National Climate Change Response Policy: Department of Environmental Affairs Briefing

NCOP Land Reform, Environment, Mineral Resources and Energy

31 October 2011
Chairperson: Ms A Qikani (Eastern Cape, ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Environmental Affairs delivered presentations on the developments that lead toward the White Paper on Climate Change and on the strategies outlined in the policy. South Africa had signed the Kyoto Protocol in 2002 and in 2005 held a ground-breaking climate change conference seen worldwide as a revolutionary approach in science-policy discussion. The conference yielded processes to build detailed climate change scenarios for South Africa and to develop a response strategy policy. The Long-Term Mitigation Scenarios process outlined two major scenarios: growth without constraints and required by science and then modelled the results of different strategies to close the gap between the two scenarios. Carbon pricing was found to be the most effective strategy overall. A climate change policy was crucial. A draft Green Paper was published in November 2010 and went through a process of enormous stakeholder participation and review which saw 4 000 issues raised. The White Paper was published on 19 October 2011. 

Mitigation and Adaptation were the main objectives outlined in the White Paper. Even if South Africa become a carbon neutral economy tomorrow, the impacts from the global emissions would still be felt. Adaptation policy focussed on building resilience in areas of particular concern. The mitigation strategy focussed on moving South Africa to a low-carbon economy. Unexploited resources such as solar energy had to be developed and carbon had to be priced appropriately. There would be job-losses in certain sectors, but there would be opportunities in others. Climate change needed to be main-streamed so that all policies for South Africa met with climate change objectives.

Members asked for clarity on the terms mitigation and adaptation and on South Africa’s influence on the rest of the world for negotiations at the upcoming Conference of the Parties 17. Questions were asked regarding the impact of using gas, the possibility of storing carbon underground and the emission standards of South African petrol. Members expressed concern over the lack of international agreement on the issue and the limitations of the carbon trade system. 

Meeting report

The Chairperson said that the briefing was part of the run up to the Conference of the Parties 17 (COP 17) and would empower Committee Members to participate fully in the event.

DEA National Climate Change Response Policy – The Development Process Presentation
Mr Peter Lukey, Acting Deputy Director-General (DDG): Climate Change and Chief Director: Air Quality for the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), delivered presentations on the developments toward the White Paper since 1994 and on the strategies of the White Paper. He began with a brief overview of events between 1994 and 2005. In 1990 the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) had presented sufficient scientific evidence of climate change in their first Assessment Report to elicit worldwide concern and the negotiation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The National Climate Change Committee (NCCC) was formed in 1994 and was a multi-stakeholder platform aligning government, business and industry, academia, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and organised labour. The Kyoto Protocol was finalised in 1997; the survival of this agreement would be one of the most crucial issues to be negotiated at the upcoming COP17. By 2001 climate change had become an area of research in South Africa, and became more prominent in the political agenda in 2002 when the Heads of State of over 180 countries met at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. That same year the South African Government acceded to the Kyoto Protocol, which set specific targets for reductions in greenhouse gasses. However, certain key players, including the United States of America (USA), did not sign the Protocol. This remains a significant problem. In 2005, with the third IPCC Assessment Report, it became clear that South Africa and other more advanced developing countries needed to consider their responsibility for climate change. As a fossil-fuel-powered nation, this had important policy implications. By June 2005 the Departments of Environment and Science and Technology starting organising a unique climate change conference consisting of two components; a science conference attended by top regional scientists preceded a policy conference. The policy discussion was focussed by input from the scientists. This was seen as a revolutionary development in pragmatic science-policy dialogue.

Over 600 representatives from government, business, the scientific and academic communities, and civil society participated in the 2005 National Climate Change Conference in Midrand.  It was unanimously agreed that climate change was a reality, largely putting an end to media debate on this matter. Two important commitments were outlined. The first was an agreement to initiate a detailed scenario building process to map out how South Africa could meet its UNFCCC Article 2 commitment to greenhouse gas stabilization. The process was called the Long-Term Mitigation Scenarios (LTMS). The second was an agreement to initiate a participatory climate change policy development process.

