Colloquium on Climate, Air Pollution, Energy and Health; Kempton Park residents petition on refuse collection

Environment, Forestry and Fisheries

14 November 2018
Chairperson: Mr Z Makhubele (ANC) (Acting)
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Meeting Summary

The Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs was briefed by the Kempton Park petitioners on the state of refuse collection in Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality Ward 104. The residents were calling on the Ekurhuleni metro to ensure regular and reliable collection, as there had been problems since March last year, with huge amounts of waste not being removed. They called on the Committee to force the municipality, provincial government and the national government to account on their responsibility, as stipulated by the National Environmental Management Waste Act.

Members questioned the complaints procedure that had been followed, and the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) indicated the steps it had taken to try to resolve the situation. The Committee recommended that the Department take steps to investigate the matter. It would write to the Gauteng Provincial government and Ekurhuleni Metro, requesting an explanation for the state of affairs at Kempton Park. Members called on the municipality to adopt a sustainable method for refuse collection.

The Committee listened to a colloquium on climate, air pollution, energy and health presented by groundWork, the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) and academic researchers. The failure of governance by energy industries in the Highveld Priority Area (HPA) emerged as a key concern for civil society groups. Eskom and Sasol were argued to have continued violating environmental and air quality rights of people in priority areas by avoiding meeting minimum emission standards (MES). Civil society called on government to apply more effective measures to protect people from air pollution. Failure to act by all stakeholders would lead to a health crisis in the next generation. The importance of having renewable energy that was environmentally friendly was highlighted, given the fact that current coal-fired power stations had contributed a lot to air pollution. An improvement in people’s living conditions should be linked to the environment, as challenges were posed by both indoor and outdoor air pollution.

The DEA said that the challenge of energy transition from South Africa’s current energy mix remained a stumbling block towards achieving acceptable environmental standards for the country. The Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) promised to have strategies to address some of the issues. The involvement of all departments was important, as it would provide an opportunity for overseeing all the challenges faced by communities in priority areas, and would allow a coordinated approach to a renewable energy transition.

Members were concerned about Eskom and Sasol’s conduct on the minimum emission standards (MES), and their constant application for postponements. They called on the DEA to pay attention to the operations of industrial facilities that damaged air quality. There had to be a joint effort to protect the environment and understand the link between air pollution and health. It was the DEA’s responsibility to make sure that it used the available mechanisms to hold Eskom and Sasol to account regarding their conduct in the priority areas.

Members promised to research the issues raised by civil society further, and to get an input from the Portfolio Committees on energy and health in order to come up with a coherent approach to dealing with the challenges faced by priority areas. The Committee asked civil society to be patient, as some of these issues required a long-term engagement with different stake-holders.

Meeting report

Opening Remarks

The Acting Chairperson indicated that Members from the Gauteng Provincial Government and Ekurhululeni Metropolitan Municipality did not make it for the meeting. The Committee had to follow up regarding the nature of their absence and what happened to the invitations. There were claims that these Departments had not been invited by the Committee. However, their absence would not affect the business of the day. The aim was to get clarity on the waste management service challenges facing Kempton Park. From this, a decision would be taken on how to proceed.

 

Kempton Park Petition

Ms Amanda Davison, leader of the petition group, thanked the Committee for the opportunity to present such an important matter on behalf of the residents of Kempton Park, who had enjoyed much of what the area represented. Only in the recent past had residents noticed the Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality’s failure to fulfil its legislative duty. Kempton Park had experienced poor service with refuse collection for over a year. This had left smells of a landfill.

Since March 2017, Kempton Park had faced issues relating to refuse removal. By that time, there was a huge amount of waste that was not collected by the municipality. The Ekurhuleni Metro had acknowledged that there was a challenge with waste collection. It had argued that this was due to diesel supplies. In September 2017, the municipality had come with an alternative option of wheelie bins. The plan had been welcomed by the residents, though they had remained skeptical about it. The plan was described to the residents as falling under national legislation for waste management. In terms of cost effectiveness, planning and scheduling, the wheelie bin initiative did make sense to the residents.

However, the rollout of the plan did not come through and the wheelie bin initiative did not take place. In November 2017, there were already problems and confusion regarding the functioning of the alternative refuse collection plan of the municipality. Municipal workers could not decide whether to pick up bins, waste bags or both. This had led to refuse being left in the area and the waste management crisis returning. Residents had decided to take matters in their own hands by delivering the refuse to the depot station. This also did not help, due to the slow level of service in these transfer stations. This had led to residents dumping waste in front of the station or anywhere where there was space available.

Transfer stations in the Kempton Park area were out of service and over flowing. Ms Davison said that at times, equipment did not work and waste management staff closed the gates for residents to dump their waste themselves. By March, waste removal in Kempton Park had completely collapsed. Residents became angry and wanted to put their waste in front of the municipal buildings. In April, residents were told by the municipality that no more bags would be picked up.

The municipality promised to pick up bins, but failed to deliver them back to the residents. These left residents having to fill waste materials in bags. The failure to have bins and an increasing amount of waste in bags for residents meant their waste could not be removed. This carried on, as the area waste management failed to deliver and the municipality could not catch-up on managing refuse in Kempton Park.

Ms Davison said that Ekurhuleni municipality did acknowledge its challenges regarding refuse collection in Kempton Park. In August, residents of Kempton Park had created a petition. In October, there was still silence from the municipality. The Member of Parliament, Mr Michael Waters (DA), took the Ekurhuleni Mayor, Mr Mzwandile Masina, and the Member of the Mayoral Committee (MMC) for Environmental Waste, Councillor Ndosi Shongwe, to court. The case was for contravention of the National Environment Management Act: Waste Act, 2008. The question from the residents of Kempton Park was, why had this matter ended up in court after many attempts to get the municipality to fulfil its constitutional obligations?

Why did the Kempton Park refuse collection problem need an intervention from the courts while the municipality and council knew about the grievances of residents? Ms Davison said that what Kempton Park residents were calling for was for the refuse to be collected on time. If the municipality failed to collect the refuse, it must be made a priority by the waste management services team in due course. This had not been the case for Kempton Park so far.

She concluded her presentation by stating that, as residents of Kempton Park, they were just calling for the Ekurhuleni municipality to adhere to its September 2017 plan for wheelie bins. It worked everywhere else in Ekurhuleni, so it should work also in Kempton Park. She sked the Committee to put pressure on the mayor of Ekurhuleni and the MMC for waste management to sort out the problem. The current conditions were dangerous to the health of children and all residents of Kempton Park.

Committee Response

The Acting Chairperson thanked Ms Davison, and wanted to know what had happened after the charge had been laid against the Mayer of Ekurhuleni and the MMC for Environment and Waste. Had the matter been concluded, and was there any particular conclusion or verdict on the issue?

Ms Davison responded that as the residents had heard nothing and there was no indication of any conclusion arrived at by the court. Nothing had changed or happened after the charges were laid.

Ms J Steenkamp (DA) asked the Committee to firstly get a holistic view of the whole matter, with an input from the Department before Members posed questions. She wanted to find out from the Department, when it cames to petitions, how the Committee should handle matters,

Mr R Purdon (DA) asked if the ward committees were functioning in Kempton Park, specifically the area affected by waste management crisis. This was important, because if ward committees functioned properly, this was where the matter should have been pushed at first.

Mr Waters answered the Acting Chairperson’s question on the court case. The wheels of justice were slow. The case had been opened a few weeks ago. The petitioners were still waiting on the findings of the investigation. At the time, it was too soon to tell in terms of the court case.

The Acting Chairperson appreciated the response, and argued that a decision from the Committee could be overturned by the court judgment, but that process was separate from the agenda of the Committee. He agreed with Mr Purdon that the matter should have moved from the ward committee level to the Council level. From the presentation, there was a point made that the system did work in all areas at Ekurhuleni except Kempton Park. Why was that the case?

