White Paper on Climate Change Public Hearings

Water and Sanitation

31 October 2011
Chairperson: Mr J de Lange (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Four organisations - Greenpeace Africa, Earthlife Africa Johannesburg, the Environmental Monitoring Group  and World Wildlife Fund for Nature presented their comments on the National Climate Change Response White Paper. Concerns included the short amount of time  - only eight days - for the public to comment.

The Chairperson acknowledged the shortage of time but the Committee had to make a compromise whether to ask for comments before Conference of the Parties 17 or wait until afterwards.

Organisations felt that the trajectory South Africa had chosen was not the right one as the peak was the present and not in 2025 as the White Paper had it.

The Department of Environmental Affairs defended its position by saying that the range it had chosen was arrived at through consensus after multi-stakeholder consultations and that the range incorporated South Africa’s Copenhagen undertaking, the range chosen by Cabinet in 2008. It also integrated factors unique to South Africa’s socio-economic circumstances.

Organisations called for a more ambitious plan and much quicker action by the Government to deal with the emissions and fast track implementation. The carbon capture storage system was discouraged and the Government was urged not to give this prominence as it had not been scientifically proven to work and that South Africa could better utilise the resources on other means such as the use of renewable energy.

Topics of Members' questions included carbon capture and storage, the peak, plateau, and decline scenario, how to inform people in a simplified manner how climate change was affecting their everyday lives, whether Earthlife was saying that the White Paper position was false, whether the way the green economy was presented really meant that capitalism was insufficient to tackle sustainability issues, the meaning of 'required by science', who the parties trying to move the business as usual line were, and a comment that there were many socialist countries with very bad environmental records.

Meeting report

The Chairperson informed Members, delegates and observers that a film crew was making a documentary  for the Conference of the Parties (COP) 17 meeting and would be in the room. The White Paper was really a framework within which Government tried to coordinate and manage all issues relating to climate change. The issue affected all aspects of life and hence a response would need to do the same. Unfortunately, there was no Department that dealt with such a wide range of cross cutting issues. The White Paper was an attempt to ensure such coordination and therefore would not be very detailed. It was hoped that the involvement of stakeholders would continue. No one had all the answers to the issue but the right responses and solutions would need to be found. The DNA of the society would need to be changed such as a move from the high fossil fuel-driven economy towards a low carbon economy. The public hearings were to see if all the issues in the Green Paper had been captured. Civil society also needed an opportunity to be part of the process. The White Paper was only the beginning of the process. Even though COP17 was taking place in South Africa, very few people were actually aware of the meeting. The public hearings were an opportunity to give some prominence to the issue. Many submissions had been made already.

Greenpeace Africa. Presentation
Ms Ferrial Adam, Energy and Climate Change Campaigner, Greenpeace Africa (GPAfr) said that  GPAfr welcomed the Government response to the climate change issue in the White Paper. Its first concern was the short amount of time given to the public to comment. The two documents, the Green and White Paper were also different although GPAfr was happy that the latter did not refer explicitly to nuclear energy anymore. Another concern raised referred to the fact that the White Paper had been approved by Cabinet already and GPAfr asked Members of Parliament how the comments made in the hearings would be incorporated. Also, if the Paper was really a framework, then it needed to be stated in the title. GPAfr was also concerned about the baseline not being clear in relation to the emissions, the trajectory range, and the flagship programmes and how they were defined. The Government needed to take the lead in terms of long term goals. South Africa’s position in the White Paper was a rise in average temperature by two degrees Celsius and it needed to change it to one and a half degrees to be in line with the African position. South Africa also needed to have a peak and a decline and not a peak, plateau and decline trajectory as there was not enough time. GPAfr was of the opinion that the finance and technology conditionality needed to be removed as it could not afford to wait for international funding in order to start implementation. GPAfr labeled some of the elements of the White Paper as bad ideas.

It argued that carbon capture and storage (CCS) was a bad idea as it had not been scientifically proven to work and the technology for it was not viable. Renewable energy solutions were the best. In terms of the coordination mechanism, there was potential to expand that function. In term of the market based instrument, it was important to look at what the carbon tax really meant and perhaps ask the Government to ring-fence the fund and use it for renewable energy.  A final White Paper needed to be written and not fast pressured by COP 17.

