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2015: The Centre for Environmental Rights’ Year in Review

9 December 2015 at 9:00 am

ELA JHB protesters along Jan Smuts Avenue in Johannesburg on 15 May 2015

CER clients Earthlife Africa JHB protests along Jan Smuts Avenue in Johannesburg on 15 May 2015 against the proposed Thabametsi coal power plant in Limpopo (Photo: ELA JHB)

2015 has been an intense and rewarding year at the Centre for Environmental Rights. This year, together with our partners and clients, we continued to challenge decisions that propel South Africa further down the path of dependence on fossil fuels, particularly coal. We disputed decisions to allow coal mining that threaten precious water resources, and the communities who rely on that water. We confronted decisions to allow the burning of coal in areas that already have poor air quality, affecting the health and well-being of vulnerable people. We also exposed the poor compliance records of many of South Africa’s big corporates, and their unwillingness to disclose these records to their shareholders. We compelled local authorities and companies to disclose environmental records.

CER attorneys at annual community activist meeting hosted by groundWork in Pietermaritzburg, January 2015

CER attorneys at meeting of community activists hosted by groundWork in Pietermaritzburg, January 2015

During this year, our attorneys and staff have travelled all over South Africa: from Cape Town to Tzaneen to Middelburg and Emalahleni to Durban. We talked about environmental rights, violations and remedies with community activists and organisations across the country, and this year we also started to reach out to public interest environmental lawyers beyond our borders in India, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Colombia. Our Corporate Accountability and Transparency work has put us in boardrooms with CEOs and environmental managers of some of South Africa’s largest polluting companies, and with institutional investors and asset managers. We have also presented to members of Parliament, a mayoral appeal committee on the Mpumalanga Highveld, and officials in national, and provincial and local government.

Here are some of the highlights of our year at the CER:

Sasol Secunda (Photo: groundWork)

Sasol Secunda (Photo: groundWork)

Giant ash dam next to Eskom power station. The horizon is completely obscured by smog.

Giant ash dam next to Eskom power station. The horizon is completely obscured by smog (Photo: M Fourie)

Some of our 2015 Candidate Attorneys at CER

Some of our 2015 Candidate Attorneys at CER


  • September 2015 was also the month in which we  launched an important new report called Full Disclosure: The Truth about Corporate Environmental Compliance in South Africa. By comparing the extent of compliance by these companies with environmental law with the extent to which non-compliance with environmental laws was disclosed by 20 listed companies to their shareholders between 2008 and 2014, many companies which have regularly been hailed as shining examples for their approach to managing environmental, social and governance factors have in fact committed serious breaches of environmental laws during the assessment period. In many cases, companies did not provide accurate information to their shareholders about their environmental impacts and non-compliances. Full Disclosure received a great deal of interest in the media and the business community.
  • In October 2015, the CER made formal submissions to the Minister of Environmental Affairs regarding weaknesses in the regulations on dust control, particularly dust arising as a result of mining operations, and requested her to prioritise the urgent review of these regulations.

CER Signs of Hope WordPress web

  • In November 2015, we launched our 5th report on transparency in environmental governance titled Signs of Hope? This report recognised the improvement by the Department of Water & Sanitation of its compliance with the Promotion of Access to Information Act, and criticised the Department of Mineral Resources for its continued poor performance on access to information. The report also acknowledges the strides made by the Department of Environmental Affairs towards greater proactive disclosure of environmental records. We look forward to seeing all environmental licences and compliance records online and easily available to all.

In 2016, you can expect to see an intensification of our legal challenges of new coal mines and power plants, and increased support for our community partners fighting air and water pollution on the Highveld, in the Vaal Triangle, the Waterberg and in South Durban. You can also expect to see new work being done around protection of strategic water source areas, and protection of wildlife.

We thank all our loyal clients, partners and funders, big and small, for their ongoing support for the CER, and wish you all a peaceful holiday. The CER reopens on 11 January 2016.

Kirstenbosch Group Photo Nov 2015

CER staff enjoying a rare morning of relaxation in Kirstenbosch, Cape Town, November 2015