Environment, forestry and fisheries minister Barbara Creecy said it was a dream come true for South Africa’s much-anticipated climate change bill to reach parliament. The bill, which was approved by cabinet last year, was presented to the portfolio committee on Friday.
It brings all the country’s efforts to deal with climate change under one piece of legislation.
“Our country is extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change,” said Creecy.
“I think all scientific research, including the significant research that was released last week, indicates that Sub-Saharan Africa is one of the regions of the world that is most vulnerable to climate change. And this vulnerability poses an existential threat to human populations as well as to biodiversity and, in fact, to the very existence of life on our planet as we know it.
“So, while there are many important issues that confront us, there is no single issue that poses the same degree of long-term threat to the survival of humanity, as is the case with climate change.”
Chief director for climate change adaptation in the department, Tlou Ramaru, said there were a number of processes that got underway before the bill could be sent to cabinet and then parliament.
“There has been an extensive consultation on the process all the way from 2018 when the bill was published and, subsequently, there has been provincial workshop stakeholder engagement in all the nine provinces,” said Ramaru.
Opportunity for public comment
Parliament is likely to release the bill for public comment and hold consultations before presenting it to the National Assembly.
“I think it’s going to be our responsibility as the portfolio committee on behalf of parliament and the people of South Africa to ensure that within the next few days, or by the time we have the next meeting, we come up with firm timeframes on how we are going to deal with this bill as a committee,” added Narend Singh, member of the committee and parliament.
He stressed that the bill was already released in draft form in 2018 and that it has taken the department four years to get the bill before the committee.
When passed, the Climate Change Act will become a mechanism to hold high polluting industries accountable for their emissions through carbon tax and sectoral carbon budgets while the National Adaptation Strategy, already adopted by cabinet, will become a legally binding blueprint to guide all sectors to prepare for the effects of rising temperatures and associated global warming.
“This bill is important because it will give a legislative framework to all the work that we’re doing until the bill is law. We can only rely on cooperation and goodwill in order to implement all of the measures that we’re working on. And I must say that we have had significant cooperation from our sister departments. We have also had significant cooperation from provincial and local governments. All of this cooperation has allowed us to make the strides that we have made,” Creecy said.
The bill in its current form gives sectors one year to develop adaptation strategies to prepare for both present and future climate shocks.
Adaptation includes initiatives and measures to reduce the vulnerability of natural and human systems against actual or expected climate change effects.
Some of these have already been drafted, including the sectoral adaptation strategy for agriculture, released in 2015.
The strategy recognises that “through direct and indirect human activities which are altering the composition of the global atmosphere, climate drivers such as rainfall, temperature and atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO₂) concentrations that affect agricultural activities and output, are projected to change non-uniformly in magnitude, direction and variability over the next few decades.”
Farming sector particularly exposed
In addition, the policy acknowledges and stresses that Mzansi’s agriculture sector is highly vulnerable and exposed to the impacts of climate change. On the one hand, this is because of the socio-economic context (e.g. the many land-dependent rural poor) and, on the other hand, an already high-risk natural environment, including high season-to-season climate variability, extreme weather events, and times of severe water stress.
As a result of agriculture’s reliance on water availability, water stress associated with climate changes poses a significant risk to this sector.
“These impacts extend beyond food shortages and negatively affect national economies by reducing the country’s ability to export crops and generate foreign revenue, while food has to be imported,” the strategy states.
Creecy said, “What we all understand is that the changes that are required are difficult changes and they are changes that are going to force all of us over the next 20 to 30 years to change the way in which we conduct our daily lives.
“It will be important as we confront those challenges. There should be an overarching legislative environment that guides how those changes need to be implemented, and how government at different levels must cooperate to make those changes.”
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