Nationally Determined Contribution & Air Quality, with Minister

Environment, Forestry and Fisheries

13 June 2017
Chairperson: Mr P Mapulane (ANC)
Share this page:

Meeting Summary

The Department of Environment Affairs (DEA) briefed the Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs on South Africa’s Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and air quality. The Minister had communicated that the report on Minimum Emission Standards (MES) for Vaal Priority Areas was outstanding and the presentation will be postponed.

Ms Edna Molewa, Minister, DEA, apologised for the lateness of the MES report and said the report on intended NDCs on carbon emissions had been brought to the Committee for approval before it was adopted by the Paris Agreement. The NDC report on carbon emissions impacted participating departments such as Transport, Energy, Agriculture and Trade and Industry. The latest withdrawal of the USA by President Donald Trump from NDCs and financial contributions towards carbon emissions will put pressure on the remaining countries in the Paris Agreement. The NDC was a product of consultation with South African industries and the DEA had not considered that the requirement to reduce carbon emission by setting NDCs could amount to exerting pressure on the industry. The High Ambition Coalition (HAC) was a group that advocated for funding from private sector, but DEA had deliberately not joined the group because the Department needed clarity on the mission and strategy of HAC.

Briefing on South Africa’s NDCs

According to the Department, the commitments of the Paris Agreement required the nation to submit its NDCs every five years and DEA submitted the last NDC in 2015 which applied to the period post year 2020. The Department needed to develop and scale up policies and measures to implement its NDCs and to report on progress on the policies and measures. South Africa has been encouraged to develop a long term low carbon development and national adaptation strategy, commence operationalisation, build necessary capacity for climate change response planning and implementation among other requirements.

Green house emission was expected to peak in year 2025, plateau between year 2025 to 2035 and decline by year 2035. The governance framework consisted of two phases: the emission reduction system for 2016-2020 and the emission reduction system of 2021-2025.

The Committee wanted to know what strategies had been put in place to ensure that bigger polluters are forced to comply with MES and to clarify if these polluters will still be allowed to postpone compliance on MES. In addition, they wanted to what tools are used in tracking progress on MES and to clarify who had responsibility for driving the tools.

Members also wanted to know what could be done concerning the position of the USA on the Paris Agreement and what the process of disengagement from such agreements entailed. They asked if there was a possibility of engaging with President Trump’s administration to negotiate the terms of disengagement on the Paris Agreement. The Committee asked questions on the current emission rate, the target for the peak, the plateau and emission standards. Members also wanted specifics on the industries contributing to carbon emission in the country and the earmarked target for each industry to ensure that the target time for compliance could be realised.

Briefing on air quality management

The Department explained the legal standard of compliance and said the three priority areas are Vaal, Highveld and Waterberg. DEA had established multi-stakeholder reference groups and implementation task teams as part of the Air Quality Management Plan (AQMP) as required by the Air Quality Act. There had been improvements in the reduction of pollution although reduction had been slow. DEA was presently undertaking a study on the Vaal area on what contributed to pollution of ambient air to assist in developing targeted interventions on air quality.

DEA highlighted the different problems encountered in installing air pollution devices and the enlightenment efforts to make communities aware of its contributions towards the reduction of air pollution. The Department also highlighted the nine year trend of pollutants and the Department had set up the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). There were improvements in how people adhered to the NAAQS although there was a need to adapt the framework given by the World Health Organization (WHO), because the WHO framework did not take into account the type of weather that existed in South Africa. The Department had a strategic approach for air quality compliance but the DEA had made the approach participatory due to socio-economic issues such as job losses which affected the communities.

The Committee wanted to know what the status of the Vaal report was and said the duty of the Department was to ensure compliance, hence; it was not in the place of the Department to worry about job losses and shutting down facilities because the legislation had taken care of such considerations. People were dying because of the activities of the industry and non-compliances.

Members were interested in knowing the participation of the Department of Health (DOH) because DOH was expected to have data on the health impact of carbon emissions on the people in a given place. This could be used to focus on reducing air pollution and also to measure the impact of reduction strategies by DEA.

Meeting report

The Chairperson welcomed everyone and conveyed condolences to Mr B Makubele (ANC) on bereavement in his family. The Deputy Minister and Director-General are not able to attend, but will be available for the meeting on 14 June 2017. The meeting will focus on climate change, Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC’s) and air quality. The Minister had communicated that the report on Minimum Emission Standards (MES) for Vaal Priority Areas was outstanding hence the presentation would be postponed. He asked when the report had been finalised.

Ms Judy Beaumont, Deputy Director-General: Climate Change and Air Quality Management, DEA, said the report was completed in July 2016.