The LTMS process began in March 2006 and concluded that a great deal could be done to reduce South Africa’s emissions. The process was run by multi-stakeholder scenario building team and included many representatives from government, business and civil society. In October 2007 three documents on the various scenarios were produced. Graphs referred to as ‘wedges’ illustrated the reduction benefit of various reduction approaches and the cost per ton of carbon was calculated for each approach.  An escalating carbon tax was shown to have the greatest impact on emissions.

The LTMS process modelled South Africa’s emissions trajectory given growth without constraints. This would lead to a fourfold increase in emissions by 2050. A required by science model showed a significant reduction in carbon emissions by 2050. The LTMS mapped different scenarios for reducing the gap between the two graphs, such as improving vehicle efficiency and dramatically increasing the use of renewable and nuclear energy, and measured their impact. The most effective measure was again shown to be pricing carbon through an escalating tax charged on the emission of carbon. A subsidy would be provided for renewable energy, bio-fuels and solar water heaters. This would meet the required by science targets until around 2040, after this transport emissions would increase the level again.  

Consensus was reached through this process that the growth without constraints scenario was unacceptable and that current development paths would not significantly alter this trajectory. The required by science trajectory should be South Africa’s goal. South Africa needed a climate change policy in order to peak, plateau and decline carbon emissions and transition South Africa to a low-carbon and carbon resilient society. Adaptation would also be required to deal with the inevitable impacts of climate change. The Policy Development Process was launched. Many areas of consensus were reached at the 2009 Climate Change Summit and including the decision to transition South Africa to a low-carbon economy, prioritising sustainable development and poverty eradication.

There were also three basic areas of divergence that had to be dealt with in the policy. The first was around what South Africa’s energy mix should be; Government had a clear policy on nuclear energy, however there was a strong anti-nuclear lobby against its use. The second was serious concern about the transparency of energy planning and the third was on carbon pricing; National Treasury supported a carbon tax while business and industry supported a trading scheme.

A draft Green Paper was published in November 2010 following a long process of round table discussion to co-ordinate the diverse stakeholder and Departmental inputs. Workshops were held in every province and website was set up to create an easy forum for contributions. Focus workshops were held for specific areas of concern such as adaptation, climate finance and governance. Further research informed these workshops. Finally Parliament hosted public hearings for a full three weeks and had robust discussions and debates. 4 000 issues were raised throughout the process, giving an indication of the level of interest. After a number of drafting and redrafting retreats and Committee reviews the White Paper was approved by Cabinet on 12 October 2011 and published in the Government Gazette on 19 October 2011. The process took six years, involved ground-breaking levels of participation, and had raised public awareness about climate change.
(See presentation document.)

DEA National Climate Change Response Policy – Summary Introduction
The policy outlined two important objectives: effectively managing inevitable climate change impacts through building resilience and response capacity; and making a fair contribution to the global effort to stabilise greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations.

The climate had been heating since the Industrial Revolution. Temperatures were now an average 1.8 degrees Celsius higher than they should be and were growing still. This October South Africa had seen exceptionally high daytime temperatures. New environmental phenomena were emerging in South Africa such as twisters that demolished entire informal settlements. Climate change was clearly already happening and would continue regardless of what was done now. Climate inertia meant that the impact of emissions released now would only be felt in ten years time. Therefore things would get worse before getting any better and would only improve with significant changes. If nothing changed the average temperature in the Highveld, for instance, would make the region uninhabitable by 2100. South Africa had to plan to ensure that people in certain areas would have water and crops resilient to higher temperatures, for instance. Even if South Africa stopped all emissions immediately the outcome wouldn’t change unless the rest of the world made reductions too. International agreement was crucial and South Africa had to leverage its position and do its work to ensure rest of world would do their work too. The negotiations at the end of the year would be difficult because consensus was required amongst nations with vastly disparate needs, economies and threats from climate change. South Africa’s policy objectives, however, were clear: adapt to the inevitable and reduce emissions.

