The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) briefed the Committee, and Members of other portfolio committees, on the lead-up to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio +20), particularly in regard to the expected outcomes for South Africa. One of the goals of the conference would be to secure a renewed political commitment for sustainable development, as well as measure the progress made in implementing the previous commitment, reached in 2002 at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD). South Africa was expected to reach a political declaration that focused on the theme of Sustainable Development, generate a framework of action on both a Green Economy and an Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development, and reach an agreement on what means would be used to implement these outcomes. The preparatory process in
Members noted that the processes to date had been complex, and the DEA was asked to compile and forward a package of relevant documents, to allow Members to prepare themselves thoroughly. A Member suggested that more work was needed in the public domain, and buy-in from citizens must be obtained, and asked why the Department of Human Settlements was not more deeply involved in the working group. There had been problems with the takeover of the sanitation function by this Department which was a contributor to some problems in other departments. Another Member proposed joint ventures between various committees, and although this was agreed to in principle it was pointed out that there was lack of time, although it was recognised that isolated approaches did not assist. Members discussed whether African perspectives would enjoy enough attention and problems around localisation were raised. Members discussed whether it was correct to suggest that countries should be able to apply their own definitions according to their own national priorities, and agreed that a more balanced approach was necessary. Members agreed that a user-friendly, understandable definition was needed, although the difficulties in reaching consensus on any definition were acknowledged. Outreach efforts were outlined, and it was confirmed that further meetings would be held on the issues.
United Nations (UN) Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio +20): Department of Environmental Affairs briefing
The Chairperson noted that the briefing to be given by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) would assist the Committee in preparing for the Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio +20) in June, in
Ms Nosipho Ngcaba, Director General, Department of Environmental Affairs, said she hoped South Africans and the international community were optimistic for the future.
Ms Dorah Nteo, Chief Director, Department of Environmental Affairs, outlined some expected outcomes of the
Ms Nteo recapped all the previous summits on climate change and sustainable development that had been held since 1972 (see attached document for details), and said that the National Strategy on Sustainable Development (NSSD) was a product of these previous summits. The
She then outlined the preparatory process in
The Chairperson interjected to say that insufficient consultations were held with Parliament.
Ms Nteo apologised and said that the DEA hoped to consult Parliament on this matter by mid-May.
She continued that the Draft Zero Negotiating Text, which was released by the Secretariat of Rio +20 in November 2011, had been used as the basis of negotiations during consultations. Any member of the public could access this document via the Internet. During negotiations with other international actors, it had been agreed that consensus must be reached on a definition for the “Green Economy”, and that its implementation must be underlined by national priorities and objectives. The European Union had said
Some had said that African states should just have a toolkit for Green Economy and share this with others, though such a toolkit would exempt countries from making proper commitments. Over the years, implementation of Sustainable Development had been monitored by the Commission on Sustainable Development, which met annually at the UN headquarters under the Economic and Social Council. This Council also monitored developed countries’ commitments in providing Official Development Assistance to developing countries, including those in
In conclusion, Ms Nteo asked the Committee to take note of the preparatory process, to comment on
The Chairperson thanked Ms Nteo. He acknowledged the complex processes that had taken place over the last 40 years, and agreed it was crucial that all Members familiarise themselves with the details of these events. He asked the Director General of DEA to assemble and forward to the Members a package containing all the main documents. He said it was important to discuss any queries related to the expected outcomes of the
Mr G Morgan (DA) said that 2012 would be a very important year for
Ms G Borman (ANC) said she was aware that many members were not experts on the complex background of Sustainable Development. She asked why the Department of Human Settlements (DHS) was not sufficiently involved in the intergovernmental working groups that formed part of
Mr S Sizani (ANC), Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Rural Development and Land Reform, said that developing countries should practise national sovereignty when transitioning into a Green Economy, meaning they should follow their own paths of development. He also expressed concern about those countries that tended to opt out of international legally binding mechanisms that were discussed during previous summits. During the transition from MDGs to SDGs everyone must be very clear on what was meant by Sustainable Development. He proposed a joint venture on the issue between the Portfolio Committees on Rural Development, Agriculture, and Water and Environmental Affairs. He said there must be increased interaction between Chairs, Members and the constituencies that they represent, to achieve greater clarity and understanding of the Sustainable Development issues.