The Chairperson said the MES report had been completed almost a year ago but it had not been presented to the Minister. DEA must work with a sense of urgency because the issue addressed in the report affected people and it was unacceptable that the report had not been given to the Minister almost a year after its completion. He mandated the DEA to send the report to the Committee as soon as it was ready to be presented. He welcomed the Minister and her team from DEA.

Foreword by the Minister

Ms Edna Molewa, Minister, DEA, apologised for the lateness of the report and promised to look into it and react on it accordingly before it can be allowed to become a public document because it has an impact on weather policies. The report on intended NDC’s on carbon emissions had been brought to the Committee for approval before it was adopted by the Paris Agreement. The NDC report on carbon emissions impacted participating departments such as Transport, Energy, Agriculture and Trade and Industry. The latest withdrawal of the USA by President Donald Trump from NDCs and financial contributions towards carbon emissions will put pressure on the remaining countries in the Paris Agreement. The NDC was a product of consultation with South African industries and the DEA had not considered that the requirement to reduce carbon emission by setting NDCs could amount to exerting pressure on the industry. The High Ambition Coalition (HAC) was a group that advocated for funding from private sector, but DEA had deliberately not joined the group because the Department needed clarity on the mission and strategy of HAC.

The Chairperson invited Ms Judy Beaumont DDG, Climate change and Air quality management, DEA to give her brief.

Briefing on tracking South Africa’s NDCs

Ms Beaumont said the commitments of the Paris Agreement required the nation to submit its NDCs every five years and DEA submitted the last NDC in 2015 which applied to the period post year 2020. The Department needed to develop and scale up policies and measures to implement its NDCs and to report on progress on the policies and measures. South Africa has been encouraged to develop a long term low carbon development and national adaptation strategy, commence operationalisation, build necessary capacity for climate change response planning and implementation among other requirements.

The green house emission is expected to peak in year 2025, plateau between year 2025 to 2035 and decline by year 2035. The governance framework consisted of two phases: the emission reduction system for 2016-2020 and the emission reduction system of 2021-2025.

She spoke on the reporting progress on implementation and transitioning and how the DEA intended to track the transitioning of lower carbon economy and the content of the second climate change annual report.

Discussion

Ms J Edwards (DA) asked the Department to state strategies put in place to ensure that bigger polluters are forced to comply with MES and to clarify if these polluters will still be allowed to postpone compliance on MES.

Mr R Purdon (DA) asked DEA to explain the process and state the tools used in tracking progress on MES and clarify who had responsibility for driving the tools.

Ms H Nyambi (ANC) asked if it was possible for the USA to pull out immediately or if the pull out would be over time and what is the reason for the pull out.

Mr T Hadebe (DA) said the prediction to meet up with the regulated emission standard might be based on the slow economic growth and asked DEA to clarify how the possibility of radical growth would affect the rate of emission.

Mr S Makhubele (ANC) asked why the information inventory was three years behind and what the acceptable time lag was.

The Chairperson asked what could be done concerning the position of the USA on the Paris Agreement and what the process of disengagement from such agreements entailed. He also asked if there was a possibility of engaging with President Trump’s administration to negotiate the terms of disengagement on the Paris Agreement. He asked on the current emission rate, the target for the peak, the plateau and decline emission standard. He asked DEA to state the industries contributing to carbon emission in the country and the earmarked target for each industry to ensure that the target time for compliance could be realised. He wanted to know if it was possible to break down the green house emission initiative to industry contribution because it will help to set a target for the industries. He asked what the contribution of each industry player was to the 81.7% greenhouse gas emission and measures put in place to track reduction. He wanted to know what the time frames are on finalising the second annual report and he also wanted an estimate of climate change funding DEA had received and the adaption and mitigation strategies put in place.

Responses

Ms Beaumont said the withdrawal of the USA will take three years and the withdrawal date will be November 2020 as long as it did not withdraw from the United Nations. The USA has a set of commitment in the agreements; they basically need to meet their NDC. If the USA succeeded with the withdrawal they might not meet their NDC which undermined the multilateral effort.

The tracking system was driven by DEA and a lot of data providers. The Department was working on a web-based system. The greenhouse gas emissions inventory improvement was intended to move the reporting time lag although three to four years was the international standard for developing countries but more recent information is needed to measure greenhouse gas emissions.  

The Chairperson asked if it took three years to get the data on greenhouse gas emissions.

Ms Beaumont replied that it took three years to receive data, clean the data, consolidate the data and do quality control according to the reporting framework on the data. DEA has put in strategies to achieve a shorter time frame for reporting on the greenhouse gas emissions inventory.

The Chairperson asked DEA to clarify the status of the last report which was in 2012.

Ms Beaumont responded and said the 2012 report was in its concluding state. The reporting elements in the inventory are the inventory (the past) and the mitigation (future).