The Chairperson explained that the White Paper had become a policy of Government already and therefore could not be changed. He acknowledged that the eight days for comment was short, but the it was a compromise in order to get the comments in before COP 17 meeting. He assured Greenpeace that the engagements did not end there as there would be more opportunities in the future to submit more comments. 
Mr G Morgan (DA) was interested in GPAfr’s comments on Carbon Capture and Storage and asked why it was not interested in the innovation that came out of such a solution.

Mr J Skosana (ANC) thanked Greenpeace for its interesting presentation. He asked for elaboration on GPAfr’s reference to the peak, plateau, and decline scenario as not in line with the requirement of science. 

Mr S Huang (ANC) asked if GPAfr knew about the green fund from the United Nations (UN) and would be interested to hear its comment on it.

Ms C Zikalala (IFP) asked how the message could be taken down to the grassroots level to inform people in a simplified manner how climate change was affecting their everyday lives.

Ms H Ndude(COPE) acknowledged the comments but she felt that the language Greenpeace used was very harsh. She asked if some solutions could be suggested.

Mr Skosana asked for confirmation if GPAfr was suggesting that Government not endorse Carbon Capture and Storage solution.

The Chairperson explained that the Committee had accepted the trajectory and had fought hard to keep it that way as all targets  fell within South Africa's meeting scientific parameters. Once  a target had been set according to the trajectory, then came the issues of carbon budget. The intergovernmental committee would look at them regularly and set targets that each sector would need to meet and it also needed to look at the mitigation plus adaptation measures. The committee had already taken inputs from the department and it had explained the different steps.

The Chairperson agreed with GPAfr on finance and technology. He explained that at the theoretical level the policy could not wait for international funds. But the problem with taking it out was that South Africa would miss out on that part and would not also benefit from other countries paying for their sins. The issue needed to be looked at in a balanced way.

Ms Adam explained to Mr Morgan that the reason why GPAfr opposed CCS was that it was still in  the research phase. It had not been proven to work. By the time South Africa found out it might work, it would have been 25 years down the line. South Africa could better spend its money on renewable energy and not on something that might not work.

In response to Mr Skosana, Ms Adam explained that everything around Climate Change in terms of reduction and the targets needed to be reached were all based on documents from the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) which had become mostly outdated, since the next conference to update them would be in 2015. The view at the present time was that reduction in emissions needed to happen much faster. South Africa needed to stop building coal based stations and make some bold decisions and invest in renewable energy.

Ms Adam elaborated on the finance  and technology comment saying that South Africa could not afford to wait for it as it would be given to the most vulnerable and poor countries. South Africa was regarded as an emerging country alongside China, Brazil, India amongst others. It was highly unlikely that South Africa would receive first taps in the finance and technology that would be provided by the international negotiations. Action needed to happen right away.

The Chairperson remarked that given that the White Paper existed, anyone could get up and ask Government what money it had put aside for activities relating to climate change response. The Government could be hold accountable in terms of the White Paper. He agreed that though GPAfr had made a good point, it must also be noted that Government had already made a commitment and that it had to expect action on it. Even if South Africa did not get the finance and technology, it was not dependent on it.

The Chairperson further commented that the paper did not deal with a fund for South Africa.  He was surprised that none of the papers had raised any issues around a green fund. 

Mr Adam indicated to Ms Zikalala that Greenpeace would like to see more information on raising awareness being made available.

In response to Ms Ndude, she explained that GPAfr was an activist organization where people said what they felt about  a particular issues. Saying that certain things were bad ideas was just a view. In terms of alternative sources of energy, GPAfr also came up with its own research as well.

The Chairperson thanked Greenpeace Africa for its contribution.

Earthlife Africa. Presentation
Mr Tristen Taylor, Project Coordinator, Earthlife Africa Johannesburg (Jhb) presented the submission on the White Paper. He referred to Section 24 of the Constitution and argued that the issue of climate change required a constitutional mandate. Earthlife Africa also argued that the White Paper needed to endorse the 1.5degrees Celsius increase in average temperature. Like Greenpeace, Earthlife Africa also believed that the peak plateau decline scenario was neither fair nor aligned with science. For all major emitting countries in the global south, the peak was pretty much in the present according to data. Earthlife recommended that Parliament investigate the matter further. Mr Taylor urged the Government to look also at per capita emissions and see where South Africa fitted especially in comparison to the Brazil, Russia, India, China  and South Africa (BRICS) countries. The carbon tax was not in line with the Constitution and needed to be redrafted as it was an important tool to use as, if the cost of carbon emissions were passed on to big companies like South African Synthetic Oil Limited (SASOL) and Eskom, they would simply pass them on to the consumers and make a profit from it. Earthlife Africa agreed with Greenpeace that the funds from the carbon tax should be ring-fenced and used for renewable energy investments. Earthlife Africa also believed that carbon capture and storage should not be given the prominence it had as it was an expensive process and energy consumption was very high, defeating its purpose. Earthlife urged the Government to do something that had never been done before in dealing with the climate change problem as it was also an opportunity to deal with the social injustices in society.

Mr Morgan thanked Earthlife for an excellent contribution to the process. He asked for elaboration on recommendations on how to structure a scientific advisory council. He also asked about its response as to the feasibility of the transition given their view that the peak was imminent, and if Earthlife thought South Africa could make the transition quickly.

The Chairperson asked for confirmation if Earthlife was saying that the White Paper position was false.

Mr Taylor responded that a scientific advisory council needed to be as neutral as possible and not linked to some industry or some big non-governmental organisation (NGO). In terms of the feasibility of the transition South Africa was not very blessed as fossil fuel dependency was quite high and such system needed to change. In the country’s favour was that it was about to make a change one way or another and it would need to shift the way for it to happen in order to have a sharper decline without the plateau. This meant that the country would need to adopt some very quick power solutions. There were scenarios which included higher use of gas. He pointed to the example of South Africa preparing for the Soccer World Cup and how the country met all its goals and managed to pull together such a big organization which was successful. The transition at a faster rate was possible but it would need much more commitment. Earthlife also argued that the right to a a healthy clean environment was  unconditional when discussing reducing carbon emissions.

The Chairperson said that the rights in the Constitution were not absolute and that Section 36 had a sub-section which limited the rights so that some rights would not clash with others or contradict each other.

Mr  Taylor clarified that Earthlife believed that the trajectory used in the White Paper would result in emissions that were far too high and therefore, wrong. The target of two degrees Celsius was also wrong as it was too high. Rather one and a half degrees was more feasible. The peak of the trajectory should be the present period.
The Chairperson asked Earthlife to provide the figures that it would like to see.

Mr Taylor replied that South Africa was in the current predicament because it was tracking the scenario based on thinking back in 2004 which was the most unrealistic. The carbon budget that should have been used was between  5-16 gigatons. The one the White Paper was based on was about 25 gigatons, which was too high. 

Environmental Monitoring Group. Presentation
Mr Thabang Ngcozela, Programme Manager: Climate Change, Environmental Monitoring Group (EMG) indicated that the White Paper needed to distinguish policy and implementation. The green economy was insufficient to tackle sustainability issues. The issues surrounding water were not clear and Parliament needed to play a stronger oversight role in this area. Policy interventions on water needed to focus on saving water and not punish the poor. In terms of water demand management, for example, municipalities were unable to deal with their waste water which could be used to generate alternative energy. Effort also needed to be put into supplementing water in rural areas by servicing water pumps and windmills. More effort should also be put into making people understand how climate change could affect their lives and building their own capacity to adapt.

The Chairperson referred to the statement that the green economy was insufficient to tackle sustainability issues and what it meant. He said that the way green economy was presented really meant that capitalism was insufficient to tackle sustainability issues. However, there were many socialist countries with very bad environmental records. But he understood what EMG was trying to say as the input was very clear and balanced.

World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF). Presentation
Ms Louise Naudé, National Climate Change Officer, WWF,  said that WWF was very pleased that the White Paper had come out before COP17. Like Earthlife, WWF believed that the trajectory was very high but was aware that this was a political issue not a numbers issue as there were parties who had vested interests and wanted the business as usual line higher as it affected their business. The White Paper defined the top and the bottom line and it was not necessarily wrong, but it was also not ambitious enough. South Africa had committed to something different - the long term mitigation scenario where the business as usual line had remained undefined right through all the processes. WWF had been calling for definition and was happy to see that the White Paper had done it as the later it was determined, the harder it got. WWF said that South Africa would need to peak  in 2025 because it is not only a matter of how high the peak would be but how long South Africa would stay at that peak from 2025-2035. The decline would need to start in 2025. WWF had done calculations based on two degrees. Even though the country would not be able to peak today it needed to start making decisions to speed up the process. WWF was sad that Climate Resilient Development had been taken out of the Paper as such could be achieved when an ecosystem based approach to development was taken, because at the heart of our existence was the service the ecosystems rendered. Solutions would be trade-offs and would often be not the best but the least of the worst. If ecosystems were not factored in, we would not survive. WWF considered the carbon budget, flagship programmes, Government alignment and integration, sector job resilience plans, and incorporating of externalized costs as causes for celebration.