The Chairperson agreed with Mr Sizani, saying that various departments and committees should not work in silos. However, due to time constraints, it was impossible to organise joint projects now. Public hearings on the NSSD were scheduled for later in 2012, but these would now be preceded by a briefing in June, whereafter others could get involved. It was important for Africa to operate in its own space when setting SDGs. South
Mr J Skosana (ANC) welcomed the complex input presented by the DEA, which he said contained an international ideology, noting meetings with other countries. In addition to the DEA, other departments must also get involved and deal with the issue of development in
A representative from the Department of Human Settlements (DHS) was concerned that the African perspective would not enjoy enough attention during the multilateral forum at the
A Member, who was also a Member of the Portfolio Committee on Trade and Industry, noted that he was uncomfortable with the statement, in a document, to the effect that “The Green Economy should be defined and applied by each country based on their national priorities as well as their own economic circumstances.” If this approach was followed, he wondered what the point would be of discussing Sustainable Development issues at a worldwide forum, as it suggested that
The Chairperson agreed with this point, saying it was similar to the point raised by Mr Sizani. Indeed,
Ms C Zikalala (IFP) responded to the issue of localisation. She noted that she would have to explain to her constituency what was meant by climate change, and she suggested that the definition of a green economy had to be phrased in such a way that ordinary South Africans could understand it. She noted the low attendance at this meeting, and said members from other departments must not think climate change was an issue that concerned only the DEA as it concerned every department.
The Chairperson explained that the low turnout was due to the short notice at which the meeting was called, as it had been brought forward from its intended date, one month hence, in order to prepare Members for another meeting that afternoon.
The Chairperson doubted that
Mr Sizani said that a particular document was still classified as “Secret” online.
The Director General and the Chairperson reassured Mr Sizani that the document had been adopted by Cabinet in November 2011, and thus would have to be declassified.
A Member noted that there was not enough transparency in the transition stage when sanitation issues were included under the scope of Department of Human Settlements. She referred to a paper titled “
The Chairperson acknowledged her point. He said the process of moving sanitation to DHS was not done in accordance with standard legal procedure, and the implications were visible. The failure of the Department of Water Affairs to meet its targets was partly due to this move.
The Chairperson said he would look into how Parliament could work to impact on the outcomes mentioned in the presentation. The preparations for the
Ms Nteo responded to the issues of national sovereignty raised by Mr Sizani. While all countries must work towards a common goal, it was permissible for a country to take a different approach depending on its specific circumstances. The vision for Sustainable Development required a global architecture, but
The Chairperson interrupted, saying that these issues should not be discussed in such broad terms, because then it was left open-ended. Whilst developing countries may well insist on following their own national priorities, they must at least make it clear to the world what they wanted to achieve. Therefore, the DEA must be more nuanced in its response, and include some minimum requirements for a Green Economy. If the discussion remained open-ended then it would lead to the same lack of international agreement that accompanied the discussions on climate change.
Mr Sizani reminded the Chairperson and the Chief Director that his point had been that developed countries tended to opt out of their obligations to assist developing countries.
Ms Ngcaba said she would provide the detail necessary to articulate a framework for
Mr Z Fakir, Deputy Director General, AU International, said that while BRICS members had common economic aims, in reality
The Chairperson said he knew what Mr Fakir was trying to say, but he did not think it sounded appropriate. It was not enough to criticise the lack of progress, without focusing on the items on
Mr Fakir responded by saying he did not mean to be over-critical, but wanted to emphasise that it was important to use the platform at international summits, such as Rio +20, to help
The Chairperson responded that the real challenge was to translate broad, open-ended statements into words that would not offend the developing world, whilst also gaining a better understanding of what a Green Economy comprised.
Ms Nteo responded to the issue of outreach. As the custodian of WSSD,
Ms Nteo noted that localised change would be incremental. There had been a focus on developing rural communities and small towns with the Eco-Town Programme, which employed local youths to start recycling, street sweeping, to create awareness, and to participate in organising plays and concerts around environmental themes. In regard to rapid growth in rural settlements, she said that local government had been working to accommodate this growth along the lines of a Green Economy, by focusing on urban renewal, and agriculture in urban settings, like rooftop vegetable gardens.
Ms Lize McCourt, Chief Operating Officer, Department of Environmental Affairs, noted that the Draft Zero Negotiating Text, which was available on the
The Chairperson said that public hearings on the matter would go ahead as well. He would try to organise future meetings so that other Portfolio Committees and Parliamentary officials who wished to add their comments on Sustainable Development could get involved.
He reminded the DEA to assemble and circulate a package of documents. He also noted that
The meeting was adjourned.
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