South African Climate Change response strategy & negotiations: Department of Water & Environmental Affairs briefing

Water and Sanitation

15 September 2009
Chairperson: Ms M Sotyu (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Water and Environmental Affairs briefed the Committee on the strategy in respect of climate change. The Department briefly explained what had caused climate change, noting that a reduction in the emission of greenhouse gases was needed by both the developed and developing world. In terms of the overarching objectives South Africa wanted an inclusive, fair and effective deal and a balance between adaptation and mitigation. South Africa did not, in the view of the Department, need to make legally binding targets, but had agreed to a framework for mitigation action. South Africa was particularly vulnerable to greenhouse gas emission reduction plans because it was a coal based economy. There was a need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and at the same time ensure that economic growth was not compromised. The South African position was that there should be a different responsibility for emissions of the past, but equal responsibility for emissions of the future. The developing world could not take responsibility for the creation of the problem, but acknowledged that there was a future responsibility to control future emissions.

South Africa wanted a comprehensive international programme on adaptation, a prioritisation of Africa in terms of immediate and future impact and an increase in finance, technology and capacity building. The levels of poverty, development and access to communication and knowledge and information made African people more vulnerable to climate change. There was a need to evaluate how human vulnerability could play out in South Africa. The Department believed that there was huge potential for South Africa to diversify its energy sources and work against climate change, if sufficient financial support was received from the international community. South Africa would not take on specific targets, as it was not required to do so by the ITC assessment report, but it was committed to doing as much as it could.

Members questioned the nature of the funding and how it would be utilised and managed. Members encouraged the Department to concentrate on sharing information with the most vulnerable members of society through radio, television and public communication campaigns. Work within communities, civil society and faith based groups was suggested, and the need for careful communication was emphasised. Members also asked about the nature and number of partnerships and agreements, whether South Africa’s response to climate change had been adequate, and expressed concern at the speed at which changes were being made. The Committee agreed that it would be necessary to visit some of the refineries mentioned in the presentation. Members asked how the proposed changes to the energy economy would be made without job losses, encouraged the greening of the housing sector and asked why there had not been an increase in the use of ethanol as a source of fuel.

Meeting report

South Africa’s response to climate change: Department of (Water and) Environmental Affairs (DEA) briefing
The Chairperson noted that this meeting was arranged to increase awareness of climate change issues, and to add to the notes received from the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs.

Ms Nosipho Ngcaba, Director General, Department of Environmental Affairs, introduced her colleague Ms Joanne Yawitch, Deputy Director General, who would concentrate on the national and international negotiation processes around climate change.

Ms Yawitch provided a brief explanation of climate change to the Committee. Since industrialisation there had been an increase in fossil fuels being used, and the destruction of a great deal of forest cover. When greenhouse gases were released into the atmosphere they prevented heat from escaping from the atmosphere. The result had been a global temperature rise, and changing weather. If greenhouse gases were not limited, the levels of warming generated could change the climate drastically and could lead to catastrophic climatic impacts across the globe. These could include the polar ice caps melting, floods, droughts, storms and a rising sea level.

The two most important conventions on climate change so far were the United Nations (UN) Framework Convention on climate change of 1997, and the 2001 Kyoto Protocol. South Africa had signed the Protocol but did not have set emission reduction targets, because it was still a developing country, and the Protocol had agreed that developing countries should not have binding emission reduction targets. The United States of America (USA) was the largest economy and greenhouse gas producer, and it had not signed the Kyoto protocol. This had resulted in an international stalemate.

In an attempt to encourage USA to sign something similar to the Kyoto protocol, a two-tiered strategy had been developed. The first, the Kyoto track, set new emission reduction targets for developing countries. The second, the Convention track, was looking at targets for the USA that were comparable to the Kyoto protocol. This track also emphasised adaptation, mitigation, finance, technology, capacity building, shared vision and action on the part of developing countries. This was in line with international political processes that aimed to assist and put pressure on the motivation to find solutions to climate change.

