Climate change learning in an electricity utility: distribution division case study, Eskom, South Africa.
One of the most significant ways in which humans have damaged the environment is the contribution to rapid global warming which causes major changes to the climate on earth, resulting in many negative impacts to humans and the environment. While the world mostly agrees that something needs to be done about climate change, there have been numerous stumbling blocks and setbacks in decisive actions on climate change. Businesses are realising that pro-climate change actions could lead to economic, environmental and health benefits, while also improving the sustainability of the organisation. In order to address climate change, major shifts in public policy and individual behaviour regarding energy, transportation and consumption will have to be made. Improving basic education, climate literacy and public understanding of the local dimensions of climate change are vital for public engagement and support for climate action. This research explored climate change learning in an electricity utility, using the Eskom’s Distribution Division in South Africa. The four objectives of this study included a critical review and assessment of the level of the Distribution Division’s climate change programme and environmental practices, an examination of staff perceptions and attitudes towards climate change and the Distribution Division’s environmental strategies, an examination of the challenges and opportunities presented by the environmental and climate change crisis for business in South Africa and in particular for electricity utilities in Africa, the development of a set of indicators to inform a framework for internal climate change capacity building programmes for electricity utility companies and the formulation of a policy and programme recommendations. Existing literature was reviewed, an online survey was conducted with employees, interviews were held with the key informants and focus group discussions were hosted. The research considered the demographic profile of respondents, attitudes to life and environmental issues, options for managing climate change, who respondents considered responsible for climate change action, who could be trusted to take climate change action and the Distribution Division’s climate change programme and environmental strategies. The findings of this study indicate that the Distribution Division employees considered career, job or employment and education as a higher priority for society. Water pollution was the most important environmental issue that employees experienced or impacted on their lives at present and this issue was also considered the most important issue globally. Furthermore, employees’ selfrated knowledge of climate change was above average and the majority expressed grave concern about climate change. Employees were also of the view that emissions from business or factories were the main cause of climate change. Employees also experienced hotter summers and water shortages which indicated to them that climate change is taking place presently and affects South Africa. The main options for actions that employees put forward were recycling waste and planting of trees. Furthermore, employees trusted themselves the most to take action on climate change and the main choice of format for climate change information that was preferred by employees was talks by experts, using graphs of future trends and pictures of what an area could look like in the future. This research supports the findings of other scholars who indicate that climate change learning and response is generally poor amongst most people, including workers, and that there are some specific interventions that are required to enhance climate change learning in the work environment. A range of options must be considered with the involvement of relevant stakeholders to find practical and meaningful options for climate change learning and response. Hence recommendations were made in this study to address the level of the Distribution Division’s climate change programme and environmental practices, staff perceptions and attitudes towards climate change and the Distribution Division’s environmental strategies, the challenges and opportunities presented by the environmental and climate change crisis for business in South Africa and for electricity utilities in Africa. A set of indicators (Table 6.1) to build the climate change capacity of employees and to minimise business and individual Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions was also developed within the framework for internal climate change capacity building programmes for electricity utilities. The policy and programme recommendations of this study included the prioritising of climate change learning in business with the necessary resources and leadership requirements, as well as a proposal to rebrand climate change to a more impactful, appropriate, relevant and meaningful term linked to human survival.