Ms Davison said that she was part of one of the ward committees. The system did work in other areas of Kempton Park. The issue, when raised in Council, never got discussed. Even if it was taken to the oversight Council, nothing happened in an attempt to address the grievances of Kempton Park. It remained a question why it worked in Benoni and other areas but not in Kempton Park. That remained a question for the Kempton Park residents.

The Acting Chairperson requested that the question from Mr Purdon be answered by Ms Davison. Why was the matter not pushed enough from the ward level to the Council level?

Ms Davison said that she could not answer for the councillor, but she did not think it could have been pushed any further. The matter had been raised in Council but it had not been discussed. The reason for this remained unknown. That was why the Kempton Park petitioners were in front of the Committee to appeal for assistance.

Mr Waters added that eight councillors from Kempton Park had had meetings with the MMC for Environment and Waste, and had raised the issue in the Council Portfolio Committee. Results had not come through. They had tried all means possible.

The Acting Chairperson asked Mr Waters whether Kempton Park residents were being ignored?

Mr Waters said most certainly these residents were being ignored.

Department of Environmental Affairs Input

Ms Elizabeth Masekoameng, Director: Integrated Waste Management, Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), said the complaints the DEA received from the municipality contained the names of the nine petitioners. The Department had tried to contact the complainants to see if the issues had been resolved. Four of them had managed to respond and had indicated that the issues were resolved. The Department encouraged the complaints to be laid with the waste management officer. Each municipality had an officer responsible for waste management. From there, complaints could be escalated to the provincial government should the Waste Management Officer fail to address the problem. Provincial government had an officer responsible for waste management as well. Communication had been made with the provincial government on the Kempton Park matter recently and it was sitting with them. There were indications that it would be addressed soon.

The Acting Chairperson asked Ms Mosekoameng if she was saying that some of the petitioners had been contacted. Did the petitioners indicate that some of the issues had been resolved?

Ms Mosekoameng said that based on the invitation to the pPortfolio Committee, the Department had requested clarity on the petition. From the information in the petition, the Department had called the nine petitioners. It managed to get only four of them. These four petitioners indicated that the problem was resolved. One of them did highlight that the wheelie bin and the black bag plan created confusion, as was indicated by Ms Davison. The issues could have been due to a change in waste management systems in the area. The petitioners contacted by the Department said the problem had been resolved in terms of waste collection. Those were only the nine petitioners, but the presentation had shown 1 007 petitioners. From that number, the Department found it difficult to make a valid claim as to whether the matter had been resolved simply from the nine petitioners contacted.

The Acting Chairperson asked Ms Davison if the situation as she knew it remained the same. Was the situation the same as indicated in her presentation?

Ms Davison said the situation remained the same. In September, there were some promises that the issues could be resolved, but it did not go any further. On the previous two weeks, the municipality had shown some initiative to improve the situation. That had not been consistent. The claim that issues had been resolved might have been due to the way waste management was collected. In some cases, wheelie bins were picked in one street and left in another street. This showed a lack of consistency from the Ekurhuleni municipality’s side.

Ms Steenkamp asked for clarity from both the petitioner and the Department. Who said what from the names that the Department contacted? She wanted a breakdown of the views from those contacted. What was going to be the process moving forward? What was going to be the timeline? The Committee had to suggest an investigation on the matter and the Department had to give a report on the situation. She was concerned that the waste management officer had not received the complaint. The waste management officer should have received the complaint -- it was not the responsibility of residents to look for the waste management officer. When the complaint was received by the municipality on waste collection, the waste management officer should receive that complaint. Whoever got the complaint in the municipality had to pass it on to the relevant individual, in this case, the waste management officer. This meant that this case was not isolated, and that there were many cases like this in the Ekurhuleni municipality. She asked the Committee to take conclusive action on the matter, as this would provide reference for future issues. When was the Department informed of the waste collection issue in Kempton Park? She wanted a specific date.

Mr Waters said he had just contacted the councillor in Kempton Park. Residents had told him that the waste collection situation in Kempton Park remained the same. There had been collection of waste for a few weeks, maybe due to the charges laid against the Municipal Mayor and the MMC. That had happened for a few days and had not gone any further. There was a more systemic problem with waste collection in Kempton Park.

