Video conference with the Parliament of the United Kingdom on climate change

Water and Sanitation

06 October 2009
Chairperson: Ms M Sotyu (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Prior to the video link-up with the Parliament of the United Kingdom, the Committee was briefed by the Content Advisor and by representatives from the Association of European Parliamentarians for Africa (AEPA) on initiatives concerning climate change.

Members suggested questions that could be asked during the video conference.  The need to develop effective communication strategies was mentioned and the planned public hearings on climate change in November 2009 were welcomed.

The Committee was joined by the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, the Chairperson of the House Committee, Members from the Portfolio Committees on Science and Technology and Rural Development and a representative from the British Consulate. The Parliament of the United Kingdom was represented by the Minister for Energy and Climate Change, a Member of Parliament from the Labour Party and the Technical Economic Advisor and Member of the Climate Change Committee.

The United Kingdom’s Climate Change Committee was set up in shadow form in February 2008, in anticipation of the passing of the Climate Change Act. The Act was passed in November 2008 and the Committee issued its first report in December 2008.  The report dealt with climate change targets. The United Kingdom had set a long-term target for carbon emission reduction of 80% by the year 2050. The Climate Change Committee was responsible for recommending five-year carbon budgets and submitted recommendations for the first three budgets for the period 2008 to 2022 in December 2008.  In 2009, the Councillor for the Exchequer submitted the actual carbon budget. A White Paper published in June 2009 set out the policy for achieving the targets specified in the Act.  The Committee comprised eight members and was supported by a Secretariat of 20 to 30 people.  The Committee consulted widely with industry and non-governmental organisations and had entered into dialogue with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Members stressed South Africa’s commitment to dealing with climate change and the desirability of sharing information and experience.  Members asked questions about the establishment, objectives and operation of the Climate Change Committee, the progress made in the implementation of the Climate Change Act, the measures taken to enforce compliance with the Act, the monitoring mechanisms in place and the communication of the legislation to the citizens of the United Kingdom.  Questions were asked about the use made of indigenous knowledge, the appropriateness of technology, the response to natural disasters, the support from industry and the general population, the measures implemented to reduce carbon emissions by industry, the oversight exercised over the Climate Change Committee, the social awareness of the Committee and the support available for research and skills transfer between developed and developing nations.

Common ground between South Africa and the United Kingdom included recognition of the relationship between development and economic growth and the need to preserve the environment.  Progress on the domestic front was not sufficient and global solutions to address climate change were essential.  A reduction in carbon emissions was already evident in the United Kingdom.  The Minister wished South Africa success in brokering a deal at the forthcoming Copenhagen conference.

Meeting report

Briefing by Content Advisor
The Chairperson said that it was important to prepare for the video conference with the Parliament of the United Kingdom on issues concerning climate change. The briefing documents circulated to Members included appropriate questions. Members were not restricted on the questions they chose to ask. Preparations should also be made to respond to any questions that might be posed by the representatives of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.  Members from the Portfolio Committees on Trade and Technology and Rural Development had been invited to participate in the video conference.

Ms Shireen Dawood, Content Advisor for the Committee, briefed Members on the reasons for and background to the initiative to engage with the Parliament of the United Kingdom. The primary purpose was to learn from best practices in the United Kingdom.  To date, the United Kingdom was the only country that had formalised a Parliamentary Committee on Climate Change. The work of legislators in terms of oversight differed from other components of society and Parliament in South Africa had certain rules and procedures to guide the establishment of a Committee. As the Parliament of the United Kingdom had already set up a Committee on Climate Change, the expectation was that South Africa could learn from the processes followed, progress made and the achievements and challenges encountered by the United Kingdom. The South African Parliament followed the Westminster system and this meant that South Africa shared some of the rules and procedures underpinning the United Kingdom’s Parliamentary system.

Ms Dawood explained that the Climate Change Committee was an independent statutory body, which advised Government on greenhouse gas emissions. Initially, this was the core objective but as the Committee processes evolved, it began to look at other aspects of climate change because greenhouse gas emissions were only one component of a bigger issue. One of the questions that could be asked was to what extent the Government of the United Kingdom had considered the recommendations, research or the advice of the Committee and incorporated it into policy and the legislative framework of the country.