The White Paper outlined a risk-based process approach to adaptation, identifying short and medium-term processes. Interventions to be taken were outlined and areas of concern such as water, agriculture, forestry, biodiversity and human settlements were identified. Resilience to climate variability would form the basis of disaster management in future. Issues such as storm surges and sea level rise were inevitable and strategies such as sea walls and increased storm water drainage must be implemented to avoid disasters.

The approach to mitigation had to balance the county’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions with the economic and social opportunities presented by the transition to a low-carbon economy, while still tackling the challenges of poverty and the need for development. Opportunities existed and under-exploited resources such as solar energy had enormous potential to generate wealth, more so than coal. Interventions with a positive impact on economy and specifically job creation and poverty alleviation would be prioritised. Carbon had to be priced appropriately and possibly emission reduction trading mechanisms would be used in relevant sectors. Targets would be set by sector with monitoring and evaluation systems in place.

Near-Term Priority Flagship Programmes were already under-way, including programmes such as The Climate Change Response Public Works Flagship Programme which was scaling up the Working for Water, Working on Fire, and Working for Energy projects; The Water Conservation and Demand Management Flagship Programme and The Public Transport Flagship Programme, amongst others. 

The White Paper considered jobs closely. Certain sectors would be impacted negatively, but there would be opportunities to create jobs and to migrate jobs from carbon intense sectors to carbon neutral sectors. Government would assess the vulnerability of the different economic sectors to climate change and develop Sector Job Resilience Plans. It was crucial that climate change be main-streamed and not be seen as a stand-alone issue. All plans needed to be aligned with climate change objectives. These objectives also needed to be main-streamed in budget and it would be important to capture international funding. With the eyes of the world on South Africa for COP17, there would be increased opportunity for this. Funds needed to be channelled to worthwhile ends. Effective monitoring would be crucial. The Presidency’s Outcomes-Based approach would be used to ensure that the policy was properly reflected in the outcomes of Government.
(See presentation document.)

The Chairperson thanked Mr Lukey for the presentation and lengthy background information. He asked for further clarity on the meaning of the terms mitigation and adaptation and on the relationship between the two.

Mr Lukey responded that the debate was indeed polarised around mitigation and adaptation. There was some criticism of this approach. Mitigation referred to all the interventions required to stabilise the greenhouse gasses that cause climate change by capture and storage and to stopping emissions. Reforestation, for example, absorbed carbon, reducing the concentration in the air. Adaptation was the response to the effects of climate change, such as extreme weather events or ice melting and sea level rise. Because certain interventions had both mitigation and adaptation impacts, some criticised the separation of the concepts. Mangrove forests, for example, grow along coastlines and add protection from storm surges by reducing the speed of waves, a good adaptation measure. Their capacity to store carbon also made them a mitigation measure. The same dual impact could be achieved in low-cost housing which was typically built without a ceiling. This made it hot in summer but cold in winter and increased the household’s expenditure on energy. Putting in ceilings would reduce the energy needs of the poor while increasing their resilience to rising temperature.

The Chairperson noted that more consensus had been reached than differences of opinion. Was it possible that this could be used to bludgeon the rest of the world in to a binding international protocol at COP 17?

Mr Lukey answered that South Africa punched above its weight in negotiations and was highly respected. The nation was seen as honest because it was a developing nation committed to democratic process, but was not just a victim in climate change because South Africa made a considerable contribution to emissions. South Africa was seen as the world in microcosm because of the divided economy and levels of development. Therefore South Africa was seen as an honest broker with an understanding of the dynamics of both developed and developing countries. It was true that if South Africa could find a level of consensus then it should be possible from the international community. However it would be necessary to be careful and tread lightly. As president of the COP 17 South Africa would need to be an honest referee and could not push a South African agenda. This agenda would need to be pushed through partners; the President was currently working to persuade countries such as Brazil, China and India to take on a similar agenda. This was a considerable ask from major economies. South Africa maintained a high moral ground and it was hoped that could be leveraged. The level of public interest had grown dramatically. It would be a long fight, but Mr Lukey asserted that if South Africa remained honest there was hope for a positive outcome.

