that a significant proportion of South Africans are living below the social floor, while the country has already crossed its safe environmental boundaries for climate change, freshwater use, biodiversity loss and marine harvesting.   2 The South African Doughnut: A framework for environmental sustainability and social justice   CONTENTS Executive summary .......................................................................................... 3   1   Introduction: Living in the Anthropocene ............................................... 9   2   Is South Africa living in a safe and just space? ................................... 13   3   Key findings from the doughnut ............................................................ 43   4   Bringing the two together – what does the doughnut mean? ............. 44   5   Policy focus areas ................................................................................... 54   6   Summary and recommendations ........................................................... 58    Appendices ..................................................................................................... 60    Acronyms and abbreviations ........................................................................ 62   References ...................................................................................................... 65    Acknowledgements ........................................................................................ 70    The South African Doughnut: A framework for environmental sustainability and social justice 3   EXECUTIVE SUMMARY The world faces twin challenges: delivering a decent standard of living for everyone, while living within our environmental limits. These two interwoven concerns are depicted by Oxfam’s ‘doughnut model’, which provides a visual representation of a space between an environmental ceiling (the outer edge of the doughnut) and a social foundation (the inner edge), where it is environmentally safe and socially just for humanity to exist. Oxfam’s new paper – ‘Is South Africa Operating in a Safe and Just Space?’ – applies this concept to South Africa in order to assess the country’s performance across a range of environmental and social domains. It identifies where policy interventions are most needed to help develop a ‘safe and just’ society and economy. Background The srcinal doughnut model, developed by Kate Raworth, former Oxfam senior researcher, focused on a global perspective (Raworth, 2012). This incorporated earlier work from a team of leading earth system scientists including Johan Rockström, Will Steffen, the Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC) and the Stockholm Environmental Institute (SEI), who identified a range of environmental domains that are critical for the continued safe operation of the planet (Rockström et al, 2009). In their paper ‘Planetary Boundaries: Exploring the Safe Operating Space for Humanity’, they highlighted the risk of crossing critical thresholds in the Earth’s biophysical processes and sought to identify planetary boundaries, or tipping points, beyond which vital Earth systems would become unpredictable and/or unsafe. Though not without its critics, the planetary boundary approach has been used by the UN and the European Commission, and by many civil society organisations. In 2013, the SRC and SEI sought to develop a methodology to apply this approach at a national level, using Sweden as an example (SRC and SEI, 2013). In 2015, the planetary boundaries were updated by Steffen et al (2015). Changes within these processes, driven by human activity, are already causing severe adverse impacts on weather systems, as well as our ability to produce food and the availability of fresh water. The boundaries for planetary loss of biodiversity and the nitrogen cycle have already been breached, while the climate change boundary is dangerously close to being breached. The updated report from Steffen et al. shows that the safe limit has also now been breached in regards to the phosphorus cycle. 1  Raworth’s work combined this ‘environmental ceiling’ with a proposed ‘social foundation’ below which it was ‘unjust’ for people to fall. The combination of environmental ceiling and social foundation is presented diagrammatically in what has become known as the ‘Oxfam doughnut model’ (Figure 1).   4 The South African Doughnut: A framework for environmental sustainability and social justice   Figure 1: Oxfam’s Global Doughnut The discussion paper downscales the global doughnut model by assessing the extent to which conditions in South Africa exist below the environmental ceiling and above the social foundation (see Cole et al, 2014). It uses 22 indicators to describe environmental and socio-economic systems, while highlighting the interdependent nature of those systems and identifying where people and the environment face unacceptable and dangerous stresses. This national doughnut report has been produced in order to help shape South Africa’s development pathway by informing policy making through the delivery of strategic information on environmental and social problems, identifying key causal factors, monitoring the effects of policy responses and raising public awareness. The South African report firstly identifies the social and environmental domains used for the national doughnut and goes on to examine performance within the respective domains. It then explores some policy implications that flow from this analysis. Developing a social foundation South Africa faces the ‘triple challenge’ of poverty, inequality and unemployment. It has one of the highest official unemployment rates in the world (25 percent) and is one of the most unequal countries, with a Gini coefficient of 0.69 (Department of Performance Management and Evaluation, 2013). The wealthiest 4 percent of households receive 32 percent of total income while 66 percent of households receive only 21 percent of all income (Visagie, 2013). Over half of South Africans live below the national poverty line and more than 10 percent live in extreme poverty, on less than $1.25 per day. The hopes of 54 million people depend on South Africa’s ability to address such injustices and end social deprivation.
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