State of Environment Outlook Report for 2006; Upgraded Millennium Development Goal Report: briefing by Department of Environmental Affairs

Water and Sanitation

23 August 2011
Chairperson: Mr J De Lange (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Environmental Affairs briefed the Committee on the State of the Nation Outlook Report for 2006. The 2006 Report was much the same as what members had seen before but the new report for 2013 would reflect changes. The Department had to assess SA’s state of environment and compare it globally to assess whether SA was in line with global reporting. There were thus global, regional, national and provincial assessments.  The central message of global assessment was that environmental degradation and loss of ecosystem services was a barrier to the attainment of development goals. There were no quick fixes. National assessments looked at the state of the rivers, the coast and the state of the air. The 2006 Report used the latest available information available at the time but there were challenges on the availability of environmental data for air quality, carbon emissions, waste and land degradation. Some of the main messages or positives from the Report were that SA had made significant progress in the area of environmental management. There were key strategies on biodiversity and also the implementation of the policy framework.  

The Report also highlighted some challenges. The ecological footprint of an average person in SA was higher than other persons globally and had increased by 2% between 1991 and 2001. There was an increase in pollution and a decline in air quality. National resources were being depleted and water quality was also an issue. Land degradation in SA was a serious problem.

The effects of climate change had not been factored into the 2006 Report. The Department would in its 2013 Report include climate change and gage how things had changed. Some noteworthy facts that emerged were that by 2025 at the latest there would be a deficit in water, the absolute temperature in SA had increased by 0.6% over the past century, sea surface temperatures had also increased by 1% over the past century whilst sea levels had also risen, carbon emissions in SA were much higher than countries such as Argentina, Brazil, India and Mexico, consumption of several ozone depleting substances had decreased from 1998 to 2001, however thereafter it increased again. Lastly there was an increase of 13.3% in refuse removals which was a reversal of the declining trend between 1996 and 2001. There was hence pressure on local governments to cope with the increase.

Concerns were raised by members about the consistency and accuracy of the data used in the 2006 Report, given that the Department itself was not too confident about its consistency. Another factor was that much of the data presented to the Committee was outdated. What was the current state of affairs? The Chairperson stated he was concerned about the accuracy of information in the Report. He was not concerned about the facts and figures but rather about the weaknesses of the 2006 Report and the Department needed to come up with solutions for the weaknesses. The Department was aware that the information contained in the 2006 Report was outdated. There were gaps that needed to be filled. The Department was required by law to do a State of the Environment Report every five year. Environmental trends could not be picked up over short periods. The 2013 Report would shed more light on progress made. It would help if data could be certified by StatsSA. It would give the data credibility.

The Committee was also concerned about lack of capacity of local governments to deal with waste management. The Chairperson asked to what extent could norms and standards be created at national level to obtain a balance. The Department was currently working on norms and standards for waste management information. The issue of waste needed to be mainstreamed. There were many households whose waste was not collected. It was for this very reason that the Department required R5,4bn to intervene and address the issue.

The Committee was in agreement that the State of the Environment Report was an issue which needed the attention of all relevant portfolio committees.

The Department also provided an updated and corrected report on whether the set targets had been met for Millennium Development Goal 7 which was to ensure environmental sustainability. A brief summary of Goal 7’s targets and indicators was given to establish if the Department had to take reasonable steps to prevent pollution and ensure a certain level of commitment. Government policies and legislation had to be implemented to protect the environment. The Committee received a statistical breakdown of what the current status was and what action had been taken by the Department. Details were given on carbon emissions, consumption of ozone depleting substances, proportion of terrestrial and marine areas protected, the number of vegetation species threatened with extinction and lastly the number of legally designated landfill sites. For example, carbon emissions in 2010 were 433 527 giga tons. The target was to reduce it by 34% by 2020 and by 42% by 2025. The Department felt the target to be achievable. The steps taken by the Department included putting long term mitigation scenarios in place, keeping a greenhouse gas inventory, putting a White Paper on Climate Change in place and an integrated resource plan. The number of legal landfill sites in 2010 was 817 sites.
The target was to increase the number of permitted landfill sites by 80% by 2015 keeping it in line with the target as set in the Outcome 10 Delivery Agreement Document. There were approximately 300 illegally operating sites. Members were cautioned that the indicator was a domesticated indicator reported on in the 2010 MDG Report but not part of the original MDG Goal 7 indicator list. Meeting the target of 80% of licensed landfills would depend on the availability of resources, currently estimated at R980m. Some of the steps taken by the Department were to have training programmes rolled out for landfill managers. Given the approximately 300 unlicensed landfill sites, so far the Department had assisted municipalities to have 117 waste disposal sites licensed and had put in place the National Environmental Management: Waste Act and National Waste Management Strategy.

