Climate Change Implications for Water: Department of Water and Sanitation briefing

Water and Sanitation

03 September 2014
Chairperson: Mr L Johnson (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee was briefed by the Departments of Water and Sanitation (DWS) and Environmental Affairs (DEA) on climate change and its implications for water.

The briefing by DEA centred on climate change negotiations and covered the national context of climate change negotiations, impacts of climate change in a national and international context, dynamics of climate change negotiations, the scope and process of negotiations in terms of the Conference of Parties (COPs) and SA’s position on climate change.

 The Committee felt that Parliament and Members should be involved in these negotiations as after all, outcomes needed to be ratified and endorsed by Parliament. Questions were raised around the practical implementation of negotiations, quantifying emission reduction achievements, non-participation of the USA and the implications of this as the USA was considered the biggest polluter.

The DWS briefing focused on the implications of climate change on water by explaining the differences between climate change, climate variability and weather variability, climate change impacts generally and specifically on water and national and departmental strategies and policies to deal with climate change and implications for water.

Members inquired about the mitigation of expected water shortages, water rights of individuals and neighbouring countries, mitigating flooded areas and areas affected by thunder and lightning and how the rest of Africa would be impacted by climate change and water shortages as what happened in the rest of the continent affected SA.

The Committee adopted Minutes dated 27 August 2014 with minor amendments.

Meeting report

The Chairperson noted that the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) was also present to brief the Committee and it was important to keep in mind that the Committee could call any department before it. He hoped this briefing would empower Members going forward.

Apologies were noted from the Minister, Deputy Minister and Director-General and Mr D Mnguni (ANC).

International Climate Change Presentation to the Committee by the Department of Environmental Affairs
Mr Maesela Kekane, Chief Director: International Climate Change Relations and Negotiations, DEA, noted that South Africa (SA) had ratified the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in August 1997 and had acceded to the Kyoto Protocol in August 2002. SA had produced the first national climate change response strategy in 2004 where climate change was seen as a sustainable development issue with many sector departments involved. This climate change response strategy was adopted in 2011. The strategy identified water, agriculture and forestry, health, biodiversity and human settlements as sectors that needed particular attention.

The impacts of climate change, in a national context, could exacerbate existing water related challenges. Climate change created new challenges related to climate variability, extreme weather events and changing rainfall seasonability. This left implications for a wide range of economic sectors and livelihoods’ with an impact on the development of infrastructure into the future as water and energy formed a nexus for development. Particular projected impacts were due to changes in rainfall and evaporation rates and changes in runoff across the country. The DEA did a long-tem adaptation strategy with expected impacts for SA mostly related to increased rainfall in some areas and dry conditions in other countries. Under a wetter future climate scenario, significant increases in runoff would result in increased flooding, human health risks, ecosystem disturbance and aesthetic impacts with the highest risk from extreme runoff in KZN, parts of southern Mpumalanga and the Eastern Cape while drier future climate scenarios would result in reduced surface water availability. 

Turning to the international context, the scientific fact was that climate change was man-made and had significant global sustainability impacts as stated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which provided a scientific base. The fifth assessment of the IPCC recognised that the impacts of climate change were more imminent and severe than previously thought. The impacts of climate change presented more risk to the poor and most vulnerable countries because of a lack of adaptive capacity although climate change did not discriminate but the poor would be the first and hardest hit. The IPCC also said that by 2020, between 75 and 250 million people in Africa alone were projected to be exposed to increased water stress due to climate change and by 2028, an increase of 5-8% of arid (i.e. no water) or semi-arid land in Africa was projected under a range of climate scenarios. SA was therefore involved in the UNFCCC negotiations that sought to find a global solution to the global climate change problems.