The Chairperson said that it was hard to understand the scenario in relation to the departmental ones.

Mr Morgan asked about the decline and where it would be and if some decisions would be regressed.

Mr L Greyling (ID) asked for clarification of what 'required by science' meant. 

The Chairperson asked about WWF’s comment on a green fund as it had been mentioned in the White Paper. He also said that the paper was silent on whether legislation was needed in order to make the White Paper work.

Ms Naudé replied that the bottom level of the trajectory took South Africa to what was required by science and it was just that South Africa would reach it later and by then, it would have already overshot the amount of emissions it should have put in the atmosphere.

The Chairperson offered a document to WWF that explained the Department’s position in the White Paper.

In response to Mr Greyling, Ms Naudé said that the world had not yet reached a level which carved up the global budget in a fair way, but South Africa could take its commitment and say this would be what it would do to cut. WWF was working with a workable carbon budget, but the more it pushed, the business as usual line was, the bigger the proportion would be that could be emitted and this was where the vested interests were, which was a political problem. At international level these were political questions. What was important was that South Africa did not get locked into something that would leave it with estranged assets. For example, if South Africa built coal stations at present, it would be stuck with them.

The South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) had been accredited to be the implementer for the adaptation fund. For the green fund, South Africa would have to  get an institution up and running. WWF agreed with the Chairperson in having legislation. it was also excited by the idea of a sectoral budget .

The Chairperson welcomed Mr Peter Lukey, Acting Deputy Director-General (DDG): Climate Change and Chief Director: Air Quality, Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), and asked him to explain the peak, plateau, and decline trajectory.

Mr Lukey thanked the Chairperson and apologized for his late attendance as he had had to brief a National Council of Provinces (NCOP) meeting on the White Paper. He replied that even though the Long-Term Mitigation Scenarios (LTMS) process was a multi-stakeholder one and consensus was reached that the blue line should be South Africa’s goal. The blue line was subjective, as it was a political statement based on South Africa’s unique characteristics, including socioeconomic conditions. In terms of the popularized aspects, the Copenhagen undertaking and the White Paper contained figures that captured all of those, and showed dramatically a significant departure from business as usual. There had never been any statement of what the decline should look like until the background document to White Paper was drawn up to take the range based on LTMS required by science. It had to be accepted as the benchmark and progress should be measured against it.

The Chairperson said that South Africa had agreed on LTMS science and as required taken into account all the factors.

Ms Naudé said that WWF believed that such as position might be correct but the urgency of the problem required a more ambitious approach and and that action be taken sooner rather than later.

Mr Greyling asked for clarity on whether the blue range confirmed the commitment at Copenhagen and who were the parties trying to move the business as usual line.

Mr Lukey said that the Copenhagen undertaking was the purple line. In terms of the business as usual line, to predict a future with accuracy was impossible. If South Africa’s mission fell in the business as usual line, then it was in trouble. The reality was that something significant had to be done to get outside that business as usual line.

Mr Morgan wanted to understand the process followed by Government in setting the budget. At the present point, 2011, that was the kind of broad range South Africa wanted to gain. The reality was South Africa wanted to be ambitious as the framework sent signals to businesses.

Mr Lukey said that the process ahead and bending the curve was not going to be easy. There had been discussions with large industrial sectors on the drawing of South Africa’s LTMS scenario in terms of the White Paper. On the basis of these discussions it appeared that it would be a divisive process, as one sector could be pitted against another. The Department was hoping to gather information to inform decisions. The biggest lesson had so far been that no one size fitted all. Ranges had to be used to accommodate many aspects of the market. The Department had also seen that voluntary mechanisms had a role to play. It would explore all those things.

The Chairperson said that the Department and the Committee would need to work together to monitor the implementation of the White Paper.

The Committee would continue with the public hearings in the next three weeks when it would hear from the industrial and business sector and other community organizations.

The meeting was adjourned.


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