Mr D Worth (DA, Free State) commented that for the time being renewable energy would only be small a proportion of the energy mix and South Africa would remain essentially dependent on fossil fuel. Who financed carbon credits? Was that not a way to encourage private enterprise such as South African Synthetic Oil Limited (SASOL) to reduce its carbon emissions?

Mr Lukey responded that South Africa could in fact make a rapid shift toward renewable energy.  All that was required was Government to agree to bear the cost. Therefore renewable energy could be up-scaled rapidly.

Mr Worth asked what the impact of using gas would be on reducing carbon emissions.

Mr Lukey answered that gas was more carbon-friendly than coal but was still a non-renewable resource and still created greenhouse gasses.

Mr Worth asked if underground storage of carbon had been tried and whether it was effective.

Mr Lukey responded that SASOL had a partnership with Norway to explore carbon capture and storage. Norway had discovered the method of underground storage by using carbon to pump out the last traces of oil from wells in the North Sea. Four possible carbon dioxide geological basins in South Africa had been identified. It would not be possible in the areas that carbon was currently produced, making it hugely expensive. Therefore it was possible; however renewable energy would be more cost effective.

Ms B Mabe (ANC, Gauteng) commented that the dependence on other countries to change made on feel hopeless. She hoped that countries with major greenhouse gas contributions might review their positions and agree to change. Otherwise it would be a long battle, unlikely to end at the upcoming conference.
Mr Lukey responded that it was important not to build expectations for the upcoming COP17 to the point that no outcome would be seen as successful. Certain outcomes were highly unlikely and pragmatism was required. Positive advances could be possible. There was a real chance that the Kyoto protocol would not be renewed and this would decrease the chances of a reduction of greenhouse gasses dramatically. International agreement was necessary. Most countries had seen the writing on the wall, as had big companies, and market forces were taking effect.  Progress in the negotiations was crucial because Copenhagen had been seen as major back step.

The Chairperson commented that the carbon credit system appeared to simply compensate developing countries for the continued emissions of developed countries.

Mr Lukey responded that this was indeed the case. Countries such as the United Kingdom bought credits instead of reducing their own emissions. Developing countries sold credits to international governments by developing greater efficiencies in their own industries. Developed nations could then claim the same reductions as a country such as South Africa, when in fact they had reduced nothing themselves. This forced certain countries in one direction while others reaped the benefits. There was a socialist argument that  pollutants should not be treated as commodities at all. It was therefore a controversial system seen to let major polluters off the hook.

The Chairperson asked if South Africa was justified in receiving funds for selling carbon credits given that the country still emitted large amounts of greenhouse gasses.

Mr Lukey answered that it was true that South Africa was not an innocent victim, contributing between 1.5 to 2% of emissions globally. The country was committed to doing the right thing and would make every effort to do so. There were achievements to be proud of. Standard Bank had been listed as one of the top 100 green companies in the world and other South African companies were making strides.
Mr Worth commented that South African fuel was now lagging behind and that the costs involved in upgrading were tremendous.

Mr Lukey responded that this was true. South African fuel was as at Euro 2 emission standard while Europe was at Euro 5. South Africa should aim for Euro 4. Upgrading the refineries would be extremely costly. State-controlled prices would make it difficult to recoup these costs. Using Euro 2 fuels in Euro 5 vehicles was still a good reduction. Increasing the efficiency of vehicles could be a way to catch up. A carbon emissions tax would move people into buying smaller more compact and energy efficient vehicles.

The Chairperson thanked Mr Lukey for the informative presentation. It was unfortunate that more Members could not have been present; the information should have been received by all the Members.

The meeting was adjourned.  


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