Mr Kekane moved on to discuss the dynamics informing the negotiations and providing a brief context to why there were negotiations even though all countries were party to the UNFCC, saying that the current system placed legal obligations on developed countries under the Kyoto Protocol but this did not apply to the USA. Some developed countries, led by Japan and Russia, asserted the system was both unfair and environmentally ineffective. Simultaneously, obligations on some countries effectively gave an economic competitive advantage to those with no comparable legal obligations. Therefore the current climate negotiations were driven by a changing world order and a rise of rapidly industrialising developing countries. Negotiations under the UNFCCC were geared towards the adoption of a new legal instrument in December 2015. So-called middle income and key emerging countries were expected to assume greater responsibility, for example SA, than they did in the past. Developed countries refused the retention of existing binary division in the UNFCCC between developed and developing countries. Attempts were made to re-classify countries into rich, middle income and low income countries posed a challenge to traditional regional groupings and alliances. SA would continue to participate in its capacity as a member of the Africa group, the G77 and China and SA also coordinated its position with fellow BASIC countries. 

With climate negotiation scope and process, the negotiations involved complex issues and balances of social, environmental and political issues. The main drive was to rebalance the current architecture where on developed countries committed to legally binding targets with everybody else contributing to their fair share. To address these concerns, the 2007 Bali Roadmap provided a two-track structure for the design and implementation of a post-2012 system under both the Kyoto Protocol and the Convention. The Bali Roadmap negotiations were scheduled to conclude in Copenhagen in 2009. However, due to difficult issues in the negotiation, this negotiation could not be concluded. In 2010 the Cancun Climate Change Conference brought back faith in the multilateral process but did not address the intractable political issues of which the 2011 Durban Climate Change Conference provided a political solution that had to be implemented in 2012 in Doha. The negotiations in Durban were a watershed milestone in climate change negotiations and the resulting Durban Platform provided space for enhanced action for a new regime and second phase of the Kyoto Protocol. It was expected that in Doha there would be a finalisation of outstanding issues from Durban for the implementation of this new regime.

Mr Kekane explained that the last Conference of the Parties (COP) took place in Warsaw in November 2013. This COP moved negotiations to a more formal mode geared toward producing a negotiating text. Negotiations would then conclude in Paris where the next negotiating text would be produced. In Warsaw, parties were able to transition from an explanatory phase to a formal mode of work under the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action. Parties agreed to communicate on elements for a draft negotiating text for a 2015 agreement by COP20 in Lima. The agreed homework for each country was to communicate Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC’S) in advance of the Paris COP (by the first quarter of 2015) for those in a position to do so, and identify information to be included by Lima. Progress was made on scaling-up ambition in the period 2012-2020 and the Warsaw international mechanism for loss and damage was launched.

In Warsaw, the guidelines for developing countries to prepare National Adaptation Plans were adopted and pledges of over US$100 million were made by developed countries to ensure the continuation of the Adaptation Fund’s support for projects in developing countries. On finance, there was no clarity on how developed countries would meet their commitment of US$100 billion annually by 2020. A decision was adopted on continuing deliberations on scaling up long-term finance and a request was made to developed countries to provide biennial submissions on finance from 2014 to 2020. A second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol was confirmed and progress was made on accounting rules thus paving the way for ratification.

With the process toward COP20, formal negotiations were held in Bonn in June and Lima in December. Informal meetings were held in SA and China through the Tokyo dialogue, UN Secretary-Generals’ (UNSG) Summit, BASIC x3, the Petersburg Ministerial, G20, Pre-Cop in Venezuela, BRICS and other informal negotiators meetings. The next UNSG would be held 23 September 2014 by invitation of the UN General Secretary, Ban Ki Moon, where heads of states would be in attendance, including President Zuma, where countries would reconfirm their commitments beyond 2020. At the Summit countries would outline ambitious goals in various thematic spheres and would identify areas of participation. For SA, these areas were in agriculture and energy efficiency. COP20 in Lima was critical for Parties to agree to draft a negotiating text to define the shape and form of the new climate change regime. Parties would reach agreement on the elements of the new legal agreement and the minimum information to be presented with Parties’ Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) for the 2015 agreement in Paris. The first attempt at providing political guidance to the UNFCCC talks will be during the next UNSG. The UNSG will also provide Heads of States with a platform for announcements of bold new national commitments and generate political momentum towards the adoption of an ambitious agreement in 2015.

