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CER calls for a new Climate Change portfolio in the Presidency

14 May 2019 at 8:00 am

President Cyril Ramaphosa (Photo credit:  GCIS)
President Cyril Ramaphosa (Photo credit: GCIS)

The Centre for Environmental Rights has written to President Ramaphosa about his upcoming cabinet selection, asking him to give priority to the urgent need to improve environmental governance in South Africa by appointing Ministers and Deputy Ministers who are strong, forward thinking leaders, committed to reforming environmental and water governance, and addressing the global threat of climate change.

In particular, CER has recommended that a climate change portfolio be created in the Presidency, alternatively that a new Department of Energy and Climate be created; and that no attempt be made to merge the dysfunctional Department of Water & Sanitation with another department.

CER has called on the President, when making his cabinet selection, to recognise:

  1. the need to prioritise environmental governance, bearing in mind the dire state of water governance in South Africa; and
  2. the unprecedented global threat of climate change, which we have done very little to prevent or address, despite it already having a more severe impact on the global south, with vulnerable communities being most at risk.

In the letter to the President, CER highlights some of the key challenges facing the Departments of Water and Sanitation, Environmental Affairs, Energy and Mineral Resources and provides advice on the key qualities that Ministers and Deputy Ministers appointed to those portfolios should have in order to lead institutional reform.

Firstly, CER writes that the Department of Energy is currently making decisions that have far-reaching implications for South Africa’s ability to ensure a just transition from fossil fuels to clean energy, and our resilience to the market upheaval and the natural storms and droughts coming our way. It calls for the Minister to be someone with a clear vision for a just transition away from fossil fuels to clean, cheap, renewable energy for South Africa, and the courage to stand up to the vested interests that are holding us back and throttling our ability to improve the quality of life of everyone in South Africa, including the most vulnerable in our society.

Mainstreaming of climate change – getting appropriate prioritisation of climate considerations across all sectors of government and appropriate coordinated action taken – is crucial to an effective response to climate change. Therefore a Climate Change portfolio is better positioned inside the Presidency itself than its current home in the Department of Environmental Affairs. Another option is to create a new Department of Energy and Climate, which will send a strong signal that the ANC and Cabinet acknowledge the massive risk our country faces, and how decisions about energy are directly linked to South Africa’s future in a changed climate.

In relation to Department of Water & Sanitation (DWS), CER describes the risks posed to health and service delivery due to regulatory dysfunction and corruption at the DWS and at many local governments. We strongly motivate for the DWS not to be merged with another portfolio to allow a new Minister to focus on the mammoth task of rebuilding and reforming this key department. CER warns of the paralysis and delay caused by poorly implemented mergers, and the need for a strong Minister to fill the extraordinarily high number of vacanies at the DWS and appoint a competent senior management group as soon as possible.

In relation to the Department of Environmental Affairs, CER would not be opposed to a re-merger with Tourism, but argues for a powerful and uncompromised Minister, given the central role this department plays in our climate resilience which involves holding the environment (soil, air, water, biodiversity) in public trust for all the people of South Africa as well as future generations.

In the letter, CER argues that leading South Africa’s Department of Mineral Resources in 2019 requires a very different approach: someone who can ensure regulatory certainty, but also effective and committed regulation. Crucially, the new Minister of Mineral Resources has to account for and respond to the extraordinary frustrations and anger of both mining-affected communities across the country about the way in which their lives, homes and livelihoods have been shattered by effectively unregulated mining, and communities who have in mind a different development path, and are holding out, at great risk and cost, against that same devastation they see in other parts of South Africa.

The CER also argues that the Minister of Mineral Resources also needs to be smart enough not to be hoodwinked by international mining companies now offloading the dregs of a dying coal mining industry under the guise of black economic empowerment, and instead prevent these companies from walking away scot-free from the absolute devastation of the natural and social environment they have profited from for the last 60 years.

Download the letter addressed to President Ramaphosa on 14 May 2019.


For queries, contact CER Executive Director Melissa Fourie on 072306888 or [email protected].