SOUTH Africa faces many economic, environmental and social challenges. Inflation, constraints of energy, water and food, and a 24.9% unemployment rate are just a few.

Environmental and sustainability issues have come to feature prominently in public debate as the realities of climate change kick in. As a result, the green economy is gaining traction and the provision of green jobs will be a key economic driver in this century.

Also known as green-collar, low-carbon or eco jobs, green jobs — found not only in the conservation and biodiversity sector — span an array of skills, educational backgrounds and occupational profiles.

This is especially true with regard to so-called indirect jobs — those in companies that supply the renewable energy industry, where supply chains largely comprise traditional industries.

The International Labour Organisation defines green jobs as those that "contribute substantially to preserving or restoring environmental quality. Specifically, but not exclusively, this includes jobs that help to protect ecosystems and biodiversity; reduce energy, materials and water consumption through high-efficiency strategies; decarbonise the economy; and minimise or altogether avoid generation of all forms of waste and pollution."

As part of the Copenhagen Accord signed in 2009, South Africa committed to a low-carbon development path targeting a 34% deviation below a "business as usual" emissions growth trajectory by 2020, and a 42% drop below the trajectory by 2025. This has focused the government’s mind in supporting low-carbon development.

A Green Economy Accord was signed on November 17 2011 by the government’s relevant departments and its social partners. Since then, more than R20bn has been allocated to green economic development.

The Industrial Development Corporation, working with the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA), produced the Green Jobs Report in 2011, which estimated that greening the South African economy had the potential to create more than 460,000 new direct jobs by 2025.

Of these, renewable energy generation is expected to create about 130,000 jobs, energy and resource efficiency more than 67,000 jobs, emissions and pollution mitigation about 31,000 jobs, and natural resource management more than 230,000 jobs.

Key green job-creation projects in the management of South Africa’s natural resources are:

• Working for Water, which eradicates invasive alien vegetation to conserve water and the environment, providing jobs and training to about 20,000 people a year.

• Working on Fire, a multipartner organisation that focuses on integrated fire management and veld and wild firefighting, combined with the need to create jobs and develop skills.

• Working for Wetlands, which uses wetland rehabilitation as a vehicle for job creation and skills development.

Groen Sebenza: the DBSA has granted more than R250m to create 800 sustainable jobs for unemployed graduates and matriculants through this programme, which brings together 33 partner organisations from government, nongovernmental organisations and the private sector to develop skills in biodiversity management. (See:  )

While these are worthwhile projects, significant investment in skills development though sustainability literacy is still lacking. This is marginalising communities, women and youths who are seeking meaningful work and green entrepreneurship opportunities.

The government needs to focus on creating pathways of equitable development, environmental and social justice, community participation and leadership to foster much wider participation of South Africans in the green economy.

• Hattingh is the founder of Green Talent, a sustainability career and training company.