Mr Kekane discussed SA’s position noting the future agreement should be able to respond to developments in science which was a principled position the country had always put forward. SA’s position would take into account development imperatives and the particular priority given to poverty eradication by developing countries with clear co-benefits to participation. There should be developmental safeguards (i.e. no restrictions on the efforts by developing countries to eradicate poverty) and environmental safeguards (i.e. an effective global response). A sustainable development discourse should be taken forward and challenge any conceptual; opposition between environmental integrity and economic development, by maximising economic opportunities and co-benefits of investing in a low carbon future. This was a tricky balance of interests for SA’s position but it could be achieved. The future agreement should be simple and flexible based on an incentivising and enabling approach that catalysed further action. The future agreement should build on the current existing agreements and institutions that had been developed over the years. The future agreement, therefore, should fill in the gaps to enhance action to address climate change, should be a legally binding protocol under the Convention, should contain binding absolute emission reduction targets for developed countries and relative emission reduction targets for developing countries and should give equal priority to adaptation.

Briefing the Portfolio Committee on Water and Sanitation on the Climate Change Implications for Water
Dr Smangele Mgquba, DWS specialist scientist, highlighted that the presentation would cover the scientific basis to climate change in terms of what climate change was, its impacts and projections for SA. The next part of the presentation would look at climate change policy on an international, national and departmental scale.

With climate change, there needed to be a differentiation between climate variability and weather variability. Climate change was a change of climate which was attributed directly or indirectly to human activity, like carbon dioxide emission, that altered the composition of the global atmosphere and which was, in addition to natural climate change variability, observed over comparable time periods. Climate variability was variations in the mean state and other statistics of the climate on all temporary and spatial scales beyond that of individual weather events. Weather variability was variations in weather over a very short period of time, like 12 hours, or individual weather events. 

With anthropogenic climate change, the global trend was of a drastic increase in carbon dioxide emissions. If this trend continued to increase, the two degree global average temperature increase would be even more of a reality with others even predicating a six degree temperature increase in the next 40 years. The Kyoto Protocol and UNFCCC, in essence, were trying to get countries to commit to changing their domestic policies to decrease this trend.

Dr Mgquba discussed climate change impacts which were the effects of climate change on natural and human systems. Depending on the consideration of adaptation, one can distinguish between potential impacts and residual impacts. Potential impacts were all impacts that may occur given a projected change in climate without considering adaptation while residual impacts were the impacts of climate change that would occur after adaptation.

Turning to the impacts of climate change specifically on water, there was an expected magnitude and frequency of extreme events, floods, droughts, snows and storms. This was driven by an increase or decrease in global average temperatures.

Dr Mgquba explained that climate change was a balance between supply and demand in the context of multiple stresses or causalities which proved that climate change did not occur in a vacuum. Examples of some stresses included economic variability, land-use changes, social factors, new policies and rising costs, for example, for building dams and getting water out the tap for ordinary users.

With the potential climate change impacts on the water sector, a map was presented depicting the new proposed water management area and catchment agencies boundaries. The map showed the future trends in rainfall due to climate change and the risk and variability assessment needed for each zone. The adaptation for each zone would be different.

Dr Museki, DWS Specialist Scientist, looked at SA’s national policy. The DWS’s strategy was framed and aligned with the South African Development Community (SADC) strategy for climate change and water strategies as the country shared this resource with neighbouring countries and not in isolation. There was also alignment with the National Development Plan (NDP) in chapter 5 which recognised climate change as one of the critical trends that will affect the development agenda in SA. The National Climate Change Response Policy (NCCRP) was launched at COP17 which recognised water as one of the sectors that needed immediate attention in terms of adaption to climate change while the National Water Resources Strategy (NWRS2), specifically chapter 10, advocated for management of water resources in the context of climate change. The vision of DWS’s strategy was for all water sector institutions and water users to be aware of, plan for and respond as appropriate to a changing climate and its impacts on water and have the capacity to manage limited water in a context of high levels of uncertainty. The current status of the strategy was that it was being consulted with key government departments and stakeholders in various provinces. In June 2013, SA had also completed the status quo assessment with the climate change strategy in progress, as outlined above, with the project expected to close in March 2015.

