Dr Margaret Chitiga, researcher at the University
The relationship between economic growth and development and the natural environment has increasingly become a topic for debate in recent years. According to Dr Margaret Chitiga, a researcher at the University of Pretoria, this is due to continued environmental degradation caused by economically induced increases in air and water pollution and the steady increase in the exhaustion of natural resources.
Research conducted by Dr Chitiga and her colleagues in prudent environmental management over the past year indicates that the management of natural resources deserves serious attention. "Severe losses in biodiversity and the concomitant desertification problems, low levels of water resources, high per capita use of energy and electric power and the resultant high carbon dioxide emissions are disconcerting," she says. "South Africa's problems are compounded by its peculiar economic structure where poverty and affluence exist side by side."
Professor Jan van Heerden, who was part of the research team, developed a model that allowed them to look at the impact of water consumption and energy on the environment. Using the model, they were able to detect which sectors were consuming the largest amounts of water or causing the highest level of pollution as well as what impact could be achieved by taxing those sectors.
The results showed that a triple dividend could be achieved by taxing the sectors that had the highest negative impact on the environment. As Dr Chitiga explains, "Imposing tax on those sectors could improve the environment itself, increase economic input and reduce poverty. We are pleased with this income as studies done elsewhere in the world had only had a double dividend."
The research has been featured in Focus 54, which is part of an annual series of publications produced by the University of Pretoria's Bureau for Economic Policy and Analysis (BEPA) that focuses on key economic issues. It is currently being discussed in workshops with various stakeholders from government, non-governmental organisations and academia.
Dr Chitiga says the findings have been extremely well-received and have generated a lot of positive feedback. "What we would like to do now is to try and acquire more sponsorship to follow up on our findings and narrow our studies to address specific policy issues raised by policy makers."
She believes the challenge faced by policymakers is to seek an appropriate balance between sustainable economic development and the perseveration of the natural environment. The researchers have put forward various scenarios and possible solutions towards alleviating poverty, reducing the negative impact on the environment, while simultaneously growing the economy. Further research would allow them to explore these scenarios in greater depth.
To date the research, coordinated under the SERA banner, has been funded by the Poverty Reduction and Environmental Management Programme (PREM) of the government of the Netherlands and the South African National Research Foundation.
Further information is available from Dr Margeret Chitiga at tel 012 420 3457.