24 February 2022 at 9:00 am
The Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) welcomes the tabling of the Climate Change Bill in Parliament last week. We now urge lawmakers to ensure that the bill evolves towards being the robust, comprehensive and enforceable legal framework that South Africa needs if it is to mount an adequate response to climate change. This Bill must guide our collective action to urgently reduce greenhouse gas emissions, complete the just transition to a low-carbon future, and prepare for the impacts of climate change.
On Friday 18 February 2022, the Climate Change Bill was formally introduced to the National Assembly by the Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment. This iteration of the Bill was first published for information in October 2021, and an earlier version of the Bill was published in 2018.
The aim of the Bill is to ensure that South Africa has the necessary statutory framework to respond to climate change by reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and preparing to adapt to the effects of climate change.
When promulgated, the Climate Change Act must enable South Africa to take meaningful action on climate change mitigation and adaptation, thereby protecting our Constitutionally enshrined right to an environment that is not harmful to health and well-being. In particular, the Climate Change Act must define the roles and mandates of different sectors of government, at local, provincial and national level, to ensure that all spheres of government are empowered to act on climate change.
“After many years of calling for this Bill to be introduced in Parliament, CER welcomes the tabling of the Bill. We will be scrutinising the Bill as it evolves, and work to ensure that it entrenches meaningful and enforceable carbon budgets and emissions reductions targets,” says Wandisa Phama, Deputy Director at CER.
We also need to ensure that the Bill adequately provides for participation and transparency around the setting of targets and the reporting of emissions and other actions.
The dangers of deferring consequences for big polluters
The Bill lacks adequate compliance and enforcement provisions. It provides for only a single criminal offence, and all provisions in previous drafts linking non-compliance with the obligation to pay a higher carbon tax have been removed in the draft introduced in Parliament – deferring consequences of violations to regulations to be made by the Minister at an undetermined point in the future. There a number of other critical provisions, such as setting carbon budgets and sectoral emissions targets, that have no deadlines attached to them, leading to concerns that meaningful action may be further delayed.
“The climate crisis is upon us, but the Bill does not yet reflect the urgency or severity of the situation. There needs to be meaningful deterrence for non-compliance and excessive GHG emissions so that big emitters will take the necessary action,” says Melissa Fourie, Executive Director at CER. “This is not a drill.”
South Africa must strengthen its commitment to reducing greenhouse gasses
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), limiting global temperature increases to 1.5°C means that “global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to drop by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050.”
South Africa’s current Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), or emissions reduction target, updated in 2021, is already relatively weak and does not adequately ensure that we stay within 1.5°C of global warming – the minimum safe limit for our climate. Despite this, the Climate Change Bill that was tabled on Friday incorporates the much weaker, and no longer applicable, NDC from 2015, this commitment now having been replaced by the 2021 NDC.
“At present, the interim GHG emissions trajectory in Schedule 3 of the Bill is the “Peak, Plateau and Decline” NDC of 2015, a trajectory deemed ‘highly insufficient’ according to independent research authority, Climate Action Tracker, and which puts the planet on track for an up to 4°C global average warming increase, which equates to an uninhabitable 8°C potential warming increase for South Africa,” says Nicole Loser, Programme Head: Pollution and Climate Change at CER. “This needs to be the first amendment to the Bill.”
The need for transparency and independent scientific expertise
The Bill currently does not provide for adequate transparency and access to information.
We need to see mechanisms that enable all role-players to easily see key data such as carbon budgets (and any exemptions that have been granted), current emissions levels and emissions reduction plans.
Some jurisdictions provide for independent scientific bodies to provide the state with the best available and latest science on climate change and the responses required to address it. Many of the targets and responses are political in nature and lag behind the science, and it is important to stay abreast of the ever evolving scientific knowledge in this field in order to adequately provide protection against climate impacts.
Climate laws must empower South Africa to act on climate change
“This legislation needs to facilitate sound adaptation measures to help create a climate resilient society and economy,” says Brandon Abdinor, Climate Advocacy Lawyer CER.
“At present many of the important adaptation measures by government are not required to be taken for up to five years after the Act is in place. This is a delay we cannot afford, as we are already feeling the impacts of climate change and the need for legal certainty on a response. Climate adaptation needs to become central in all tiers of government and strategic planning without any further delay.”
In addition, the Bill places a great deal of responsibility on municipalities and provincial government to assess climate change needs and create climate response implementation plans to cover both adaptation and mitigation measures.
“In order to empower and support local authorities to fulfil their legal obligations, this responsibility must be accompanied by the technical expertise, budget and political will that will enable them to take meaningful action to protect the people, communities and businesses that are vulnerable to physical climate risks. We already know that women and young people are disproportionately impacted by climate change, and this injustice must be reversed,” says Abdinor.
What’s next and what can you do?
It is expected that the Portfolio Committee on Environment, Forestry and Fisheries will now consider the Bill and put out a call for public comment in the near future. Interest groups and members of the public are encouraged to make comments on any aspects of the Bill that concern them. The committee is also being encouraged to facilitate extensive and meaningful public participation given the far reaching implications of the climate crisis and the necessary climate change response measures.
“We are entering a new era in which climate finance is starting to become available to assist with the financial challenges to decarbonising the economy and enabling a just transition from fossil fuels,” says Leanne Govindsamy, Programme Head: Corporate Accountability and Transparency at CER.
We will only be eligible for climate finance if we are seen to be taking climate action seriously. A strong act, properly implemented, is crucial to demonstrate the necessary commitment to secure this much needed assistance.
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