Coal IPP Programme & Paris Agreement; UNFCCC COP 23 Bonn; UNFCCC Climate Change Katowice

Environmental Affairs

16 October 2018
Chairperson: Mr P Mapulane (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs met to discuss South Africa’s preparations for the 24th Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP 24) that was scheduled to be held from 2 to 14 December 2018 in Katowice, Poland.

The Committee received an update on the current status of the negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and progress on the implementation of the Paris Agreement. The Committee was pleased that the country had set key priorities stemming from the Paris Agreement, where the South African leadership had played a critical role. Priorities had been established, such as enough mitigation ambition to avoid dangerous human-made climate change, to have enough international financial, technology and capacity building support to make the whole system work, and to have effective transparency to build trust and share experiences. These priorities were critical in ensuring that as a country, South Africa played its part in participating globally in fighting climate change. 

In 2015, all countries had adopted the landmark Paris Agreement (PA) in Paris to be implemented after 2020. The adoption of the PA was a fulfilment of the Durban Platform mandate decided at COP 17 in Durban. The PA was a comprehensive international legal framework aimed at achieving three goals:

  • the temperature goal; keeping the global temperature below dangerous levels (COP 15 mandated the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to do a special report on what it would take to achieve 1.5 degree to inform Talanoa dialogue discussion in COP 24);
  • the adaptation of the global goal, ensuring that adaptation to what climate change occurred;
  • and the finance goal (roughly R100 billion), ensuring that the right levels of support for mitigation were provided by the international community.

For SA, a strong rules-based regime which delivered on all the goals of the Paris Agreement  was important. Equally, enough mitigation ambition to avoid dangerous human-made climate change, as well as strong commitments on adaptation and, of particular importance, effective transparency to build trust and share experience.

SA expected that the summit on 3 December organised by the Polish Presidency and mandated ministerial events should deliver political messaging reaffirming support for the multilateral approach to addressing climate change. COP24 needed to conclude the PA work programme and adopt rules that were comprehensive and fully consistent with the core principles of the Convention, in particular equity and common, but differentiated, responsibilities and respective capabilities.

Members wanted to know what the innovative new technologies had been researched to achieve the goals of the PA were, especially to meet the objectives of the 1.5 degree goal. What public awareness programmes were there presently to promote public interest? What was the general attitude of the developing countries towards the PA? They also asked questions about the US withdrawal from the PA and how money could best be spent.

A second shorter presentation was then given on litigation surrounding the construction of new coal-fired power stations. There were four main ongoing court cases, though these had not yet been resolved.
Members asked if it was known how close these stations would bring SA to surpassing its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) limits, and if they ought to wait for the result of the hearings before discussing the issues further.

Meeting report

United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP24): Preparations and outcomes.

Ms Tsakani Ngomane, Deputy Director General (DDG): Climate Change and Air Quality, Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) said the UNFCCC COP24 would be held from 2 - 14 December 2018 in Katowice, Poland. The presenters’ purpose was to update the Portfolio Committee on the current status of the negotiations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and progress with implementing the Paris agreement. It would be remiss to not share the latest NCC report around the extent of the climate change challenge in SA.

Mr Maesela Kekana, Chief Director: International Climate Change Relations and Negotiations, presented an overview of the Paris Agreement. In 2015, all countries had adopted the landmark Paris Agreement (PA), to be implemented after 2020. The adoption of the PA was a fulfilment of the Durban Platform mandate decided at the COP 17 in Durban. South African leadership played a critical role. The PA was a comprehensive international legal framework aimed at achieving three goals:

  • the temperature goal; keeping the global temperature below dangerous levels (COP 15 mandated the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to do a special report on what it would take to achieve 1.5 degree to inform Talanoa dialogue discussion in COP 24);
  • the adaptation of the global goal, ensuring that adaptation to what climate change occurred;
  • and the finance goal (roughly R100 billion), ensuring that the right levels of support for mitigation were provided by the international community.

For SA, a strong rules-based regime which delivered on all the goals of the Paris Agreement -- bottom-up plus top-down elements combined effectively -- was important. Equally, there had to be enough mitigation ambition to avoid dangerous human-made climate change, as well as strong commitments on adaptation and, of particular importance, transparency to build trust and share experience.

From Paris, the negotiations had moved to the Marrakech Climate Conference (COP 22). It began the work which was identified in Paris as necessary to implement the Paris Agreement. It fleshed out the specific technical details necessary to give effect to the PA. It was hoped that these details would be finalised by the end of 2018.