The Chairperson asked how it was going to be possible to get the picture of the current greenhouse gas emissions standard and how to get the data that pertained to greenhouse gas emissions from industries.

Ms Deborah Ramalope, Chief Directorate: Climate Change, DEA, said there were no regulations in the past but regulations had just been set and the Department was working towards a reduction.

The Minister said the report was the second report to be submitted. The current report was not the ultimate end, but the Department was working towards producing the report annually. South Africa was leading developing countries in working towards an annual reporting which was a qualitative report as guided by the international framework. The implementation of the actual NDC was post 2020.

Mr Hadebe asked if the live reporting system was on greenhouse gas emissions as stated by Dr Thuli Kumalo in earlier presentations to the Committee.

Ms Ramalope replied that the live reporting system was not for greenhouse gas emissions but for air quality management.

The Minister continued and said there was a summary of donor funding that DEA had received and the extent to which it was used to achieve certain objectives available in the biannual report. However, donor funding had reduced because South Africa was part of a multi-lateral environment and there was a need for the country to take action. There was support from a number of countries but this was used for the flagship programs, tracking systems and putting the planning governance systems in place. South Africa was also applying for funding from the Green Climate Fund. The greenhouse gas emissions reduction outcomes will give a sense of achievement and it was not possible to break down the 81.7% energy emission because the data are received from different sources. DEA has a good idea of the source of the emission. The information was not yet available but with time DEA will be able to present the information. The second annual report will be submitted before the end of 2017.

The Chairperson asked the Department to present the report to the PC when it was ready.

Ms Beaumont said they will be willing to present the report.

The Minister said the biannual update report of last year and the current biannual update report contained all the detail on all the finance received and the outcome per program. If the USA did not make its contribution (support to developing nations and reduction of its emission) some of the programs will not be achieved. The withdrawal of the USA was based on allegations that it had been shortchanged. The Department was presently engaging with some developed countries to lobby the USA to resume its contributions. The Minister encouraged the Committee to assist with the engagements and the Minister looked forward to a positive result on the law suit against USA by 21 young people to ensure that it resumed its contributions. She also hoped that there would be a ministerial engagement in the USA because the ministerial engagement during President Bush’s tenure was not successful.

The Chairperson released the Minister to join a Cabinet meeting.

Engagement on air quality management

Dr Thuli Khumalo, Chief Director: Air Quality Management, DEA, explained the legal standard of compliance and she mentioned the three priority areas are Vaal, Highveld and Waterberg. Vaal and Highveld existed in non-compliance and the Waterberg was added as a precautionary measure due to the planned developments in the area and the three power stations constructed by Botswana across the border. DEA had established multi-stakeholder reference groups and implementation task teams as part of the Air Quality Management Plan (AQMP) as required by the Air Quality Act.

She also indicated the projects implemented by the DEA in collaboration with stakeholders, efforts to capacitate affected communities on matters that related to air quality and the strategies used to address air pollution in dense low-income communities. There had been improvements in the reduction of pollution although reduction had been slow. DEA was presently undertaking a study on the Vaal area on what contributed to pollution of ambient air to assist in developing targeted interventions on air quality.

Dr Khumalo highlighted the different problems encountered in installing air pollution devices and the enlightenment efforts to make communities aware of its contributions towards the reduction of air pollution. She noted a nine year trend of pollutants such as sulphur dioxide and particulate matter. The Department had set up the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). There were improvements in how people adhered to the NAAQS although there was a need to adapt the framework given by the World Health Organization (WHO), because the WHO framework did not take into account the type of weather that existed in South Africa.

Mr Ishaam Abader, DDG: Legal, Authorisation, Compliance and Enforcement, DEA, indicated that the Department had a strategic approach for air quality compliance but the DEA had made the approach participatory due to socio-economic issues such as job losses which affected the communities.

The Chairperson asked what the status of the Vaal report was.

Ms Beaumont responded and said the problem was the work load and availability of the Minister but the Department will ensure that the Committee be briefed accordingly.

Mr Grant Walters, Director: Environmental Impact and Pollution, DEA, said facility compliance on air quality was an expensive process but the DEA strategy for compliance was built around some activities with criminal prosecution being a last resort. The activities included baseline inspection, an expected voluntary compliance, follow up inspection, then a criminal prosecution. Enforcement procedures were administrative and involved pre- notices and opportunities to comply however when final notices were given, willful violators were then prosecuted.