The Chairperson noted that the current MDG Report was much better than the previous one the Committee received. He felt it important that Parliament should compile a report on MDGs. The Committee and the Department would supply the required information to Parliament.

Meeting report

Announcements
The Chairperson at the outset of the meeting stated the oversight visits the Committee had undertaken over the last couple of weeks had gone well and the Committee would be drafting a report on it. He mentioned a seminar on Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which the Committee had been invited to attend. Five Committee members were supposed to attend if more members wished to attend he should be informed.

Ms Lize McCourt, Chief Operating Officer, apologised for the absence of key members of her team who were not able to attend.

Department of Environmental Affairs on State of the Environment Outlook Report for 2006
Ms Anna Mampye Chief Director: State
of the Environment and Environmental Statistics Directorate, undertook the briefing. The 2006 Report was pretty much the same as what members had seen before but the new report for 2013 would reflect changes. The Department had to assess SA’s state of environment and compare it globally. The issue was about whether SA was in line with global reporting. There were thus global, regional, national and provincial assessments.  The central message of global assessments was that
environmental degradation and loss of ecosystem services was a barrier to the attainment of development goals. There were no quick fixes. National assessments looked at the state of the rivers, the coast and the state of the air. The first national state of environment report was released in 1999.The 2006 Report used the latest available information at the time. She emphasised that there were challenges with the availability of environmental data relating to air quality, carbon emissions, waste and land degradation etc. StatsSA was one source of such information. The main messages or positives from the Report were that SA had made significant progress in the area of environmental management. There were key strategies on biodiversity and there was also the implementation of the policy framework. Improvement of environmental conditions included some fish stocks, which had recovered due to good management measures, and a slowing of habitat loss in some areas of the country.  Programmes implemented spoke to the rehabilitation of ecosystems which in turn also created jobs.

Since hosting the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002, South Africa had continued to play a prominent role in international environmental governance. The Report highlighted some challenges. The ecological footprint of an average person in SA was higher than other persons globally and increased by 2% between 1991 and 2001. There was an increase in pollution and a decline in air quality. National resources were being depleted and water quality was an issue. Land degradation in SA was a serious problem. The Report spoke to the state of affairs and what trends were on water. Water availability was less and its quality was poorer than in the past. Almost all exploitable water sources were tapped which meant that less fresh water was flowing into rivers. Water quality was variable depending on the area and the type of pollutant. The health of river ecosystems was declining. The effects of climate change had not been factored unto the 2006 Report. Climate change did affect the availability of water. By 2025, for the latest, there would be a deficit in water. Climate change could result in a reduction of 10% in runoff by 2015. The Department would in its 2013 Report factor in climate change and gage how things had changed. The absolute temperature in SA had increased by 0.6% over the last century. Global temperatures were likely to rise even further. For the period from 1960 to 2003 the temperature had increased by 0.13% per decade. Days with warmer temperatures had increased whereas days with cooler temperatures had decreased. Sea surface temperatures over the last century had increased by 1% whilst sea levels had risen. Carbon emissions in SA were much higher than countries such as Argentina, Brazil, India and Mexico. Graphs illustrated levels from 1990 to 2005. The Chairperson pointed out that the illustration showed that carbon emission levels for SA in 1990 were the same in 2005. Was it possible?

Ms Mampye conceded that she was unsure about the consistency of the data. The Chairperson asked, if that was the case, why the data was being made public. He was concerned about the reliability of the data. She responded that the Department tried to be open about the limitations which it had. Climate change would have a profound impact on persons, the economy and the environment. Responses to global warming were not expected to reverse trends in the near future. On air quality, research by the National Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC) showed that SA had elevated PM10 concentrations across the country. There were high concentrations of fine particles in fuel-burning residential areas. Nitrogen oxide concentrations were high along busy traffic routes. Consumption of several ozone depleting substances had decreased from 1998 to 2001, however thereafter it increased. The use of ozone depleting substances in pesticides was one of the reasons for the increase but the Department had initiated programmes to bring down the usage. In the 2006 Report data on refuse removals was only available for cities under the City Network. Data from other cities was too fragmented. At the time there was an increase of 13.3% for refuse removals which was a reversal of the declining trend between 1996 and 2001. There was hence pressure on local governments to cope with the increase. Environmental protection was not high on the list of priorities for local government and its budget was almost non existent. The Report spoke to the status and trends on biodiversity and ecosystems. A positive trend was that a lot of ecosystems had been rehabilitated and biodiversity had improved. This could be contributed to a better understanding of the issues. However aquatic ecosystems were in a bad state. Fifty percent of wetlands in SA were destroyed. The Department would in its 2013 Report check whether the situation had changed. River ecosystems were in the decline and more work was needed. Marine and coastal resources had to bear great development pressures as forty percent of the SA population lived within 100km of coasts. Some estuaries were in a dismal state. Daily waste water discharged into the sea was 62% greater than five years ago.  Terrestrial biodiversity was generally in a better state than its marine and river counterparts. About six percent of SA was formally protected. Some biodiversity challenges were that it would be difficult to reduce biodiversity losses by 2010. Wetlands continued to be destroyed and a full assessment was needed.

The 2006 Report identified leverage points for improving the state of the environment. They were improving access to information on the environment, building capacity by rolling out a national environmental capacity building programme, strengthening implementation and enforcement and lastly mainstreaming the environment.

Discussion
Mr P Mathebe (ANC) asked how the Department communicated awareness on environmental issues to persons living in rural areas. What relationship did the Department have with farmer associations on matters of the environment?

Ms McCourt stated that the general awareness programme of the Department was often where its budget got cut. It was a constant challenge but the Department used its other programmes to create awareness. The Department for instance had short inserts on climate change on community radio stations. It also had a land care programme. She felt that the Department did not do nearly enough on environmental public awareness.

The Department had good relations with associations as it pertained to nature reserves and hunting etc. On farming the Department engaged with other departments. She noted that on biodiversity issues the Department had a strong relationship with farming associations. On actual farming practices like crop reduction and less water intensive processes, the relationship was less formal. The Department did assist farmers in the removal of stockpiled harmful pesticides. 

Mr B Holomisa (UDM) noted that the Report presented to the Committee dated back to 2006. What progress had been made since then? What were some of the challenges? He asked whether stakeholders co-operated with the Department in the performance of its work. It was felt that ecosystems could not be improved under the present land tenure system. In homelands there was no fencing. The suggestion was made that the Committee should approach the Chairperson of Chairpersons so the state of the environment could be discussed by all relevant portfolio committees such as the Portfolio Committees on Human Settlements, Co-operative Governance and Minerals and Energy.  If this was not done, his fear was that in another five years, nothing would have changed.

Ms McCourt noted that the 2013 Report would show the progress that had been made. Fundamentally the Department was starting to succeed in mainstreaming the environment. The challenge was that the environmental mandate was so fragmented. It was even fragmented nationally.

Mr S Huang (ANC) agreed with the concern that the Report was six years old. If there was no co-operation between departments nothing would change. If availability of information was the problem, what plans were in place to address such issues identified in the Report?

The Chairperson stated that he was not concerned about the information in the Report but rather about the accuracy thereof. He was not concerned about the facts and figures but rather about the weaknesses of the 2006 Report.

Ms McCourt stated that the Department was aware that the information contained in the 2006 Report was outdated. There were gaps that needed to be filled. The Department was required by law to do State of the Environment Reports in five year cycles. Environmental trends could not be picked up over short periods. Even climate change could not be measured over five years. The period was too short. The Millennium Development Goals Report was done in 2010. The issue was about misalignment of cycles. Biodiversity cycles were problematic. There was no close alignment of cycles. Information gaps especially on air quality had been closed. The 2013 Report would shed more light on progress made.

Mr J Skosana (ANC) agreed with Mr Holomisa. He too was concerned about the challenges of data collection. The issue of waste collection capacity by municipalities was another concern. If Department officials were assisting municipalities on environmental issues, it was not apparent at grassroots level. He pointed out that most of the information reflected in the Report was based on urban areas and not rural ones. Were there improvements in the assessing and monitoring of municipalities on environmental matters by the Department? What was the Department’s progress with capacity building?