At COP 23 in Bonn, parties welcomed the design of the 2018 Facilitative Dialogue (Talanoa Dialogue) to be conducted from April to December 2018. Parties decided to convene stocktakes of pre-2020 implementation and ambition at COP24 (2018) and COP25 (2019), and urged parties to the Kyoto Protocol that had not yet ratified the Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol, to do so without further delay. Some very rich and able countries seemed unable to fulfil their contributions. There seemed to be an ambition gap because of the weak commitments put forward by those richer countries. This was unfair on developing countries.

At the May 2018 subsidiary body session, parties made advances on three fronts:

  • Paris Agreement Work Programme (PAWP): the negotiations were based on tools prepared by the presiding officers. The tools provided parties with textual options on various modalities, procedures and guidelines / rules under each thematic area - mitigation, adaption, transparency, finance, technology, capacity-building, compliance, and global stocktake.
  • First session of the Talanoa dialogue -- facilitative dialogue aimed at enhancing ambition in the pre-2020 and post-2020 throughout the revision of nationally determined contributions (NDCs).

There were, however, three key divergent views between countries on the proposals. On transparency and reporting, developed countries insist on developing countries needing to justify why they require flexibility for reporting, based on their capacity, whereas flexibility was guaranteed by the PA. Developing countries would take time, and changes to their national circumstances (development), to be able to report at the same level. On adaptation, developing countries were insisting on properly implementing adaptation provisions in the PA.

The DEA wants countries to outline their plans for adaptation in communication of NDCs, and report on progress with these in their biennial reports. On finance, SA had pushed very hard for a discussion on the issue of ex ante information. There was notable progress on this, although the issue was not yet settled. Differences remained on the modalities of communicating the ex ante information, such as the location of the registry, submissions, their frequency and analysis.

The September 2018 Bangkok session resulted in overall general progress, with parties leaving the meetings with 325 pages of negotiating text, though there was still a long way to go. On finance there was still a deadlock between parties.

The Chairperson commented that there seemed to be a lot left to be negotiated.

Mr Kekana responded that there were only days left to negotiate some of these details. On transparency, some progress had been achieved on mitigation and tracking progress, but there had been no progress on reporting on adaptation, and support and flexibility. On compliance obligation, little progress had been achieved on support and triggers for compliance -- there seemed to be a reluctance to discuss this until other issues were finalised. It seemed like compliance would be forced on to developing countries. On global stocktake, overall progress had been achieved on inputs to the global stocktake (GST) and phases of GST. The issue of equity remained unresolved.

COP24 was mandated to complete the PA work programme, setting out the implementation guidelines required to operationalise the PA. The Polish government had also mandated ministerial-level events, including the Talanoa Dialogue, which aimed to raise ambition and accelerate action to address climate change, as well as dialogues on financial support for developing countries and implementation of the pre-2020 agenda under the convention and its Kyoto Protocol.

South Africa expects that the summit on 3 December organised by the Polish Presidency, and mandated ministerial events, should deliver political messaging reaffirming support for the multilateral approach to addressing climate change. COP24 needed to conclude the PA work programme and adopt rules that are comprehensive and fully consistent with the core principles of the Convention, in particular equity and common, but differentiated, responsibilities and respective capabilities. The COP should also provide clarity for, and help secure, the delivery of means of implementation support to all developing countries that require it. The Doha amendment to the Kyoto Protocol must come into force.

On adaptation and loss and damage, SA would reiterate the importance of the global adaptation goal as one of the cornerstones of the PA. This had two key components. The first was the adaptation communication as a non-obligatory component of parties’ NDCs, and the second was reporting on adaptation in the enhanced transparency framework. The DEA was concerned at attempts by developed countries to close down negotiations on reporting on adaptation.

On mitigation, differentiation in the type of NDCs was clearly provided for in Article 4 of the PA, which stipulates that developed countries’ NDCs should consist of economy-wide emission reduction targets, whereas developing countries had broad discretion in the choice of type of NDC, based on their national circumstances.

Ministers were expected to provide guidance on the negotiation issues that were political in nature during the pre-COP24 meeting in Krakow in October. This followed the meeting of Ministers in June (Berlin, Petersberg climate dialogue) and June (Brussels, ministerial meeting on climate action). The South African Minister had played a key role during these meetings by facilitating the discussions on transparency and finance. Pre-COP 24 would also receive a presentation from the inter-governmental panel on climate change (IPCC) on the outcomes of the special report on 1.5º degrees. SA would launch the 1.5 degrees report to inform stakeholders in November. Poland would host a workshop on transparency in November.