The Acting Chairperson wanted to know if the situation was back to abnormality or normality.

Mr Waters said the situation was back to abnormality, with waste left uncollected by the municipality. The waste management situation in Kempton Park was chaotic. The Committee must call the MMC of Environment and Waste to come and explain why the situation was bad in the area. The MMC was as accountable as the Mayor in relation to the National Environment Management Act: Waste Act of 2008. This Act clearly stated how regular waste should be collected and if it not collected, what processes must be in place to address the challenges. The Mayor and the MMC were responsible for this process. They needed to be called to come and explain to the Committee why they had failed to act on the situation, and had to indicate plans in place to mitigate this problem. Residents could give as many complaints as possible, but if they did not get a response from Mayor, the MMC or Council, what else should they do? These were questions that required answers from the Department and the Ekurhuleni municipality.

Mr Purdon gave an example of Ndlambe Municipality in the Eastern Cape where he lives. He said the municipality had serious issues. Ward committees were functioning properly. These committees made recommendations and the council made the decisions. At one point, the ward committees had taken the council to court and won the case. If this waste collection matter had been discussed in the council of Ekurhuleni, the minutes should have reflected it. That was enough evidence to take a legal opinion. He wanted to get clarity on who had laid the charges and where they had laid their charges. If one took a legal route against the municipality or council based on proper evidence, it was easy to win the case. Ndlambe ward committees forced the council to act through their court victory.

Mr Waters said he had laid the charges in relation to the contravention of the National Environment Management Act: Waste Act, 2008. This Act clearly stated how waste must be collected. This was related to health reasons.

The Acting Chairperson concluded the deliberations. He outlined five key issues that needed to take place:

  • The Department had to investigate the matter properly; interact with the provincial government and metro officials working on waste management; they were not present, and therefore had to be afforded an opportunity to present their case; try to understand what was happening in Kempton Park.
  • The Committee had to write to the Gauteng Provincial Government and Ekurhuleni Metro and get a response before they were called to appear before the Portfolio Committee; in their response, they needed to explain the situation in Kempton Park and their knowledge of the matter; this would give clarity to the Committee and would inform its actions moving forward.
  • The Committee had to indicate that it had received the presentation from Kempton Park and it wanted the matter to be resolved urgently in the interest of Kempton Park residents.
  • The Ekurhuleni municipality had to have a sustainable method of collecting refuse that was of satisfaction to the residents of Kempton Park; the provincial government and the metro had to share their programme on how they were handling the matter.
  • The Committee wanted to know the progress on the case against Mayor and the MMC and its conclusion; this had to be reported back to the Committee within two weeks; the Committee would be touch with all parties involved, including the Department of Environmental Affairs

Ms Steenkamp welcomed the timeframes and deadlines set by the Acting Chairperson. This matter had to be addressed before the end of the year by the Committee.

The Acting Chairperson responded that waste collection was part of the weekly programme of the municipality. It was supposed to be something that was ongoing. This was not an added responsibility. It was an activity budgeted for and was part of the day to day activities. It was within the municipality’s powers to do it quickly. Therefore, there had to be a response from the Ekurhuleni municipality by 23 November on progress made. Equally, the Department had to give response on what was happening in Kempton Park. The Committee would then be able to take action when it had received all these responses. The petitioners would receive communication from the Committee after it had gone through all these proposed processes.

 

Colloquium on Climate, Air Pollution, Energy and Health

Mr Bobby Peek, Director: groundWork opened the meeting by highlighting the work that groundWork does. The organisation works in South Africa, Africa and globally on environmental justice issues. The issues that motivated the day’s presentations were not new. GroundWork had always engaged Parliament on matters relating to environmental health. There had been discussion between the Committee and groundWork on matters relating to air pollution and energy. Affected communities had also participated. These communities had highlighted the challenges posed by Eskom in particular, as well as oil companies and many other polluting industries towards their health. Problems raised in these engagements included the failure of governance by energy industries in priority areas.