Ms McCourt replied that the total land surface of SA was assessed in the 2006 Report. With respect to municipalities, waste services information was poor coming from municipalities. Income from waste services was also low. The Department had in 2007 done an assessment on the number of households that had access to waste service collection.  There was indeed a shortfall and R5.4bn was required by the Department to intervene. The Department year on year requested the funds from the fiscus in order to help indigent communities with basic waste collection. Capacity in most municipalities was lacking. The environment and waste was not high on the list of priorities of municipalities. The Department tried to engage in very specific interventions. She pointed out that the Department’s relationship with local government was improving. There were partnerships with the SA Local Government Association (SALGA) to improve local government performance. 

Officials from the Department were trying to assist municipalities but the assistance was limited. Pollution data was obtained from urban areas and biodiversity degradation data was obtained from rural areas.  Capacity was the biggest challenge of the Department. Finance was a challenge as well.

The Chairperson pointed out that expenditure by local government was mainly on parks management. Expenditure on waste management and the environment was practically nothing. He asked to what extent could norms and standards be created at national level to obtain a balance. It would guide local government on the norms and standards that it needed to maintain on statistical data. He was astounded that the Department was using data that was provided by NEDLAC. It was once again an issue of fragmentation. He wanted assurances from the Department that the weaknesses in the 2006 Report would be rectified.

Ms McCourt responded that the Department needed data to be certified by StatsSA. It would give the data credibility. The Department was currently working on norms and standards for waste management information. The issue of waste needed to be mainstreamed. There were many households whose waste was not collected. It was for this very reason that the Department required the R5,4bn to address the issue. The Department would do an analysis of the 2006 Report’s weaknesses.

She felt the suggestion by Mr Holomisa for a discussion across portfolio committees to be a good suggestion.

Ms H Ndude (COPE) asked if the Department did not have data, then who had it? Was there a problem of capacity within the Department? The Department was supposed to be the custodian of information. She asked what the Department’s long term plan was for rescuing SA’s marine resources.

Ms McCourt stated that where the Department was the custodian of information, it could close the gap. If it was not the custodian of a particular type of information, it was difficult to close the gap. Waste data was one such issue where it was difficult for the Department to close the gap. The Department could however set norms and standards.

The Department could look at marine resources from a biodiversity perspective. There was a strategy in development at present.

Ms D Tsotetsi (ANC) felt that other departments need to be taken on board by the Department.

The Chairperson suggested that the Committee host public hearings on waste during its fourth parliamentary term.

The Department needed to identify weaknesses in the 2006 Report and come up with solutions on how to deal with these. The issue of misalignment of cycles also needed to be addressed. Issues around data received from local government and other departments needed to be sorted out. Not much could be done around the Millennium Development Goals. The Committee should be furnished with a report on the weaknesses that had been identified and what strengthening of those weaknesses was going to be done. Members should be given an update of local government spend on environmental issues and waste. The info at hand was from 2007. The Committee had to look at environmental impact assessments. Working for Water units would be required to give the Committee a proper briefing. When the 2013 SOER gets released, other portfolio committees would be brought on board.

Mr Holomisa asked if the Department had a working paper on green jobs and carbon credits. Were companies out there who could assess companies on carbon emissions? He asked if the taxes to be charged on new vehicles for carbon emissions would find its way back to the Department. 

The Chairperson responded that when the Committee did its report on green jobs, the issues raised could be checked on. National Treasury had held separate hearings on the carbon tax. The Committee needed to get an input from National Treasury.

Ms McCourt stated that the Department had requested National Treasury to provide funding of the green economy. The Department had made submissions on green jobs. A great deal of work had been done on the green economy. 

Department of Environmental Affairs and MDGs: Involvement, Actions and Issues
The Chairperson asked the Department to be brief in its briefing as the Committee had dealt with the issue previously. It was just an upgraded report.

Ms Mampye agreed to the Chairperson’s request and stated that she would focus mainly on what had been corrected in the Report, plus check on whether targets had been met under Goal 7 (to ensure environmental sustainability). The Committee was presented with a brief summary of Goal 7’s targets and indicators as far as the Department taking reasonable steps to prevent pollution and ensure a certain level of commitment. Government policies and legislation had to be implemented to protect the environment. She proceeded to provide members with a breakdown of what the current status was, the targets set and finally what action had been taken. The assessment was done in 2010 but some of data was used from a year or two earlier.