Key messages from the IPCC’s special 1.5 degree report on global warming, the aim of which was to understand the impacts of 1.5º C global warming above pre-industrial levels, included the assertion that it was now more evident than ever that climate change was currently the greatest threat to humankind, and would make all other crises worse. It threatened to reverse all the development gains, and what had been thought was a ‘safe’ level of climate change (2ºC) was not safe at all. Up to now, it was thought that warming up to 2ºC was relatively safe, but the report proved otherwise. Above 1.5ºC was not safe. Currently, we are heading for a 3-4 degree rise in global temperatures. We need a dramatic change and all countries need to do more.

Limiting global warming to 1.5ºC would require rapid and far-reaching transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities - much faster than was currently planned. There were major threats to sustainable development, poverty eradication and reducing inequalities at 1.5ºC, but far greater threats above 1.5 degrees. This was a particular issue for Africa due to its relatively warmer climate than the rest of the world. Keeping the world within 1.5 degrees was also compatible with the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs) agreed to by SA.

The Chairperson asked which scientists had compiled the report, and when the report was due to be launched.

Mr Kekana said that there were two aspects to the report -- the technical aspects and a summary of those aspects for policy-makers. It would be made available when it was finished. Dr Deborah Roberts was the lead practitioner and researcher. It was important that she was based in SA to provide technical support to the country. The co-chair was based in Germany. One of the mandates for the office was to help organise the technical aspects of research in Africa. A benefit of this was that participation in the IPCC could be spread to universities and other research organisations, and technical skills and knowledge in-country could be developed. All interested parties had been invited to participate.

Ms Ngomane concluded the report by saying that the mandate position was going through the finalisation process. She also wanted to underscore the significance of having a chief negotiator. The setting up of a research-unit in SA was a significant milestone and achievement. Lastly, it was important to ensure that Members of the Committee were fully briefed on the IPCC report so that there could be a dialogue with broader society to educate them on these issues.

The Chairperson said the Committee noted the alarming report of the scientific advisory body to the UNFCCC, the IPCC, which confirmed that it was now evident more than ever before that climate change was currently the greatest threat to humankind and that dramatic changes by all countries were urgently required in order to limit global warming to 1.5°C.

Discussion

Mr T Hadebe (DA) referred to the negotiations happening over the 1.5 degree report, and wondered what ramifications could be expected, given the US’s withdrawal from the PA.

Ms S Mchunu (ANC) commented that the Talanoa dialogue was a reminder of the threat of climate change. That said, what were the innovative new technologies that have been researched to achieve the goals of the PA - especially to meet the objectives of the 1.5 degree goal? COP17 had induced a great buzz in the public discourse on the issue climate change, so what public awareness programmes were there to promote public interest these days?

Mr R Purdon (DA) commented that with all the developments in SA on a daily basis, climate change did not get the attention it deserved. Concerning the finance issue, and given the developed-developing country contrast in capabilites, where would South Africa spend the money if it was allocated it tomorrow? He asked for some background on Dr Roberts, the scientist leading the research in Durban.

Mr Z Makhubele (ANC) asked what the general attitude of the developing countries was like. In the 325-page report, the presenter had said a final position on the issue of transparency was achievable before the deadline. On what grounds was he unafraid? How could African countries move towards a fair ratification more urgently? To what extent was the Green Fund informed of the science, and what informed the actual implementation of it?

Ms Ngomane thanked the Members for their sense of appreciation. On the issue of the US withdrawal, and of South Africa’s capacity to spend, she deferred to Mr Kekana.

On the issue of innovations and initiatives, there were programmes that seek to raise awareness by targeting key sectors that were the biggest offenders contributing to climate change. There were sector adaptation plans with specific departments - the intention was to incentivise the sectors to engage in their businesses in a more environmentally conscious way.

Another group speaks to industries to try to convince them to use technologies that can offset pollution levels through greater efficiency.

On raising public awareness, the DEA had not done much for elevating the principles of COP24. Competing issues in SA had tended to overshadow these issues. But beyond that, there was a need to change people’s fundamental behaviour towards being more environmentally conscious. People needed to understand what their personal contributions were to these problems.