Mr Peek said government should have applied itself more effectively to protect people from pollution. However, what had emerged so far was the deterioration of people’s health, rather than protection of it. It was not a debate -- it was a reality that the pollution from these facilities and in these areas caused health problems. The first Bucket Brigade air samples next to the oil refineries in May 2000, and the resultant R6 million health study in south Durban, indicated that learners in south Durban had the highest global recorded levels of respiratory problems, at 52%. This proved pollution from these facilities created health challenges.
 
In the early 2000’s, a Vaal Triangle health risk characterisation and costing study had been undertaken by Scorgie et al. This study estimated that the industrial, mining and institutional fuel-burning source group were responsible for 65% of the predicted chronic bronchitis cases due to emissions. Household emissions were responsible for 60% to 65% of the predicted respiratory hospital admissions with acute illnesses. Based on the preliminary health risk cost calculations, it was estimated that the direct health costs associated with inhalation exposures to ambient particulate matter (PM)10, sulphur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) concentrations in the Vaal Triangle was in the order of R289 million annually. This again proved the reality of pollution.

In 2017, the Portfolio Committee on Health had listened to a presentation from groundWorks and Dr Mike Holland. Dr Holland’s research into one pollutant from Eskom’s power stations on the Highveld, PM 2.5, indicated a loss of more than 2 200 lives each year and a severe impact on the economy. It was also important to note Greenpeace’s recent work exposing the level of nitrogen oxides in the air in Mpumalanga and Gauteng. These issues required urgent attention from energy industries and government.

Referring to recent pronouncements on climate change, Mr Peek said that global warming was now at over 1°C above the 1850-1900 average. If the pre-industrial era was taken to be 1750, as used to be the case, warming was now at 1.2°C. This was already a dangerous climate change. People were experiencing extreme heat, drought, hurricanes and floods, and some critical tipping points may have been reached. The impacts at 1.5°C would be much more severe, particularly for the poorest half of the world’s people, and the impacts at 2°C exponentially more severe, as the International Panel on Climate Change Special Report on 1.5°C, published in early October, had shown. The collapse of agriculture was already threatened in some regions – notably in Africa, including the Western Cape. The collapse of global fisheries from ocean warming and acidification, as well as industrial over-fishing, was in process.

The International Energy Agency had warned that the world had no capacity to absorb new fossil fuel plants. The world had so many existing fossil fuel projects that it could not afford to build any more polluting infrastructure without breaking international climate change goals. The Agency had said almost all of the world’s carbon budget up to 2040 – the amount that could be emitted without causing dangerous warming – would be eaten up by today’s power stations, vehicles and industrial facilities. Fatih Birol, the executive director of the Paris-based group, had told the Guardian newspaper: “We have no room to build anything that emits CO2 emissions.”

Mr Peek thanked the Committee and said he hoped they found the discussion informative and helpful towards decision making by parliament.

Air pollution impact on child health

Dr Diane Gray, Consultant: Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital, UCT, said the impact of air pollution on child health was a huge crisis in South Africa. Failure to act by all stakeholders would lead to a health crisis in the next generation. Her presentation focused on what air pollution was and the problem it posed to human beings, especially young born and unborn children.

She provided insight from global information and local data on the consequences of air pollution for child health. Climate change and air pollution had had a significant impact on the health of the global population. Children and poor people suffered more from air pollution and climate change. The cleaner the energy resource used by the population, the more expensive it became, and it became unaffordable to people with fewer resources. Poor communities still relied on energy sources that produce huge amounts of air pollution. According to statistics, air pollution kills more than seven million people a year. African and Asian countries were mostly affected due to the fact that they use weaker polluting fuels and technologies. Women and children who stayed indoors most of the time suffered the most.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) had estimated that a large amount of children around the world breath toxic air. A 2016 WHO report estimated that 6 000 children die of acute lower respiratory infections caused by polluted air. Lower respiratory tract infections were the leading cause of undefined death globally, and in South Africa. Air pollution was a leading cause of undefinable mortality. Three billion people were still using dangerous fuels for cooking. Four million people had died prematurely due to air pollution. Air pollution was driving non-communicable diseases. Non-communicable diseases were a global issue, especially in Africa. Non-communicable diseases such as strokes, ischaemic heart disease, lung cancer and other acute respiratory diseases, were all associated with air pollution.

