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Roundup of 2012 at the Centre for Environmental Rights, and announcing our Environmental Rights Newsmaker for 2012

14 December 2012 at 4:49 pm

Cape Town-20121212-00141

From left: Matome Kapa, Robyn Hugo, Samantha Atukunda, Ncebakazi Jwaqu, Michael Lowman, Melissa Fourie and Dina Townsend. Absent for being the photographer: Catherine Horsfield

Before we close the Centre’s doors for 2012, we’d like to give you a quick roundup of events at the Centre for Environmental Rights in 2012, and give you a glimpse of what 2013 will look like for the advancement of environmental rights.

Our access to information work has ramped up and expanded during the course of 2012, starting with the publication of our Unlock the Doors report in April. During the year, we have engaged with government departments, Chapter 9 institutions, private companies, professional bodies and industry associations to promote improved compliance with PAIA, and greater voluntary disclosure of information, particularly environmental licences. In September, we were the proud recipients of the SAHRC’s Golden Key Award for Best User of PAIA.

Early in 2013, we will publish an update on Unlock the Doors, and a new report that makes recommendations for improved public access to environmental licences and compliance data on the basis of local and international requirements and best practice.

This year also saw the start of a litigation programme to compel both public bodies and private companies to comply with their obligations under PAIA, working with the Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance and other organisations. We are seeing some interesting legal arguments emerging from private companies in response to the many refusals to disclose information, including that civil society organisations have no right to information to assist them to monitor private companies’ compliance with environmental laws. More information about these legal proceedings in the new year.

Our work on promoting transparency and accountability in mining continued this year, including some new litigation on behalf of communities and civil society organisations to compel compliance with environmental laws and PAJA by mining companies and competent authorities. A development that stands out for us here at the CER was the establishment of the Mining and Environmental Justice Community Network (MEJCON) supported by the CER. This Network, which consists of representatives and activists from mining-affected communities across the country, also forms part of the larger Mining-Environment-Communities Alliance (MECA). MECA is now three years old, and continues to be an active alliance for information-sharing and joint advocacy. These features will be particularly important for consultation around the proposed MPRDA Amendment Bill in 2013 – consultation that will unfortunately only take place through the Parliamentary process, despite our repeated requests for consultation with the DMR. To kick of our work in 2013, the Centre will launch a new guide for communities and civil society organisations on using criminal prosecution to address environmental violations by mines.

In 2012, the Centre also significantly expanded its work around industrial air and waste pollution with our partners groundWork, VEJA and the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, as well as water governance. In March, we published a key strategic report entitled Stop Treading Water, based on the recommendations of a civil society expert group convened in November 2011. That publication has informed and guided our inputs into the draft National Water Resource Strategy, both to the Portfolio Committee and the DWA, working closely with the South African Water Caucus and other NGOs. The Centre is also preparing for proposed amendments to National Water Act in 2013, including resolving the concerns around the dysfunctional Water Tribunal.

In July, we made joint submissions with the Legal Resources Centre on the National Environmental Laws Amendment Bill to the DEA and Parliament, including our continued campaign to scrap or at least improve s.24G of NEMA to counter the perverse incentives and loopholes created by this unfortunate statutory provision. We also continue our advocacy in support of the inclusion of civil and administrative penalties in environmental governance, both in relation to environmental and water legislation.

This year, we’ve welcomed a number of new staff members at the Centre: Catherine Horsfield, Michael Lowman, Matome Kapa and Ncebakazi Jwaqu. Over the past few months we’ve also had the pleasure of hosting Samantha Atukunda, an advocate from Uganda, as well as Hilah Laskov. We have now grown to a team of nine, soon to be ten, staff members, including five attorneys. Our interns Matome and Michael have benefited immensely from our fantastic partnership with WWF’s Environmental Leaders Programme, and we look forward to this productive partnership as well to support the development of young environmental lawyers.

We’d like acknowledge the extraordinary efforts of a regional prosecutor out in Ermelo, Mpumalanga who has pretty much single-handedly secured three convictions of mining companies for serious violations of environmental legislation, with significant penalties. Therefore our Environmental Rights Newsmaker of 2012 is public prosecutor Charles Lloyd from the Ermelo Regional Court.

Finally, a big word of thanks to our funders, clients, board members, members of our expert panel, counsel and partners for your ongoing support for the work of the Centre for Environmental Rights, and last, and most importantly – to our fabulous staff here at the CER. The work described above reflects but a sliver of the work done by these passionate lawyers and support staff in the interest of environmental rights and environmental justice in South Africa.

Our office will be closed from 18 December 2012 until we reopen on 14 January 2013. We wish you all a peaceful and fulfilling festive season, and a well-deserved break.