Ms Olga Chauke, Director: Climate Change Mitigation Research and Analysis, DEA, commented that in 2014, a study had been conducted to examine mitigation technologies. A number of such technologies were identified. Most were based on energy efficiency management, including lighting, heating and similar fields. Nuclear and hydroelectric power was also examined. The technologies were being tested.

Mr Kekana added that there was a report out for public comments that captured some of those technologies.

Referring to the issue of the US withdrawal, the US was a unique case. Three states, including California and New York, which constitute 45% of the gross domestic product (GDP), openly champion their own environmental schemes, given the strength of local state governance in the country. The US delegation had been flying under the radar of their President. They had continued to engage in debate despite announcements from the executive that would suggest otherwise. When it came to ‘doing things’, they were there at the table. If there was no second term, the US was about 80% likely to realise their pre-2016 goals. Under the Green Climate Fund, they had pledged US$ 3 billion, and $1 billion had been received, but after the President’s election, the remaining $2 billion had been suspended.

On the 1.5 degree technology, there had not been any scientific analysis of technologies to support it. The special report stipulated that this issue would be developed in a later report.

On public awareness, much more focus needed to be given over to local government support. From the Department’s side, two critical members had been appointed for gender and climate change, and one for awareness. The idea was to partner with the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on the ground to reach the grassroots.

On the attitude of developed countries, it seemed to be not fully there. It had been suggested that reporting was taking place on qualitative aspects, rather than quantitative aspects.

On finance, it had to be needs-driven. There needed to be resolve.

One should not be afraid about the volume of pages in the report, and of the decisions still to be made. Real work had to be done outside. A team of specialists needed to go inside and work on the specifics. The Friends of Adaptation group, launched in Bangkok, was one such group that could help develop these proposals.

The biggest problem in the negotiations was that they had elicited a reaction of a ‘bifurcated world’. Some countries had since suggested that there ought to be different guidelines for developed and developing countries. SA had insisted that countries remain true to the agreements they made in Paris. This group was known as the like-minded group. Some of these countries were also members of the BRICS (Brazil-Russia-India-Brazil-SA), which made communication with them easier.

There was a champion encouraging countries to ratify the Doha amendment. It was pushed by the US, China and France, but the fruits of this had yet to ripen.

The Chairperson asked if Doha was a country or city. After clarification, he asked whether the Qataris had the clout to champion it.

Mr Kekana remarked that the Doha conference had not concluded on an effusive note. Developed countries needed to engage more and be more balanced. Just insisting on compliance for developing countries did not seem fair. As a country, SA stood for a robust compliance regime that ensured everyone was on board and was doing what they could to ensure they met their agreements.

Ms Ngomane added that Prof Roberts, she was an established scientist in the field, trained at Brown University. Prof Jared Diamond had described her PhD very positively.

Mr Kekana commented that everything was captured through policy. The technical reports explained mitigation scenarios and the first draft of policy. The NDC followed an intense process of development. It remained to be seen how the 1.5 degree report was received.

The Chairperson said the presentation had been very informative. There was a pre-COP coming up for the ministers, which would hopefully be able to deal with the issues being negotiated. He looked forward to the Polish presidency of COP, though he was disheartened by the US President’s lack of co-operation on climate change. The Chinese President, however, was committed towards taking action on climate change. One needed to be proactive on the issue in general -- it could not be business as usual. It would not be easy, but the appetite must be there.

Litigation on coal-fired power stations

Ms Ngomane introduced the Committee to the issue of litigation on coal fired power stations. Some litigation had not yet been finalized, so some information regarding certain details was absent. She hoped that the Committee could be given some insight into the approval of the coal stations.

The electricity supply was the largest national contributor of greenhouse gases. The NDCs provide some flexibility and clarity, by providing a trajectory for implementation. Emissions would be reduced in the short-term, and the quantities emitted would be in the lower range in the long term.

Mr Mark Pearce, Director of Litigation: DEA, informed the Committee that he was responsible for all the litigation against and by the DEA. He also assisted generally in providing legal advice to the Department.

A chief director would approve the coal-fire stations under a delegation, which could be appealed to under the minister. Coal-fired stations were naturally quite controversial, so he would go through the litigation issues at hand.

The Chairperson interjected, and asked about the number of coal-fired stations to be commissioned.

Ms Chuake commented that two stations would provide power.

