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Centre for Environmental Rights – Advancing Environmental Rights in South Africa

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Speaking truth to power: CER’s 2017 in review

13 December 2017 at 4:45 pm

Demonstration by activists from Coalition member Earthlife Africa outside the Pretoria High Court in June 2017. Image: James Oatway for CER
Demonstration by activists from Coalition member Earthlife Africa outside the Pretoria High Court in June 2017. Image: James Oatway for CER

As 2017 draws to a close, we look back on a productive year at the Centre for Environmental Rights – a year in which we secured an internationally recognised, precedent-setting court victory and other milestone achievements, but which also presented considerable challenges in a complex political, economic and regulatory environment. Below are some of the highlights of the advocacy, litigation and capacity-building work that we progressed in 2017. All of this work was, as always, aimed at achieving realisation of our Constitutional right to a healthy environment, and environmental justice for all.

We are profoundly grateful for the support we received from so many quarters this year: from our partners, local and international; from our funders; from our Board; and from all the individuals who support our work and encourage us when times are hard.

  • In March 2017, representing Earthlife Africa Johannesburg in its challenge to the proposed Thabametsi coal power plant, we secured a court victory in South Africa’s first climate litigation. The judgment not only has far-reaching implications for all proposed new coal power plants and for South Africa’s commitment to the Paris agreement, but is also an encouraging step for the global movement away from coal.
  • In August and September 2017, following on the Thabametsi judgement, we instituted review proceedings against two other proposed coal power plants, KiPower and Khanyisa – both situated in Mpumalanga. Both of these cases are opposed by the power station developers.
  • In May 2017, two of our attorneys and a local activist were sued for defamation by a subsidiary of Australian mining company Mineral Commodities Limited. These claims are being defended strenuously, and will likely go to trial in 2018. The University of Cape Town and the Centre for Applied Legal Studies have joined the case as friends of the court.
  • In June 2017, on behalf of 8 civil society and community organisations, we instituted interdict proceedings to stop the commencement of a coal mine inside a water source area and protected area. We secured a crucial undertaking from the mining company to give 3 weeks’ notice before breaking ground. In July 2017, we instituted new judicial review proceedings, challenging the Mineral Resources and Environmental Affairs’ Ministers’ indefensible decision to allow this coal mine to proceed inside a protected environment.
  • In October 2017, our years of work – together with our partners groundWork and the Highveld Environmental Justice Network (HEJN) – to improve air quality and air quality governance in the Mpumalanga Highveld culminated in the publication of Broken Promises: the Failure of the Highveld Priority Area. This document, which was handed over to the Department of Environmental Affairs by representatives of HEJN at a protest outside the National Air Quality Governance Lekgotla, contains a series of demands for steps to be taken to reduce air pollution on the Highveld. Many of the demands relate to the ongoing pollution from Eskom’s ageing coal power plants, which has devastating health impacts for people living in the Highveld, the Vaal and the Waterberg – evidence was presented to Parliament in various sessions. On 12 December 2017, DEA finally committed to answering these demands by the end of January 2018.
  • Together with our partners in the Life After Coal campaign, groundWork and Earthlife Africa, as well as Greenpeace Africa, we have worked throughout the entire year to encourage the Minister of Energy to publish an Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) for electricity that complies with a set of minimum requirements. That engagement has escalated over the past weeks as civil society organisations from across the spectrum have come together to resist plans for new investments in nuclear power and coal, and to enable a just transition to renewable energy systems for the people. We still await publication of the IRP2017, and are preparing for litigation should that Plan not comply with legal requirements, including Constitutional rights.
  • Our Wildlife project, in partnership with the Endangered Wildlife Trust, has been examining the regulation of and institutional arrangements to ensure the welfare of wild animals; we are in the process of consulting with a broad range of organisations working in this sector, with the aim of providing input into legislative reform and improved regulation.
  • We held our first Environmental Rights & Remedies School for Activists this year – two weeks of intensive training for an inspirational group of activists from communities across the country affected by mining and other industrial activities. We plan to host another group of activists in 2018.
  • In November 2017 the CER launched a brand new shareholder activism organisation, Just Share. Just Share’s official website will go live early next year and, in the meantime, you can follow developments via the splash page and social media platforms.

Visit our website and social media platforms (Facebook and Twitter) for more about our work throughout 2017, and for news about important events already planned for 2018. Don’t forget that we have three new positions available at CER, for which applications close on 8 January 2018.

We wish you a happy and peaceful holiday season and look forward to taking up the battle for environmental justice in 2018.

From 16 December 2017, our hard-working team is taking a well-deserved break to recuperate and spend time with their families. We reopen on 11 January 2018.