The strategy had a number of objectives including to reduce the vulnerability and enhance resilience which would be done through a vulnerability strategy. This objective was closely linked with a focus on the groups most at risk and the consideration of indigenous knowledge and how communities would adapt. The strategy aimed to integrate climate change considerations into short and medium (e.g. underground storage of water for future) and long-term (e.g. building schemes) water planning, implement the best catchment management practices, enhance skills and undertake focused monitoring and research as monitoring underpinned all actions. Monitoring and evaluation formed a key part of the DWS strategic actions and was critical in the assessment of impacts and trends. DWS also had a strategic action for research and investigation to identify gaps, increasing scientific understanding in any particular uncertainty.    

The Chairperson said these briefings were useful for informing the Committee’s daily work. As the UNFCCC negotiations took place, Members should prepare themselves to know exactly what was going on. Negotiations were largely conducted by the Executive after which they came back to Parliament for ratification and endorsement and in most cases, Members needed to ratify things they had no clue of. This briefing was therefore important to provide the context of negotiations. The Department often went off for negotiations, leaving Members behind but then came back almost begging for ratification to meet deadlines. At some point, the Committee needed to be informed about practical implementation, for example, what exactly SA was doing to reduce emissions or even what Parliament itself was doing in terms of energy saving. It was important that emission reduction were quantified year on year to ascertain what achievements were made in the run-up to 2020. The same needed to happen with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). This annual quantification was important for the Committee to hold the Department accountable and play its oversight role.      

Mr L Basson (DA) noted the trend that there would be a shortage of water. Should the Department not up its plans to build more dams in catchment in areas to be transported to areas where shortages were expected?

Mr Squire Mahlangu, DWS Acting DG, answered that there were areas where the Department was building dams through many projects and this in the Department’s Annual Performance Plan (APP). It was important to note that the Department would have to deal with these issues strategically in terms of trends expected in the future for certain areas as outlined in the briefing. It was also important to discuss how ground water would be supplemented. He asked that Members pleaded with constituencies not to vandalise bore holes. 

Mr A Mpontshane (IFP) asked if, given the envisaged shortage of water, would those areas currently without water, remain without it? How would policies to meet the shortage of water, take into account water rights given to certain individuals or neighbouring countries?  In such scenarios, what contributions were made by other countries or individuals possessing these rights?

Dr Mgquba explained that the Department was focused on these areas currently without water through groundwater exploration and programmes on monitoring and exploration. Most of the problems were because of aging infrastructure so most of the efforts were aimed at that. In the past, dams were built for single usage like agriculture, but now dams were built for multi-purpose use to connect neighbouring communities. The groundwater strategy was currently under revision to ensure that attention was given to areas which did not have sufficient surface water. It was critical for the Department to set up on operations, maintenance and stopping vandalism for its efforts to be fruitful.   

Mr Mahlangu said was SA was equally benefiting from getting water from other countries, for example, the Lesotho scheme. Rivers were shared between many countries but agreements were signed and commissions met to try and make sure agreements signed by each country looked after respective national interests so that it was not compromised. 

Dr Museki added that, on an operational level, the Department consulted annually with the countries how the dam was operated because under the National Water Act (NWA), SA was obligated to share water with downstream countries. The Department would like everyone to benefit from access to water. DWS’s strategy was to look at a mix of water sources instead of solely focusing on surface or ground water to address shortages. For this, the Department needed to collaborate with local governments and affected communities.  

Mr M Shelembe (NFP) wanted to know the reasons for the USA’s non-participation in the Kyoto Protocol. 

Mr Kekane provided some history of the USA’s non-participation noting that all agreements were signed during the Republican administration who did not believe in climate change hence they did not sign any agreements. Principally, the USA did not have a corresponding domestic law which meant they could not commit themselves internationally and this was a problem. The USA was trying to capture China now and use it as a bargaining chip in the Senate which was still dominated by Republicans. The USA was pushing for a deal while Obama was still in charge as it was unsure what would happen in the next elections. Both the US and China constituted 50% of current emissions so any deal that did include these two countries would not be worth the paper it was written on. 2015 was seen as the beginning of the next process for the international community to agree to certain minimum rules for details to be fleshed out between 2016 and 2020. 

