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Dec 03, 2010

SA seeks to mainstream climate change response, but obligations remain fuzzy

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As the world settles into another yearly round of global climate change nego- tiations in Cancún, Mexico – without much hope for a legally binding deal emerging – South Africa has taken an important climate change step with the release of the National Climate Change Response Green Paper by Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa.

The Green Paper is a draft of the country’s climate change policy and subject to a public comment phase. Molewa has stated that the final climate change White Paper is expected by mid-2011. This would then inform the country’s climate change policy, and the department has indicated that it would have a legislative, regulatory and fiscal package dealing with climate change by 2012.

The long-awaited Green Paper was at first scheduled to be released in 2009, before the fifteenth Conference of the Parties, which took place in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December 2009. It follows the National Climate Change Response Strategy for South Africa, which was released in 2004.

The Green Paper outlines that government believes that climate change, if unmitigated, has the potential to undermine positive advances made in meeting South Africa’s development goals and the Millennium Development Goals.

Imbewu Sustainability Legal Specialists director Andrew Gilder has described the Green Paper as “unsurprising”, and says that the document remains a strong statement of intent rather than an articulation of specific obligations to be imposed.

He does, how- ever, add that the paper is sensible and takes the right steps forward as it goes some way to focus previous work done on the issue.

“The Green Paper will not provide much satisfaction for individuals seeking, at this stage, to determine their future legal obliga- tions relating to climate change. It does not specify intended rules but rather defines an ultimate policy objective, and identifies certain principles and strategies to be used to achieve the objective,” he states.

The closest the document comes to dealing with the questions on future greenhouse-gas (GHG) emission reduction obligations is on the final page under the monitoring, verifying and reporting overall emissions section. Here it is stated that South Africa will require the mandatory submission of GHG emission data to the National Atmospheric Emission Inventory by all significant emitters and compilers of GHG emission-related data by 2013.

These “significant emitters” will also have to publish a yearly report comparing actual GHG emission data against the emission trajectory, which indicates that South Africa’s emissions will peak in 2020, plateau and start to decline in absolute terms by 2036.

They will also be required to keep a register of ‘climate actions’ that result in the mitigation of GHGs and use this as a measure against national emission reduction targets.

Government also notes that it will establish a Climate Finance Tracking Facility that will track the flows of climate finance in the public and private sectors, and this entity will also be responsible for reporting on the mitigation actions that have been implemented with international support.

Ultimate Crosscutting Issue
The Department of Environmental Affairs says that an effective response to climate change requires national policy to ensure a coordinated, coherent, efficient and effective approach.

The Green Paper serves as the embodiment of the South African government’s commitment to a fair contribution to the stabilisation of global GHG concentrations in the atmosphere, and the protection of the country and its people from the impacts of unavoidable climate change. Government’s vision is to ensure an effective climate change response and the long-term transition to a climate- resilient, low-carbon economy and society.

The Green Paper strongly promotes the need for climate change issues to be ‘mainstreamed’ into all government departments, as it is a crosscutting issue. This will pose challenges of coordination across various departments, and requires government to change the way in which it deals with issues, particularly those of service delivery.

Gilder notes that the Green Paper does acknowledge the challenges of climate change as a crosscutting issue, and makes reference to an inter-Ministerial committee on climate change that will eventually oversee the implementation of this policy.

Whether or not this will be effective in dealing with the challenges of service delivery and cooperative governance remains to be seen.

One of the more interesting sections of the Green Paper states that, to ensure that climate change considerations and responses outlined in the Green Paper are fully mainstreamed into the work of government, all three spheres of government – national, provincial and municipal – all government departments, and all State-owned enterprises must conduct a review of all policies, strategies, legislation, regulations and plans falling within its jurisdiction to ensure full alignment with the National Climate Change Response Policy by 2012.

And by 2014, these government entities must ensure that all policies, strategies, legislation, regulations and plans falling within their jurisdictions are fully aligned with the policy.

This is an ambitious task.

Sector Un-Specific
It was expected that the Green Paper might contain sectoral targets and outline how a sector would be required to reduce its GHG emissions but the document did not go into these specifics. It did, however, highlight the sectors that would need to take short-term adaptation action and sectors where mitigation would be important.

The main sectors requiring climate change adaptation responses include water, agri- culture and human health. Water is identified as the primary medium through which climate change impacts will be felt by people, ecosystems and economies. After water, the prognosis for domestic food security and the broader agriculture industry is a major cause for concern, and further threats to a challenging national health profile are also of concern.

A second set of sectors include those that, informed by South Africa’s GHG emissions profile and the mitigation potential of the sectors responsible for over 80% of the country’s GHG emissions, need to make a significant contribution to mitigation efforts.

These include energy, which should focus on the impact that energy efficiency, renewable energy technologies and a nuclear power programme can have on the GHG emissions profile; and industry and transport.

Other significant aspects of the paper are disaster risk management, the natural resources sectors, which require mainly adaptation responses, including terrestrial biodiversity, marine biodiversity, commercial forestry and fisheries; human society, livelihoods and services, which are extremely important sectors in terms of both adaptation and mitigation responses, including human settlements, infrastructure and the built environment; the education sector; the banking and insurance sector; rural livelihoods; and waste.

Despite not specifying how different sectors should tackle climate change, the Green Paper does give an idea of some of the strategies that will be used to achieve its aims.

These include the use of incentives and disincentives implemented by regulations, and the use of economic and fiscal measures to promote behaviour change that will support the transition to a low-carbon society and economy.

Government also acknowledges that, with the energy-intensive nature of the South African economy, the mitigation of GHGs is generally not going to be easy or cheap, and that government must support and facilitate the mitigation plans of, in particular, the energy, transport and industrial sectors.

The Green Paper recognises that measures taken by developed countries in their efforts to respond to climate change may have detrimental effects on high-carbon and energy-intensive economies, such as South Africa.

These response measures may include trade measures, such as border tax adjustments, and could be reflected in a reluctance to trade in goods with a high-carbon footprint.

“South Africa’s climate change strategy must recognise and address this, and also create mechanisms that will give high-carbon sectors the support and time to move to lower-carbon forms of production,” adds the Department of Environmental Affairs.

Evolutionary Document
While the Green Paper has not delivered the degree of detail that many stakeholders expected, Gilder says it does contain a detailed description of the required evolution of institutional frameworks to implement the final climate change policy, and includes some references to specific legal interventions expected.

The Green Paper reinforces the message that South Africa’s GHG emissions will peak between 2020 and 2025, remain stable, and then decline in absolute terms from 2036.

Reductions before then will be 34% below the business-as-usual emissions trajectory by 2020, and 42% below the business-as-usual trajectory by 2025. Essentially, this means that South Africa’s GHG emissions will continue to rise until 2025, but will do so at a slower pace.

The document also emphasises the short-term prioritisation of adaptation interventions in South Africa to enable the country to adequately cope with the effects of a changing climate.

The paper further highlights that these commitments will only materialise if a binding legal global agreement is reached through multilateral negotiations at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

South Africa will be hosting the UNFCCC meeting, in Durban, in December 2011.

Edited by: Terence Creamer
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