In 2008,countries had met in Poland and had agreed to negotiate seriously. Climate change was on the agenda around the globe. The G8 countries had agreed on particular targets, but Ms Yawitch noted that these targets lacked a baseline and a midterm target, and did not describe in sufficient detail how funding would be provided to developing countries. These targets were rejected by the G5 (India, South Africa, Brazil, China and Mexico). 2009 had seen three formal negotiations in Germany thus far, and two more were planned in Bangkok and Barcelona. At present the countries had constructed a document with each country’s position and aims. This document was extremely long, and the aim was now to narrow it down to a coherent document. In her view it would be difficult to align developed and developing countries’ targets. The Kyoto Protocol negotiation considered the amount by which each country would be required to reduce its emissions. Scientifically developed countries needed to reduce by 25% to 40% by 2020, but the current pledge was 13% altogether. African countries were proposing 40% reductions.

Most developed countries felt that developing countries should reduce their emissions, but had not made any meaningful offers of finance to the developing world. The main issue was that they wanted legally binding commitments from the developing world. In her view this ignored indicators of development, and the fact that  legally binding targets would prevent further growth and development. It was the view of the Department that the developing countries should be allowed to grow. The USA had categorised South Africa as an advanced developing country. This could affect South Africa’s ability to apply for or receive finance to achieve reduction targets, which would make it problematic for South Africa to reach its goals.

Cabinet in South Africa currently felt that an outcome that reflected a two-track approach was needed, comprising an amendment to the Kyoto Track and also a supplementary, legally binding instrument that would examine the agreements on USA and developing country action. The Department suggested that this must be legally binding to ensure that the Convention was complied with, just as the Kyoto Protocol required compliance. Secondly, finance and technology package offers should be legally binding because many promises had already been made but had not been fulfilled.

In terms of the overarching objectives, the Department felt that there should be an inclusive, fair and effective deal, striking a better balance between the status, profile and detail of adaptation, and mitigation. Development should be balanced against climate imperatives. It believed that the problem could only be solved if issues such as food security, poverty eradication and development promotion were addressed. The principal of equity needed to be central.

The South African position was that there should be a different responsibility for emissions of the past, but equal responsibility for emissions of the future. The developing world could not take responsibility for the creation of the problem, which lay at the feet of the developed world, but acknowledged that both developed and developing countries must take responsibility to control future emissions. South Africa wanted a comprehensive international program on adaptation, a prioritisation of Africa in terms of immediate and future impact and an increase in finance, technology and capacity building, leading to an action orientated outcome. The developed world was encouraging research. Ms Yawitch believed that positive action was also needed. There should be legally binding emission reduction commitments towards mitigation, from the developed countries under the Kyoto Protocol, and the USA should take on comparable binding reduction commitments. In her view South Africa did not need to make legally binding targets, but had agreed to a framework for mitigation action.
In relation to issues of finance, technology and capacity building, Ms Yawitch suggested that developing countries needed the finance to build resilient economies, and an integrated means of implementing the emission mechanisms. The intellectual property and ownership of technologies that would enable South Africa to change energy economy in a meaningful way did not sit with South Africa, and were beyond the financial capacity of South Africa’s economy. Assistance was therefore needed from the international community. Finance should be mobilised from a variety of sources, and the public sector and governments should be encouraged to contribute significantly. In her view there should be a governance arrangement for the money. This programme needed to be country driven, and countries should have direct access to an equitable distribution of finance. There thus needed to be more equal participation of all countries.

South Africa was in agreement about the challenge of climate change, the critical impact of climate change, and the fact that greenhouse gasses needed to be reduced by development of policy. At present a Draft Zero Policy position was under discussion, with the aim of moving towards a White Paper on Climate Change. In her view this should be dealt with by Parliament to allow maximum public participation. This would be developed by the middle of October 2009. By April 2010 a Green Paper would be developed and further public participation would be encouraged. This document would aim to incorporate the implications of the Copenhagen formal negotiations on climate change in October and November 2009. The process should end with a final White Paper in late 2010.