The Chairperson said he was worried about the introductory remark which implied that the Department was not strict in ensuring compliance by the industry. The duty of the Department was to ensure compliance, hence; it was not in the place of the Department to worry about job losses and shutting down facilities because the legislation had taken care of such considerations. People were dying because of the activities of the industry and non-compliances. The Committee had received a presentation from Eskom and Sasol and they were asked to respond with a roadmap of how they intended to reach compliance on reduction of air pollution. They had until 9 June 2017 to respond. The date had passed and they had not responded but Sasol had asked for further postponement. Although the standards were the minimum standards Sasol did not intend to invest in compliance. The Committee must get a report on each of the applications made for postponement and the justification for the postponement. He asked the Department to explain how they intended to remedy exceeding daily and quarterly limits to make sure that specified standards were not exceeded.

Mr Abader said the Department had different strategies for different industries.

The Chairperson said the Department must also consider the health impact of air pollution by the industries. The Sun Times had reported some deaths in connection to air pollution by Eskom and Eskom had not refuted the claim. It was obvious that job losses might occur but that is the price to pay to ensure compliance.

Mr Abader said some companies that started as non-compliance had been brought to compliance through this strategies employed by DEA.

Dr Khumalo said there were requests from Sasol that were declined and the reason was documented. The solution for reducing air pollution will be a holistic approach for industries and homes.

Mr Hadebe asked if there are annual reviews of the AQMP and he asked for the statistics of pollution that came from industries from each area.

Ms Nyambi asked how the Department wanted the inhabitants of such areas to see themselves as the source of pollution when they live in a highly industrialised area. She asked what time frames were given for compliance before it was enforced. She was interested in knowing the participation of the Department of Health (DOH) because DOH was expected to have data on the health impact of carbon emissions on the people in a given place. This could be used to focus on reducing air pollution and also to measure the impact of reduction strategies by DEA.

The Chairperson asked what the impact of AQMP was and to clarify if the limits set on air quality are still being exceeded as shown in the presentation. He asked for the impact of the AQMP on the high priority areas such as Vaal, Highveld and Waterberg for the past 10 years. He asked for the limits set in the priority areas and why DEA had postponed the enforcement of limits in priority areas. He also asked the DEA to clarify if it had information on the volume of pollution in the priority areas.

Mr Hadebe asked how many mines have been licensed in the priority areas and to specify the number of coal mine stations.

The Chairperson asked who took the decision to grant further postponement on enforcing limits on air quality in priority areas.

Dr Khumalo replied and said the AQMP was not reviewed annually but every five years. It has not been reviewed recently because DEA was waiting for the report on Vaal to identify the high pollutants. The state of air quality informed the Department on which area to concentrate their efforts. The approach taken by the Department was not a finger pointing approach, but was addressing the problem with communities; not the same way as the industry that have a legislation to enforce compliance.

The Chairperson asked the DEA to clarify if that was the understanding of the industry.

Dr Khumalo confirmed that this was the understanding that DEA had with the industry.

The Chairperson said he perceived that industries think the offset is a part of their compliance.

Dr Khumalo said both the offset and investment in air pollution reduction were both required for compliance by the industry. Most of the problem with industry started before the monitoring of air quality began. The problems associated with old industries were not present in new industries that often had new technology and are required to start off only when full compliance requirements were met. The Department has capacity to monitor air quality. Non-communicable diseases should be provided by DOH so that DEA knows where to start. Although the Department has not reached compliance, there was progress and DEA was confident that the plan in place was addressing the problem and they will reach compliance.

The Chairperson asked if DEA had information on compliance on air quality.

Dr Khumalo replied that the information on compliance on air quality existed but it was with the municipalities.

The Chairperson said if the Committee can get the information it will help to finalise the oversight program for the year and he requested that the information on compliance on air quality be submitted by September 2017.

Dr Khumalo replied that the National Air Quality Officer made the decision to approve postponement. The capacity building in municipalities are a lot. There was no time frame or date attached to postponement but the current process had been successful at bringing some industries that had earlier applied for postponement into full compliance.

The Chairperson said it was not good for industries to keep postponing indefinitely. Eskom and Sasol are not showing any willingness to comply. A deadline should be included for compliance on air quality to ensure industry compliance. In addition if this deadline was not in the Act then Parliament would have to look at ways of amending the Act.

Ms Beaumont replied that DEA will look into including deadlines for compliance on air quality.

The Chairperson said the Department had to ensure that industry complied on air quality. He asked the DEA to clarify if Eskom charged a levy on renewable energy in its tariff.

Ms Beaumont stated that she would liaise with Eskom and report back to the Committee.

The Chairperson thanked Members, the Minister and the team for attending the meeting. Members will have another opportunity to engage with DEA in the coming week even though the Committee may not be able to engage the Vaal report on air quality because the Minister had not finished working on it. The Committee will communicate its decision to the DEA.

The meeting was adjourned.

Share this page: