Photography by:
  • Charne Ayres & Martin Bolton

Dimensions of a green economy (2023)

A lot has been written lately on the importance of moving towards a green economy, but there has been little empirical research on the nature of the green economy that is actually emerging. This project reflects on the actually existing green economy in the GCR, analyzing possibilities for and limitations on a future green economy in the region.

The project builds on the GCRO’s previous work on this issue:

In mid-2009 GCRO investigated how other cities and regions in other parts of the world were responding to the global recession. Promoting the green economy was one strategy. Taking note of this finding, the then MEC for Economic Development, Firoz Cachalia, asked GCRO to develop ideas for how Gauteng could promote the green economy. The result was the Developmental Green Economy Strategy for Gauteng, submitted to GPG in early 2010.

Following this the Department of Economic developed asked GCRO to take these initial policy ideas further into implementable commitments. Working over late 2010, and to mid-2011, GCRO and GDED collaborated on the drafting of the Green Strategic Programme (GSP). Although the GSP looked at commitments in a number of different areas, from climate change to solid waste to land-use and so on, a detailed sectoral report on policies and strategies to promote the green economy specifically was prepared. This can be downloaded here.

Further policy support work was done under the banner of the G2055 long-term strategy process. This of course had many components, but in late 2012 a series of proposed 'strategic pathways' were prepared, of which one, written by the GCRO, looked specifically at how to move Gauteng from a resource-intensive to a green economy. Download this input here.

In April 2015, Graeme Gotz and Alexis Schäffler published a journal article on this evolution of Gauteng’s green economy policies in the journal Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability.

While this policy support work put forward some ideas on what could be achieved in building towards a green economy, background research suggested that the green economy as it really exists is still fragmented and ephemeral. There is a pressing need to concretely investigate the successes and failures of the real green economy in order to inform decision makers on appropriate support measures. This project therefore aims to identify processes, systems and structures that may be instituted to provide innovative responses to green economy blockages and missed opportunities (innovations that may also address current municipal finance weaknesses and service-delivery challenges). It critically reviews the institutional infrastructure that inhibits or supports green economy transitions; the status of national, provincial and local government co-ordination of green economy commitments; and decision-making processes affecting green economy projects.

A key aspect of this research was led by Dr Claudious Chikhozo when he joined the GCRO as a second Research Director in 2014. He defined a specific strand of enquiry looking at the state of readiness of Gauteng municipalities to lead transitions towards a green economy. In terms of the prospectus for the research:

[Municipalities] have the opportunity to chart new, more sustainable pathways toward a prosperous, inclusive and climate-resilient future, or they can continue deploying orthodox forms of development which destroy the available ecological goods and services. On the first path lies the promise and potential of green growth. In this study, we ask whether or not cities and towns in the Gauteng City-Region (GCR) are ready to transition to a green growth path. Have they already embarked on the journey? If so, how are they doing it?

Dr Joël Houdet was commissioned to undertake the study in 2015, with a view to producing a GCRO Occasional Paper. A detailed report was prepared, but was not ultimately published by the GCRO, largely because the significant changes in party political leadership at the local level in the mid-2016 local elections made the findings into 'current' green economy policies at the local level outdated. However, the draft report can be read as a working paper here.


At present the project is in abeyance. It may be re-opened to consider updated analysis focused on:

  • An overview of how the idea of the green economy has evolved in South African and Gauteng policy discourse, with reference especially to how it was reduced to a sub-sectoral focus, easily overshadowed by new flavour-of-the-month notions, such as the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR)
  • The recent re-emergence of green economy ideas – often under the rubric of the circular economy – which seem to have been accelerated by the COVID-19 crisis
  • An analysis of (a) key micro-economic and (b) key policy, regulatory and administrative constraints on the development of green economic industries and practice
  • An analysis of how South Africa’s municipal fiscal architectures and financial management arrangements positively and negatively impact on possible transitions to a green economy, with proposals for key adjustments that could conceivably be made to local government financial systems.



Gotz, G. and Schäffler, A. (2015) ‘Conundrums in implementing a green economy in the Gauteng City-Region’. Journal special issue edited by Simon, D. and Leck, H. ‘Bearing the brunt of environmental change: understanding adaptation and transformation challenges in urban Africa’. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability. 13, April 2015, pp. 79–87.

Schäffler A. (2012) ‘Developmental Green Economy Strategy for Gauteng, South Africa’, Urban Patterns for a Green Economy: Clustering for Competitiveness, UN Habitat, June 2012


Gotz, G. and Schäffler, A. (April 2013) ‘Conundrums of an emerging green economy in the Gauteng City-Region’, presented at an international workshop at Royal Holloway, London, Bearing the brunt of environmental change: understanding climate adaptation and transformation challenges in African cities, 16-17 April 2013

Gotz, G. & Schäffler, A. (February 2013) ‘Conundrums for an emerging green regional economy: The Gauteng City-Region’, KZN Green Growth Conference, ICC Durban, 5 February 2013

Musongo, J. Schäffler, A. and Gotz, G. (November 2011) ‘Current Research and initiatives for a Green Gauteng City Region', SACN and DBSA Infrastructure Dialogue on Infrastructure and Greening the Future, 16 November 2011

Gotz, G. (October 2011) 'Green economy transitions: Gauteng’s Green Strategic Programme', presented at the South African National Bio-Diversity Institute (SANBI) Grassland Forum conference on Powering the Green Economy, 19 October 2011

Last updated: 11 October 2022


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