She noted that the Department was working to develop adaptation responses sector by sector, and by geographical areas. There was an increased need to increase public awareness of the issues. For example, South African Weather Services should be sharing knowledge about high rainfall to government and to people whose homes could be damaged. The most vulnerable people needed to be addressed by the policy, and they should be notified in advance. The specific impact per industry needed to be addressed and made clear. The national vulnerability to climate change needed to be determined, as did South Africa’s adaptive capacity. The effects of climate change were not uniform across groups. There was partnership among departments on the integration of climate change into provincial and municipal planning.

South Africa was particularly vulnerable to greenhouse gas emission reduction plans because it was a coal based economy and coal produced a great deal of greenhouse gas. South Africa needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and at the same time ensure that its economic growth was not compromised. In 2007 the Long Term Mitigation Scenario (LTMS) had begun to be developed. South Africa was aware that interventions to reduce greenhouse gases were needed, and that the country must ensure that energy was used efficiently. Interventions should include further development of renewable energy, clean and new technology interventions, nuclear energy and economic and financial instruments. It was the belief of the DEA that there was much potential and opportunity for South Africa to act decisively in addressing climate change.

Addendum presentation: Long Term Mitigation Scenario (LTMS)
The LTMS was a study of the mitigation potential of the South African economy, backed by the greenhouse gas industry, which had resulted in a framework of action.  This framework specified that particular actions were needed, including energy efficiency, renewable energy, a modal shift in transport towards public transport rail transport, the need for carbon pricing and technological development. In terms of the framework of peak, plateau and decline framework, questions were asked as to where the South African economy was going. Developments planned by all sectors in the next ten to twenty years were taken into account. These had included the two Eskom coal fired power stations, the possibility of Sasol building its plant, the Coega refinery, another couple of refineries, and huge expansion of the vehicle transport. The study had anticipated that South Africa would grow in a fossil fuel intensive way up until 2020 or 2025. It concluded that financing and support would be needed to mitigate and reduce greenhouse gas emission.

If nothing was done about climate change, South Africa, by 2050, would end up emitting four times the amount of greenhouse gases than it did at present. If current targets for 2015 were achieved, it would reduce greenhouse gases by about ten percent. If South Africa radically up-scaled energy efficiency, renewable energy and transportation changes, and combined this with nuclear energy, there would be the potential to reduce gases by 43%, which was high by international standards. A number of other alternative measures were evaluated. It was clear that South Africa could reduce its emissions if it had sufficient finance from the international arena. The Department now had a framework for some options that it could pursue, but it could not pursue all of them. It was important to ensure that there was access to finance in the future. There was already an indication that that finance could be used to develop a clean technology fund around the world. South Africa was going to ask for $500 million. This would assist in the development of clean energy in South Africa, and the redevelopment of already existing technologies.

The Bali Action Plan that was being negotiated called for developing countries to take on nationally appropriate mitigation targets, supported by finance and technology. In that context the South African mitigation action was a relative deviation from the baseline. She reiterated that, with support, South Africa could bring down its emissions substantially. The International Trade Commission (ITC) assessment report specified that developing countries, including South Africa, did not need to take on targets, but this did not mean that it should do nothing, and it was already committed to doing as much as possible.

Mr G Morgan (DA) asked what the principal differences between South Africa’s position and the positions of the other members of the G5.

Ms Yawitch responded that there were differences, which were determined by the countries’ own energy economies. Mexico had declared itself an Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) country and had put forward a proposal for a Green Fund. South Africa’s problem with that idea was that it would require all countries to contribute, judged on emissions per head of population. This would be very dangerous for South Africa. China had had an intense series of bilateral engagements with the USA. This was most certainly going to impact their positions. There was an integral relationship between the Chinese and USA economies. Effectively there would be hard bargaining between them. South Africa worked closely with China because of the similarities in economies. China was moving fast on technology innovation in the Chinese economy. South Africa felt it could work with China bilaterally. Brazil had quite a clean economy. Its petrol was largely ethanol based and had huge amounts of water. The issue in that country was around reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation, and broking a deal that would assist Brazil with forest degradation. South Africa’s concerns were thus different from Brazil, despite similar economic positions. India had a long way to go before it would peak its emissions. South Africa was certainly working closely with G8 and other large groups.