Mr T Makondo (ANC) questioned the implications of the USA, as the biggest polluter, not participating in the negotiations. 

Mr Mahlangu addressed the question of the USA and stated that this was a sensitive matter in the sense that capitalists in the country did not want their factories affected.  They did not see that the world would run into problems if this agreement was not signed. A mechanism needed to be found for Americans to understand what a rise in temperature implied for the world in order to influence the governments which did not want to come to the party. He did not think that scientists were simplifying the issue of climate change well enough so that the masses of people understood. 

Ms M Khawula (EFF) wanted to find out how ready DEA was in building bridges for flooded rivers expecting increased rainfalls. Schoolchildren often ended up drowning and communities were affected when there were no bridges. 

Mr Mahlangu would have to come back to the Committee on this matter as it involved consulting the Department of Public Works, Transport and others to see how the problems of flooding and climate changes could be off-set.

Mr Kekane added this was part of mainstreaming climate change in the country’s development agenda with adaptation being a bottom-up process through Local Adaptation Plans (LAPs). Local government and various departments needed to collaborate on long-term adaptation scenarios to start mainstreaming. 

Ms Z Balindlela (DA) agreed with Chairperson that it was important for Members or the Chairperson to be part of negotiations. She did not know if she was raising this issue on the right platform but it was important that this was noted. She did not hear anything about the water rights in the Nile and how this affected the dry African continent. Were any young people being prepared with these skills? 

Mr Mahlangu replied that there were various training mechanisms in SA which were extremely good in terms of its budget and the number of people employed. DWS itself had spent about R640 million on the training academy to get scientists and engineers into the Department and almost 104 of these graduates had been absorbed into the Department. Parliament provided money running into the billions of Rands to the departments of education for training. While training was taking place, there needed to be an insistence on encouraging more children to study science-related fields at school. Because the Nile River ran through many countries, there needed to be agreements and commissions for all countries to discuss the use of this water. He would raise the matter of involving the Chairperson in negotiations with the relevant authorities. Parliament was the supreme body so he did not foresee a problem in including Members. In COP17, there were Members of Parliament represented. 

Mr Kekane added there was a forum for Parliament’s all over the world to come together during COPs and SA was participating in this forum and it would be no different this year.

The Chairperson wanted to know what happened by 2015 when the cut off period for legally binding agreements came given that there were a number of countries not coming on board, led by the USA. He sought a comment on China being the world’s second largest polluter. 
Mr Mahlangu said this was a very difficult question to answer and it would need to be posed to all negotiating countries. For an effective climate change agreement to be crafted, it needed to be ensured there were no free riders like the USA, Canada or any other country. All countries needed to come to the party in agreement.   
The Chairperson heard talk of SA seriously running out of water by 2020, but were departments in agreement that SA indeed would be seriously running out of water by this time?
Dr Museki responded that SA was not short of water but was short of potable water – “water water everywhere but not a drop to drink”. If management strategies were not changed to be sustainable, SA would be running of water which was fit to use. Some of these projections were based on models giving one an idea of what was most likely to happen subject to uncertainties. Government, through DWS, was doing its best but the main point was that water fit for use was used sustainably.    
Dr Mgquba added there were cost implications for consumers at the end of the day so optimal use needed to be looked at because this was a serious issue. It could be said SA would never run out of water but if the resource was wasted or not being taken good care of, the country could quickly get to the stage of increased cost. 

Ms Khawula realised the dangers of climate change and, without being controversial, wanted to raise an issue but she would do so diplomatically. There was a specific sewerage system in some areas which allowed water to flow freely but in rural areas there were no sewerage systems and water collected sometimes filled with chlorine. At times, those who were under the influence walked past and drowned in these sewerage systems. The implementation of these systems should not be done according to race but for all areas to benefit equally.

Mr Mahlangu would ask the provincial manager of the Department to look into this issue seriously. The Municipal Infrastructure Grant (MIG) funds were intended for local government to attend to water needs of all areas. The Department would have to come back to the Committee with a more informed answer in what was happening in particular areas. There were also Regional Bulk Infrastructure Grants (RBIG) funds and this was all part of lots of money spent to try to assist municipalities. It was imperative that these municipalities were held accountable for the monies to be used for water.  

