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Will a tougher climate change bill inspire commitment?

South African non-profit organisations, namely the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), groundWork, and Earthlife Africa, have formed a joint campaign dubbed Life After Coal – which is challenging the Department of Environmental Affairs for a far more robust and proactive bill regarding the effects of climate change.

According to Robyn Hugo, CER’s head of the pollution & climate change programme, “Rigorous climate change legislation is necessary, not only to give domestic effect to the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change, but more urgently to address South Africa’s own vulnerability to climate change impacts, and our contributions to those impacts.”

“While we applaud the Department for taking this necessary step to regulate climate change, in order for the Bill to have any hope of serving as a useful response to climate change issues in South Africa, it needs to be much tougher about reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), preventing devastating climate change impacts, and holding emitters and government accountable,” said Hugo.

Recommendations for climate change bill

The campaign’s main concerns and recommendations for the Bill are – in summary – the following:

  • The Bill must make disclosure and public access to all reports, assessments, and records provided for in the Bill, mandatory. In its current form, the Bill does not require carbon budgets or annual reports on compliance with carbon budgets, for example, to be published or disclosed. “If polluters are not forced to be transparent about GHG emissions and their management, there is no ability for independent researchers to verify data, and for the public to hold emitters to account. Instead, it allows for private deals to be done between government and large polluters,” says Makoma Lekalakala, director of Earthlife Africa.
  • The Bill does not make clear the urgent need to curb emissions or set a clear target and strict emissions trajectory, creating dangerous uncertainty, loopholes, and the risk of further delays.
  • The Bill does not expressly recognise the Paris Agreement commitments – including South Africa’s Nationally Determined Contribution – as legally binding on all organs of state. “South Africa should not be giving itself any space to deviate from those commitments,” says Hugo.
  • The Bill places a large burden on municipalities, provinces, sector departments, and the Minister, without providing for additional capacity, funding, oversight and monitoring. Many such authorities are already failing to fulfil obligations such as those relating to air quality, water, and waste management.
  • The Bill does not go far enough to ensure reductions of GHG emissions, or to hold to account those who contribute significantly to and/or exacerbate the impacts of climate change. Unless government holds big emitters like Sasol and Eskom to their carbon budgets under the Bill, there is little hope that these will bring about meaningful emission reductions. The Bill’s penalties – a R5 million fine and/or 5 years’ imprisonment on a first conviction – are woefully inadequate to deter non-compliance. “Missing entirely from the Bill is any recognition of the duty of care or climate justice. Companies that knowingly contribute to and exacerbate the impacts of climate change must be held accountable, and be forced to compensate those who suffer these impacts,” says Bobby Peek, director of groundWork.

Read more: “The business case for reducing carbon emissions”

Babalwa Bungane
Babalwa Bungane is the content producer for ESI Africa - Clarion Events Africa. Babalwa has been writing for the publication for over five years. She also contributes to sister publications; Smart Energy International and Power Engineering International. Babalwa is a social media enthusiast.