Mr Morgan asked whether the Department was of the view that the necessary funding and finance would not become available. In his view, if a major financing deal was achieved then there would not be any need to develop the two additional coal fired power stations, or any other fossil fuel expansion plans from now until 2025. They could be replaced by solar power stations.

Ms Yawitch said that once the money was committed to building the coal fired power plants, they needed to be built. If the funding was received and a concentrated solar power plant was built in the Northern Cape South Africa would build a 100 mega watt demonstration site with the potential for replication. Replication would be dependent on resources and capacity, and these would then be linked into the grid. The model that the Department had provided would obviously be influenced by the rate that the solar power plant could be built and become effective, and how long renewables took to get to scale. If technologies were new, it was necessary to investigate the time that they would take to be effective and to make an impact. Concentrated solar power had almost an infinite capacity in South Africa. In theory, the whole electricity system could be run off something like that if the technology matured. In the 2020s a number of Eskom’s coal fire power stations would need to be decommissioned, and there was a need for renewable energy sources to replace these.

Mr Morgan asked how the central transfer of the financing deals would work, and whether it would be government-to-government, since transfers could happen in a number of ways and between different entities. He noted that aid, as a tool of development, was widely contested. Often aid was not the best kind of transfer, nor was direct transfer between governments. In some countries this was used for elite investment. In his view entities should be set up to measure and make use of funding. He asked for more information on the reform of the clean development mechanism (CDM). This was also a form of transfer that in his view could be developed further. Presently there seemed to be a “wait and see” attitude up until Copenhagen meetings this year.

Ms Yawitch said that the reform of CDM was being negotiated but in her view a conclusion would not be reached at the same time as Copenhagen. There were arguments for programmatic CDM which would enable cost-cutting, by putting together a package of CDM projects that could then be implemented. This would allow economies like South Africa to use it by bringing the transaction costs down. There could be other market mechanisms introduced over time.

Ms C Zikalala (IFP) asked how the Department would tap into the technology of the new satellite to address climate change.

Ms Yawitch said that the satellite system would assist with climate change. South Africa was already part of a number of international satellite driven networks. South African Earth Observation Network (SAEON) linked into different satellite technologies, observed Earth and provided information that could be used in long term planning into weather services. South Africa could thus generate the information locally.

Ms Zikalala said that poverty would play a role in the success of public awareness provision by weather services. There were many people who did not own a radio or television and she said that it was these people who were the most vulnerable to the impact of climate change. She expressed concern about the potential of such a strategy.

Ms Yawitch said that the Department of Communications was very interested in playing a role in providing communications to people, and saw itself as a resource that could be used for climate information and getting information to places that were more difficult to reach. It was suggesting that infrastructure should be used to provide information. She believed that this was an important approach.

Ms Zikalala said that a number of refineries were mentioned by Ms Yawitch. She suggested that the Committee should visit the refineries to see whether theory was applied in practice.

The Chairperson agreed that visits to the refineries were necessary.

Mr L Greyling (ID) suggested a joint meeting with the Portfolio Committee on Science and Technology. He commended the Department for its work. He asked what the politics were amongst developing countries at present, and whether South Africa was recognised as a leader that was helping the process. He asked for more information on the compliance regimes, for targets like those in Kyoto, and what the current negotiations around a compliance regime were. He expressed concern that targets would not be met without these.

Ms Yawitch said that the compliance regime was new and had only really come into effect in 2007. It was necessary to see the USA being subject to the same regimes.

Mr Greyling asked whether a clean technology fund was about the buying up of property rights. Developed countries were making it difficult for developing countries to buy property rights and he asked whether actions like that could be part of the fund.
Ms Yawitch said that the USA had a hard line on intellectual property rights. South Africa saw them as a global public good. The USA did not support this. South Africa saw the Clean Technology Fund as potentially being used for the purchase of property rights. However, the CTF was concessional loan financing with a really low interest rate, which effectively became “free money” to allow countries like SA to get things going. If money was put into banks to allow people start environmentally-friendly projects it could make a difference.

Ms Zikalala said that a number of refineries were mentioned by Ms Yawitch. She suggested that the Committee should visit the refineries to see whether theory was applied in practice.

The Chairperson agreed that visits to the refineries were necessary.

Mr Greyling asked whether South Africa was looking at bilateral agreements with countries like Germany. Germany could use the South African climate to investigate its solar power research. He asked whether the Department were using CDM funding for the Refit.

Ms Yawitch responded that the Department was looking at bilateral agreements and was talking to Germany. These talks were taking place, at this stage, around processes and policy, and would move in the future to technology. Partnerships between the Department and the Department of Science and Technology (DST) could be useful.

The Department was hoping that the deal in Copenhagen would open up a range of innovative financing mechanisms, including possibly buying down the costs of Refit. This was why government money was necessary. If there was a desire to buy out license rights, or the money for adaptation, government funds would be important. The reality for South Africa was that mitigation was about technology. When looking at adaptation it was much more of public interest and public sector financing, and the private sector was not going to be interested. 

At a broad level South Africans were rising to the challenge of climate change in interesting ways. Every week in Engineering News there were features on companies that were improving technologies and being innovative. This should be supported by assisting with licensing patents and other incentives. She believed that South Africans inventing a world-first should receive financial support. This potential needed to be developed.

Ms Ngcaba added that the DST was a partner of the DEA. There was a programme in place already. In 2008 the departments had worked together to present on the budget hearings, and were still reinforcing one another.

Mr P Mathebe (ANC) noted that human vulnerability in rural areas played a role in this analysis. He asked what climate change related projects the Department had initiated in line with the goal of eradicating poverty.

Ms Yawitch said that projects like “Work for Water”, “Work for Fire” and “Work for Wetlands”, Expanded Public Works programmes, and Poverty Eradication Projects all had climate change benefits. In her view these projects needed to be up scaled and it was necessary to look at how specific climate change elements could factor into them.

Ms Ngcaba said that there would be a need for retraining people to ensure that there would not be job losses. The Department did not expect that the skills needed for current energy economies would be the same as those needed for clean technologies. A new set of skills would have to be aligned with the already existing skills. There was job potential. The people already working in the sector would need to be considered and there would need to be a strong investment in skills development. By the time there was investment in clean energy sources, the DEA hoped that there would be a demand for those energies that matched the amount of people being trained.

Mr Mathebe said that it was clear that South Africa was fast moving from being an energy intensive economy towards being an energy efficient economy. He asked how the Department would implement such initiatives and avoid job losses at the same time.

**Ms Yawitch said that this could be balanced by the development of green jobs. Projects like a solar roll out were quite large job creators. If a factory was set up to manufacture a geyser it would have to employ people, and the distribution structure and set up process required job creation. There was a whole value change that renewables brought into the market that created a number of new jobs. The weather service was rolling out a set of new radar, in Mthatha and Bethlehem, and areas of the country that were under resourced, and this required job creation as the radar was located in schools and people were employed to house and support it. This also provided more information to under serviced areas. The weather services were rolling out a lightning detection network. A lot of the high lightning areas were in rural areas. That infrastructure would have a big impact on people being able to manage that issue.

Mr Mathebe asked what role South Africa could play in persuading America into signing future conventions
Ms Yawitch said that the USA was not very easy to persuade. It was clear that South Africa should take on targets. In a negotiation everyone had to compromise. Her opinion was that there would be hard lines in the meeting in Bangkok and from there progress could be made.

Mr Mathebe asked which climate change related activities combined both adaptation and mitigation.

Ms Ngcaba said that the Land Care programme with the Department of Agriculture had focussed on rehabilitating landscapes. The Working for Wetlands project had attempted to restore biodiversity to these wetlands. Projects like this were beneficial for making the ecosystem resilient and had facilitated both to mitigate and stimulate adaptive capabilities. Productive land for agricultural purposes required functioning water resources and a functioning ecosystem.