Mr Shelembe said that SA may have water but by 2020 but what about the rest of Africa. What was the impact of countries that did not adhere to climate change programmes? What happened in Africa affected SA’s water resources.

The Chairperson was in Grahamstown yesterday and had seen the spring water fall with the municipality even making way for the illegal collection of this water. People came with big drums and literally bottled the water. He imagined there were a number of such streams of water throughout the country. To what extent was the Department harnessing and harvesting such a resource? He imagined that the Department would have measures to harness this water. Some municipalities were really struggling could be assisted as it did not take much technology to harness this “low hanging fruit”. He sought the Department’s comment on this matter.

Mr Kekane said that water, like any other sustainable resource, if not used sustainably, would run out. The key problem in SA was not water availability but water access which was two different concepts. The Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs was holding public hearings where such issues were realised and the Chairperson was engaging local government on how best to deal with them. DEA had a number of “Working For” programmes of which Working for Water was one and of particular importance in this programme was the removal of alien invasive species in cleaning rivers to preserve water. Employment was also created through such programmes. DEA also sketched out long-term adaptation scenarios for SA with various temperature scenario projections depending on what the international community did. DWS then formulated strategies based on these scenarios. Such a strategy would be completed by 2015. 

Mr Mahlangu said this was an issue of licensing and the issuing of licenses was a power given to the Minister in the NWA. The Chairperson would be provided with a more detailed response into this specific area by the Department’s provincial head.  

The Chairperson noted this was not the Committee’s first and last engagement on the matter. 

Ms Khawula raised the fact that there were particular areas affected by lightning and thunder which where families were under threat of being struck. How would these people be helped in terms of thunder conductors? How could people be helped with the treat of drowning in dams that flooded? 

Mr Kekane answered that lightning conductors were very effective and were used in Limpopo for a while as the area was prone to lightening. This was critical for houses with thatch roofs. The matter also formed part of community awareness. 

The Chairperson said this was a practical issue which the Member raised. Thunder and lightning was currently experienced so what could be done to assist now? People were being hit hard and died as a result now as the Committee was speaking so this was not a matter of theory.

Committee Agenda Business
The Chairperson said that next week, the Committee would be meeting with the Auditor-General (AG) for an initial preparation for the Department’s quarterly review. This was part of a process of empowering Parliament on the budget process – the Parliamentary Budget Office was also available. The Budgetary Review and Recommendation Report (BRRR) process was very important and it was critical that Members were informed and knew where it fitted into the scheme of things. The process would be speedy with the Committee expected to produce recommendations so this was therefore important training. It was empowering for Members to know they had the power to amend budgets 

The week after this engagement, the Department would present its first quarterly review. The initial plan was for this to be done 23 September but the Committee had a scheduled oversight visit to Madibeng and thereafter, on 25 and 26 September would be engaging with the entities. There would also be a joint Committee workshop/training with Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and Rural Development and Land Reform given the cross-cutting nature of the work between the three Committees. He had looked at some of the logistics of such a workshop yesterday and needed to discuss whether this would be held in Cape Town or Joburg. This would be an important exercise and would empower the Committees on inter-relatable work on issues such as land reform and sales and the fact that land was moved but water often remained with white farmers to trade in any way he liked.  This made one wonder why land reform was failing. 

Adoption of Minutes
The Committee went through minutes dated 27 August 2014 page by page.

A number of minor amendments were made regarding incorrect spelling of names and incorrect dates in the text.

While going through the minutes, the Chairperson took seriously the need for the Committee to meet outside of Parliament even though he understood some Members belonged to other Committees. It was important for the Committee to be out and working with communities. He also noted the issue of billing was one for the Committee to look into seriously and was one the Committee’s urgent agenda items. He asked that the Department also look into the issue of billing municipalities as well.

Minutes dated 27 August 2014 were adopted by Ms H Kekana (ANC) and seconded by Mr Basson with amendments.
The meeting was adjourned.


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