The Climate Change Act of 2008 made the United Kingdom the first country to have a binding long term framework to cut carbon emissions. What was critical at the time was that the country did not look at climate change only at a national level, but considered issues at regional and local levels as well. The weakness of the system in South Africa was that the climate change initiative was driven from a national level but there was a need to incorporate policy and legislation at provincial and local levels as well. Another component to the United Kingdom Climate Change Committee was to investigate the impact of climate change in the United Kingdom and propose adaptation initiatives.

Discussion
Mr G Morgan (DA) asked the Chairperson for guidance on how Members should respond to the questions posed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom.

The Chairperson replied that the questions in the briefing document would be dealt with and there would be no restrictions on questions from Members or on questions from the Parliament of the United Kingdom.

Ms A Lovemore (DA) proposed that questions were asked about how legislation in the United Kingdom dealt with large companies that continued to pollute the environment even after fines were paid.  Other questions could be on how climate change was communicated to ordinary people to whom this concept was still abstract, the lack of a sub-committee dealing with mitigation of greenhouse gases and changes in land use.

The Chairperson agreed that these questions could be raised as South Africa had similar challenges to the United Kingdom.

Mr L Greyling (ID) proposed questions on how countries had managed to reach their Kyoto targets; what type of compliance regime should be in place to meet Kyoto targets; and what role Parliament played to ensure the monitoring of and implementation of the commitments included in agreements.

Ms M Shinn (DA), Member of the Portfolio Committee on Science and Technology, asked if questions could be raised about the United Kingdom’s stance on other issues, like bio-engineering.

The Chairperson said that this would be acceptable.

Briefing by the Association of European Parliamentarians for Africa (AEPA)
Ms Jessica Longwe, Director: Partner Relations; AEPA, briefed the Committee on the assistance that was available to South African Parliamentary Committees by the British Foreign Commonwealth Office. AEPA was currently providing assistance to Parliaments in South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Botswana and Namibia and recently celebrated 25 years of partnership with Africa.  Originally, AEPA was an anti-apartheid organisation. However, Members of Parliament in Europe felt that they needed to engage and serve as a lobbying organisation in Africa and in South Africa in particular. After the demise of apartheid, AEPA felt that the organisation needed to assist with the development of Parliamentary democracy in Africa. The two key focus areas were supporting African countries to strengthen capacity at the national level and engaging on thematic areas of concern. AEPA facilitated representation from Parliaments on key issues like development aid. The current key role was to assist Parliaments on issues of climate change and ensure that they played a role at Copenhagen. What happened post-Copenhagen was more important, in terms of domesticating some of the agreements that came out of the conference and making the protocols more relevant to conditions on the ground.

Ms Geetjie Hollenberg, Head of Office: Cape Town; AEPA, briefed the Committee on the programmatic approach of AEPA in South Africa. The Climate Change Mitigation Programme was funded by the British Foreign Commonwealth Office and was a regional programme in South Africa. The aim of the programme was to stimulate dialogue on a regional level between the Parliaments of five African countries. AEPA facilitated an exchange of best practices with Parliaments in the United Kingdom and other European countries, who had already made advances in climate change legislation.  The programme included a research component, the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).  The IIED worked with academics and civil society organisations to deliver a broader picture of climate change legislation and policy in the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) regions.  AEPA considered research findings in formulating regional and national responses to the current legislation in place. The two-year programme would run to the end of 2011. Two regional meetings were planned, one of which would take place in Swaziland the findings would subsequently be discussed in Parliament. The Climate Change Mitigation Programme was an important regional programme and South Africa was seen as the climate change champion in the region.

Discussion
Ms H Ndude (COPE) said that she had found the recent AEPA conference very interesting as it highlighted the role Africa played in dealing with emissions. Out of 180 projects on emissions taking place around the world, only 38 were based in Africa and very little funding was made available for this purpose.

Mr Morgan asked about lobbying efforts to elevate the issue of climate change to discussions in Parliament. There was a need to develop a solid record of representing the people, to introduce legislation and to conduct oversight on the matter.

The Chairperson emphasised the importance of climate change and the need for a strategy to communicate on climate change.

Ms Ndude was pleased to hear about the plan to hold public hearings on climate change, as there was a need for the Committee to play a more pro-active role. She suggested that the Committee hosted a conference with experts from the non-governmental organisations involved in climate change.

Ms Susan Carter from the British Consulate in South Africa said that her role was to work specifically on climate change.  The issue was currently one of the United Kingdom Government’s strategic objectives. Her role included building momentum towards achieving the global low-carbon/high economic growth ideal. This objective was the core priority and a wide network of British Commonwealth Foreign Office climate change officers were in place to track global emissions for the Parliament of the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom was committed to a five year budget for the programme and had consulted with climate change committees worldwide. The United Kingdom was in a position to share insights with South Africa in efforts to set up its own Climate Change Committee and to formulate legislation on climate change.

Video Conference with Parliament of the United Kingdom
Mr Barry Gardiner, Member of Parliament of the United Kingdom (Labour Party) and Mr Sam Fankhauser, Member of the Climate Change Committee and Technical Economic Advisor introduced themselves.

The Chairperson introduced Mr Obed Bapela (ANC), Chairperson of the House Committee responsible for oversight in the South African Parliament. The Honourable Buyelwa Sonjica, Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs and the Members of the Committee introduced themselves.

Mr Gardiner apologised for the absence of representatives from the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democratic Party. He explained that the Conservative Party was hosting a conference and Members of the party were unable to attend the video conference.

Discussion
The Chairperson advised that the South African Parliament planned to host public hearings on climate change from the 14th to the 17th of November 2009 and was interested in learning how the United Kingdom communicated climate change to the people in the United Kingdom.

Mr Bapela said that the South African Parliament was prioritising climate change and hoped to explore and share information on establishing a Climate Change Committee.  Twenty delegates from the Parliament of South Africa would attend the conference in Copenhagen to see how best to prioritise climate change in South Africa. South Africa was ready to develop to capacity in this area.

Mr Morgan asked for progress made in the implementation of the Climate Change Act.  He requested comment on the functioning of the Climate Change Committee and when the first report of the Committee would be tabled.

Mr Gardiner replied that the Climate Change Act had already taken effect and asked Mr Fankhauser to explain further.

Mr Fankhauser explained that the Climate Change Committee was set up in shadow form in February 2008, in anticipation of the passing of the Climate Change Act. The Climate Change Act was passed in November 2008. The first report to the Parliament of the United Kingdom was issued in December 2008, within days of the Royal Assent. The report dealt with the United Kingdom’s climate change targets. The United Kingdom had set a long-term target for carbon emission reduction of 80% by the year 2050. The Climate Change Committee was also required to recommend five-year carbon budgets. The Committee was tasked with setting up the first three budgets for the period 2008 to 2022. The Committee issued a report in December 2008, which included recommendations for three carbon budgets. In the spring of 2009, the Councillor for the Exchequer responded to the recommendations and proposed the actual carbon budget. Since the summer, a mandatory and legally binding carbon budget for the period ending 2022 was in place. The Government responded with a White Paper in June 2009 and set out the policy for achieving the targets specified in the Act.

Mr Fankhauser explained that the Climate Change Committee had eight members and was headed by the Chairman of the Financial Services Committee.  The members of the Committee were technocrats. The Committee was supported by a Secretariat of 20 to 30 people.  Members of the Secretariat were mostly civil servants, but included people with experience in industry and finance. The Committee met every three to four weeks, worked on a consensus basis and issued reports. The Committee consulted widely with industry and NGO’s to gather a greater sense of public thinking. Initiatives included dialogue with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Mr Luhenga (ANC) asked if any consideration was given to indigenous knowledge and appropriate technology to respond to or prevent further occurrences of climate change caused by natural disasters.

Mr Gardiner replied that there was a critical distinction between the context of the United Kingdom and the context of South Africa. In the United Kingdom, the initial focus was on mitigation and the original Climate Change Bill had no section covering adaptation. The situation had since changed and there was now a focus on adaptation as well.

Mr Luhenga asked why the budget was not the responsibility of the department responsible for water and environmental affairs in order to assist communities affected by disasters.

Mr Gardiner said that he absolutely agreed with Mr Luhenga regarding the location of the budget.  Development and economic growth were inseparable and one could achieve development and economic progress in the developing world if environmental affairs were taken into consideration.  Equally, the environment could only be preserved if one recognised the needs of developing countries. However, this position did not go down well in the United Kingdom.

Mr Luhenga questioned whether the objectives of the Climate Change Committee were primarily to promote awareness or to respond to issues of climate change.

Ms Lovemore asked what advantages were advocated by the Parliament of the United Kingdom in order to sell the legislation to the people of the United Kingdom.

Mr Gardiner advised that there was recognition by all sides of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that climate change was a critical issue. Within the United Kingdom there was a willingness to take responsibility but the legacy from the rest of the world was not a good one. There was a feeling in the United Kingdom that no matter what was done domestically, it would make no difference to what was essentially a global problem. There was a realisation that it was impossible for the United Kingdom Government to solve the problem at a national level. That was one of the reasons why Tony Blair made this issue the central focus of the G8+5 meetings. There was now a growing understanding that, from a historical perspective, the United Kingdom had a responsibility to take the lead on the domestic front but consensus at international level on tackling the problems caused by climate change was essential.

Ms Lovemore asked if people in the United Kingdom understood why they should comply with the legislation.

Mr Gardiner replied that persuasion had not been easy in the public arena.  Industry was asked to pay higher prices for fuels, resulting in an increase in the cost of manufactured goods to ensure sustainability. The task of persuading the public was equally difficult. The younger generation did have an appreciation and understanding of the global consequences and the effect of damage to the environment in the wider context.

The Chairperson welcomed the Honourable David Kidney, United Kingdom Minister for Energy and Climate Change and the South African Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Rural Development to the video conference.

Ms Ndude said that a strong view was expressed at a recent AEPA conference that the developed world was not doing enough to assist the African continent and that the culprits in the developed world would be penalised by merely paying money.  Money was not enough and the developed world needed to do more to address the issue of climate change.

Mr Kidney said that it was essential to make a deal in Copenhagen to save the planet from runaway climate change. Regarding the issue of the developed world being penalised, he said that it was fundamentally an issue of fairness and those countries producing the most emissions should take lead in reducing the level of emissions. The United Kingdom had legislation in place to reduce emissions by 80% by the middle of the century. The wealthier countries should help those countries with the least resources. Help could be provided with deforestation, responsible implementation of measures and the sharing of technological know-how in an attempt to alleviate the problem.

Ms Ndude asked if stringent measures were in place to deal with industries, which were the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases.

Mr Kidney advised that the United Kingdom was adhering to the Kyoto Agreement and had already reduced emissions by 21%.  One of the measures applied was the imposition of a climate change levy, which taxed the most intensive users of energy on their emissions. Organisations qualified for a discount if they signed an agreement to voluntarily reduce emissions. This measure had been tremendously successful.

Mr Gardiner informed the Committee of the Carbon Trust, an organisation created by the United Kingdom Government. The Trust was an independent organisation that assisted companies and businesses in making the transition to low-carbon production methods. It had been very helpful in making industries more carbon-efficient.  Companies were able to take out loans, which were paid back by making use of cleaner technologies.

Ms Ndude asked about the challenges faced by the Parliament of the United Kingdom regarding its oversight role and how funding was made available for the Climate Change Committee.

Mr Fankhauser explained that the Climate Change Committee had three roles. The Committee advised Government on achieving carbon budget targets and the long term 2050 targets. The second role was the monitoring of compliance with the targets and the submission of an annual report to Parliament. The third role related to the adaptation to climate change. The first monitoring report was due on Monday, 12 October 2009.  The report would include the statement that the country was roughly on track to meet the first three carbon budgets for the period 2008 to 2022. The Committee applied a combination of forward-looking and backward-looking analyses.  The challenge was that a number of lead indicators were needed to monitor two, three, four or five years ahead to determine if emissions would be reduced. The Climate Change Committee had started to assess the renewable energy generation capacity currently under development, how long this would take, the progress made in pilot projects for carbon caption and storage, the planning process, the energy efficiency of housing (for example the number of houses that were adapted to be more energy-efficient), the energy efficiency of new cars sold, the number of electric cars under development and the market and price of electric cars. The Climate Change Committee was developing a set of lead indicators that would henceforth be monitored and the results would be included in an annual report to Parliament. The monitoring results could be used as an indication of the progress made by the United Kingdom.  The first report was due on 12 October 2009 and subsequent reports would be submitted in June every year.

Mr L Greyling (ID) asked about the optimal role played by Parliament of the United Kingdom and what structures and mechanisms were in place to ensure that the oversight responsibility of the Climate Change Committee was adequately carried out.

Mr Gardiner explained that the United Kingdom Government had various Select Committees, all of which were responsible for oversight over the respective Departments to ensure that they delivered on their responsibilities. In addition, legislation required that an annual debate was held in response to the report submitted by Climate Change Committee.  Mr Fankhauser could elaborate on this matter. The Climate Change Committee acted as the transparent conscience of Government.  It was absolutely essential to the implementation of the Climate Change Act that there was transparency about the objectives, targets, budgets and scientific evidence on which all decisions were based. The information had to be made available to Parliament on at least an annual basis so that the Government of the United Kingdom could respond to the Climate Change Committee’s recommendations. The response of Government to the recommendations would be transparent as the matter would be debated in Parliament.

Mr Greyling referred to a recent statement by the Minister that the United Kingdom had doubled the emission reduction target. He asked how this was achieved and what measures were in place to ensure success.

Mr Kidney explained that, in the first instance, one had to adhere to active Parliamentary imperatives, which required the reduction of emissions.  Secondly, the carbon budget indicated the practical reality. Thirdly, the Parliament of the United Kingdom published a low-carbon transition plan in July 2009, which made Government responsible for ensuring that each sector changed to low-carbon methods. Approximately 5000 organisations in the United Kingdom were committed to reduce emissions by 2010. Evidence of the reduction of emissions in the United Kingdom was already available.  He asked to be excused from the session and thanked the Committee for the opportunity to engage in dialogue.  He wished South Africa success in Copenhagen.

Ms Sonjica thanked Mr Kidney for his participation in the video conference.  She said that South Africa was committed to ensure that a deal was made at the Copenhagen conference.  The current situation on climate change was very complex and there was a deadlock over the issues of targets and implementation. She was concerned over the positions taken by China and the United States of America. South Africa was working with all parties concerned to broker a deal between the developing and developed countries. The South African Government was working with Sweden, Denmark, China and the United States to identify areas of compromise.

Mr Kidney said that he was thrilled to hear about the commitment of the South African Government to a deal in Copenhagen. There was agreement between the Governments of the United Kingdom and South Africa over the difficulties that needed to be resolved. He hoped that everything would be done to ensure a deal involving the global community was reached in Copenhagen in December. He thanked the Committee for its support and commitment.

Ms P Maduna (ANC) asked if the Government of the United Kingdom had considered the work done in South Africa with regard to women, children, the youth and persons with disabilities.

Mr Fankhauser said that the Climate Change Committee’s mandate included awareness of the social impact of the recommendations on vulnerable groups. Social impact in the context of the United Kingdom tended to be dominated by fuel poverty and higher energy costs.  Consideration was given to the societal groups most affected by the recommendations and what policy measures could be applied to alleviate negative consequences.

Ms M Shinn (DA) asked if provision was made for compensation and if developed countries were prepared to significantly increase financial contributions to scientific research into subjects such as CO2 emissions.  She asked if other contributions, such as skills and human resources were considered.  She wanted to know if partnerships could be developed between developed and developing nations rather than the situation where developed countries took the lead.

Mr Gardiner responded that scientific research was a critical area where as much co-operation as possible was needed across national boundaries. The private sector needed to be engaged to a greater extent to enable them to be part of the solution.  It was not enough to put caps on industries to reduce emissions as was currently the case. The private sector needed to be engaged in the development of technologies that would be required to provide solutions and had to be part of the solution. Adaptation was the most important aspect for the poorest people in the world but technology and technological transfer played an important role in both mitigation and adaptation processes.

The meeting was adjourned.


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