Mr Morgan said that it was extremely important that issues of climate change be clearly communicated and in his view they should appear in the stakeholders’ and government’s statements more frequently. Work was needed with the Ministers on communicating these messages to align them with the good will of South Africans. There would be a Global Premiere of a film called the Age of Stupid at the Labia Theatre in Cape Town on Monday 21 September 2009. This film was set in 2050, and looked back to current times, asking what happened with the human race and how it could have done nothing about climate change. He recommended that Members should see it.

Ms Ngcaba agreed that more needed to be done to create a clearer message around climate change which was why there was a Cabinet decision to reconvene the intra-Ministerial committee to allow the Ministers to engage with the subject matter, without compromising the nuances related to certain terminology being used in international arenas. Statements like “no targets” needed to be made clearly and with reference to the ambitious activities by Government. The Minister had agreed to have sessions at a ministerial level. Where the Department was able to engage with GCIS it would to ensure that issues were described adequately. Work was being done on campaigns to ensure better communication.
Ms H Ndude (COPE) thanked the Department, and asked for more information on efforts that had been made by the Department to reduce oil imports as a measure to improve equality.

Ms Ndude asked in what inter departmental projects the Department was involved.

Ms Ndude also asked whether the Department was of the opinion that South Africa had responded to the issue of climate change adequately. In her view the response time that had been specified in the presentation was not quick enough. She asked whether there was not an action that could be taken to respond more drastically. She asked that the Department should provide the Committee with a concrete plan of action.

Ms Ngcaba said that the timeframes had taken into account projects that were underway. The Department was informed by the view that it should not be obstructionist and should ensure that the economy could grow. If there were sufficient funds now the Department would be able to explore different routes, but technologies were not yet ready and some still needed to be tested. There were many variables that still needed to be investigated. 2025 and 2030 may seem far away but they were necessary and achievable. The interventions could be begun now and could have an effect before these dates.

Ms Ndude asked the Department to provide the Committee with more details on inter departmental actions and responsibilities. In her view the Department of Minerals and Energy should be asked about its role in reducing the problems.
Ms Ngcaba said that the Department worked with a number of departments and other stakeholders both in the private and public sector. It had interacted with industry, civil society and other departments. There was an Inter Group Governmental forum with which the Department was working. Concrete plans were in place, and were based on knowledge of economic capabilities and instruments. They reflected opportunities for specific renewable energy sources.

Ms Zikalala commented that there were a number of societies, organisations and religious groups that were doing good work on climate change amongst their congregations. She asked whether the Department was aware of these groups and whether it was working with them.

Ms Ngcaba said that the Department had worked with faith-based groups, and had a database of some, but probably not all. There was still an opportunity for people to submit their interest. This would also assist in rolling out the public awareness campaigns around environmental issues.

Mr Mathebe asked what role the Department played in greening the housing sector.

Ms Ngcaba said that opportunities existed to establish sustainable human settlements. There was a need for a clearer statement in policy on how this would be done and what resources were available to meet the demand for energy efficient changes, like solar water heaters and gas stoves. A standard should be defined to ensure that areas were greener than at present, especially informal settlements. The aim was to improve and integrate human development in a way that was habitable and environmentally sustainable.

Mr Mathebe asked whether there was any possibility that the Department could come up with measures to enforce the use of ethanol in our petroleum, pointing out that this had been mentioned in a previous meeting.

Ms Yawitch said that in the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (NERSA) tariffs for renewables, there was a tariff for biomass, which encouraged use of production of fuel and energy. In her view this would develop over time. However, the gas which was the waste from the sugar process was not included in the refit. This was being discussed in order to resolve the problem, and once that was done, she expected a larger expansion of ethanol.

Ms M Mabuza (ANC) asked why leaded petrol was still being used.

Ms Yawitch said that this should be clarified with the Department of Energy, as should the issue of oil imports. The Department of Environmental affairs was not involved with this decision.

The meeting was adjourned.

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