Mr Pearce said that in order to approve a coal-fired plant, one had to conduct a climate change approval assessment. A precedent had been set when Judge Murphy interpreted the law in terms of assessing environmental impacts. Though there were no guidelines, it had been found that there were principles which ought to compel the Department to examine environmental issues. The Earthlife Africa EOH report should have been published and the right reserved to submit viewpoints on it.

Several ongoing court cases were detailed by Mr Pearce. Trustees for the time being of the Groundwork Trust vs the Minister of Environmental Affairs and four others (including KiPower), was one such case. An application had been received seeking to review and set aside the appeal decision and environmental authorisation which had the effect of granting Kuyasa, on behalf of its subsidiary KiPower, an environmental authorisation to proceed with establishing the KiPower project. The matter was opposed. The court record was filed on 18 September 2017. No supplementary founding affidavit had been received. The applicants were given notice that they had failed to join the DEA. According to the counsel, no reaction had been received in this regard. The late former Minister of Environmental Affairs had agreed on an approach, which must now be presented to the Acting Minister, to obtain agreement. This information was currently privileged. The DEA had been approached with regard to the impact of the new Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) on this project, and the DEA would prepare papers as soon as it had been advised and joined. The matter was sub-judice, and once the answering affidavit had been filed, the Committee would be briefed.

There were three other cases highlighted. Trustees for the time being of the Groundwork Trust vs the Minister of Environmental Affairs and three others (ACWA power Khanyisa thermal power station) was highlighted next. An environmental authorisation had been granted to ACWA Power Khanyisa to establish and operate a 600 megawatt independent coal-fired power station with associated infrastructure near eMalahleni in Mpumalanga. Several appeals against this had been made.

The Earthlife Africa vs Minister of Environmental Affairs and six others case was a judicial review application in terms of which the DEA’s appeal decision regarding the Thabametsi Coal Fired Power Station was sought to be reviewed and set aside. Judge Murphy had remitted the matter of the climate change impacts of the project back to the Minister for consideration.

The Earthlife Africa NPC and the Trustees for the time being of Groundwork Trust vs the Minister of Environmental Affairs and two others case also featured Judge Murphy remitting the decision back to the Minister to consider a heritage impact assessment and a climate change impact assessment. An EoH peer review was conducted, and authorisation was granted to Thabametsi Power Company to establish and operate a 1 200 megawatt independent coal-fired power station with associated infrastructure near Lephalale, Limpopo.

The decision made by the Minister regarding the EHO was not repealed. There were also Implications for the attainment of NDCs. On the issue of issue of how big a pollutant these plants would prove to be, even with these new plants SA would still not exceed its NDC contributions. Coal was a polluter, but was still an important source of energy.

The Chairperson interjected that it was understood that these court cases would have already been concluded. He asked whether the Members thought that they should engage with court matters, or leave it to be continued in courts. He commented that people were commending Judge Murphy’s approach to climate change, as they regarded it as very progressive.

Discussion

Mr Hadabe said that for Members to determine whether they could reach NDC targets, it would be good to know where they stood currently. How much leeway did we have with our targets? Were we close or did we have more space?

Mr Purdon mentioned that there was presently an energy committee making presentations on the draft IRP 2018, which was also in the court cases. He wanted to know how these hearings related to the court cases.

Mr Makhubele thought the Committee's position was known. It was not sure whether it was in a position to discuss the ongoing court process – it had to await the outcomes of the court cases.

The latest inventory showed 5.14 million tonnes of emissions. Several power plants were coming to the end of their lives. South Africa’s energy needs were 40% met by coal and the new plants took this into account.

The Chairperson commented that a bit more clarity was still needed with regard to the NDC.

Mr Pearce responded that he had not been informed of the public hearings. They would get some input from those speakers after their Committee meeting concluded.

The Chairperson observed that there was a new IRP that was supposed to be propagated last year. These decisions, however, were based on a previous IRP, but were being contested in court. The current IRP may impact on future proposals. The DDG had stated that the legal matters would be concluded, but since they were not, the Committee should not further engage with them - they were matters for the court. The Committee would receive a report when these matters were finalised.

Mr Hadebe added that they did indeed need more briefing on the national emission contributions, and to determine where SA was in meeting its targets. Some of the power stations were proposing to extend their lifespan of over ten years, which would have a huge environmental impact.

The Chairperson maintained that the best course of action was to wait for briefings.

The meeting was adjourned.

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