Carbon emissions
The status in 2010 was a total of 433 527 giga tons. The target was to reduce it by 34% by 2020 and by 42% by 2025. The Department felt the target to be achievable. The steps taken by the Department include the putting of long term mitigation scenarios in place, keeping a greenhouse gas inventory, a white paper on climate change policy and an integrated resource plan.

Consumption of ozone depleting substances
The current status on hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) was 209.2 ODP tons. The target was to freeze the manufacture of it by 2013 and to phase it out totally by 2040. On Methyl Bromide (MeBr) the current status in 2010 was 225.9 ODP tons. The target was to phase it out by 2015. The Department felt the targets were likely to be met. Some steps the Department had taken were to have Ozone Depleting Substance (ODS) regulations in place, a report and database on ODS and the development of an integrated permitting system for imports and exports.

Proportion of terrestrial and marine areas protected
In 2010, 6.2% of terrestrial areas were protected. The target was set at increasing it to 9%.For marine the figure was 6.54% in 2010. The target was to increase it to 14%. Both targets were considered achievable. Ms McCourt however felt that a more realistic target for marine was 9%.Some of the steps that the Department had taken included the National Park Expansion Strategy, National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act, National Protected Areas Database and the National Biodiversity Framework.

The Chairperson commented that if deadlines were to be met there was a need to resolve blockages caused by other departments.

Number of vegetation species threatened with extinction
The status as at 2010 was 2 577 species were threatened with extinction. The target was to reduce the number of species threatened with extinction in line with the target set out in the Outcome 10 Delivery Agreement Document. The target was likely to be reached. Some of the steps taken by the Department were putting the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan and the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act in place, having the protected species regulations and the Department was contracting communal/privately owned land as conservation areas.

Number of legally designated landfill sites
In 2010, there were 817 sites.
The target was to increase the number of permitted landfill sites by 80% by 2015 keeping it in line with the target as set out in the Outcome 10 Delivery Agreement Document. There were approximately 300 illegally operating sites. Members were cautioned that the indicator was a domesticated indicator reported on in the 2010 MDG Report but not part of the original MDG Goal 7 indicator list. Meeting the target of 80% of landfills licensed would depend on the availability of resources, currently estimated at R980m. Some of the steps taken by the Department were to have training programmes rolled out for landfill managers, given that there were approximately 300 landfill sites that were unlicensed, so far the Department had assisted municipalities in having 117 waste disposal sites licensed. It had put in place the National Environmental Management: Waste Act and National Waste Management Strategy.

The Chairperson asked if the area was fully regulated. Were there norms and standards?

Ms McCourt confirmed that there were norms and standards. She made the point that ultimately the aim was to do away with landfills. The idea was to deal with waste at the source.

Ms Mampye highlighted some institutional challenges faced during reporting. These were the unavailability of methodology on some indicators, that there was no reporting structure and that StatsSA was in the process of establishing a permanent coordinating body and finally the unavailability of data which was directly linked to the frequency of data updates.

The Chairperson stated that if no information existed then it was the Department’s responsibility to get the people, who should get the information, to get it. The Department had to mechanisms in place for co-operative governance.

Discussion
Mr Holomisa asked if the Department had prepared a document which could be used during COP17. He asked who were the culprits in SA with regards to emitting high levels of carbon dioxide. Was SA moving towards the use of catalytic converters? The Department should identify who the culprits were and what types of categories of culprits there were. These were specifics that the Committee needed.

Ms McCourt stated that the Department had done a briefing on the COP 17 visit. She would nevertheless provide the information again.

The Department did identify guilty parties or the sectors responsible for emitting high levels of carbon dioxide. Actions were taken in order for the Department to meet its 2% target.

Ms Tsotetsi stated that SA had committed itself to meeting targets by certain dates. Perhaps ordinary people in SA should be encouraged to recycle as it was a viable way to make a living. She looked forward to the day when landfill sites would be done away with.

Ms McCourt, referring to providing support with regards to recycling, noted that it was addressed in the Department’s Waste Management Strategy. The efforts by the Department were ongoing.

The Chairperson noted that the current MDG Report was much better than what the Committee had previously received. He felt it important that Parliament should compile a report on MDGs. The Committee and the Department would supply the required information to Parliament.

The meeting was adjourned.

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