Due to the use of dangerous fuels for cooking and heating, many people in poor communities continue to suffer from air pollution. Air pollution in urban areas was mostly generated by human activities, and here interventions could be made. The links between air pollution and climate change had an enormous impact on human health. Even during pregnancy, studies showed that infants were exposed to air pollutants. Although this affected everyone, it remained prevalent in low income countries.

A study conducted by her colleague, Dr Aneesa Vanker, on indoor air pollution and its impacts on child health had concluded that the use of alternate fuels was associated with an increase in air pollutants. The study showed that in the Paarl region, more than 60% children breathed polluted air. This conclusion mattered to the health of these children. Exposure to indoor pollution resulted in them facing increased chances of having illness associated with air pollution. From the study, the strongest impact came from the antenatal exposure of unborn children. This made the health of pregnant women crucial if their exposure to air pollution affected unborn children. A tough stance therefore needed to be taken on air pollution.

The health sector must be involved in an effort to address air pollution problems. Cleaner and renewable energy sources were needed. Reducing exposure to air pollution was important in an effort to deal with non-communicable diseases. There was a need to increase access to clean energy and technologies in Africa and other areas with populations in greatest need. Particular efforts were required to simultaneously reduce high exposure to smoke in households, reduce ambient air pollution, obtain climate and health co-benefits, and contribute to lifting people out of poverty. New initiatives, such as “access to clean energy and health in Africa” were under way. This would enhance progress towards the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals 3 and 7 of the United Nations.

Ms Steenkamp wanted to know what individuals could do in their own houses to help deal with the air pollution problem. Did it make any difference if people used different kinds for fuels in their vehicles, fuels that were environmentally friendly?

Dr Gray said there were things that individuals could do to help mitigate the issue of air pollution. They could avoid smoking, stop burning fuels that were a danger to the environment, and improve ventilation indoors. However, that initiative would not be effective without policies in place to regulate energy industries. This was the main reason civil society wanted the Parliamentary colloquium.

Mr Jeff Rudin, Alternate Information and Development Centre (AIDC) commented negative impact on the lives of children, especially poor children, which resulted from Eskom’s role as an electricity provider, yet it paid little attention to its role in air pollution. He said it was good that Members of Parliament were offered an opportunity to get an understanding of the issues facing the energy, health and the environmental sector.

Air pollution on the Highveld

Mr Rico Europidou, groundWork's Environmental Health Campaign Manager, said his presentation was based on the experiences of Dr Diphalong Mashifane, a general practioner in Middelburg, Mpumalanga, and Dr Amir Rahimi, a medical officer at Middelburg Hospital. Their experiences of observed health outcomes were related to the air quality in Middelburg and at the Provincial Hospital. Poor people in Mpumalanga relied on the coal from Eskom. They used this coal for cooking and heating, and were exposed to both indoor and outdoor air pollution. The area was experiencing huge amounts of air pollution and this was not in the interests of poor people on the Highveld. There needed to be initiatives in place to address the problem of air pollution in South Africa. The only way to do this was to deal with the causes of air pollution in Mpumalanga.

Mr Europidou asked Members of the Committee to visit the Highveld areas. They needed to go and see the living conditions of these people. People lived in sub-standard housing and used dangerous fossil fuel materials for energy purposes. This had contributed immensely to health challenges in the area. Young children grew up already facing health challenges due to air pollution. Eskom’s coal power stations must be regulated, and must be in line with air quality regulations. The Committee needed to act on these issues, as they presented a public health crisis.

Mr Peek commented on the point that some of Eskom’s coal power stations were contributing to air pollution. There had been an engagement with Eskom to protect civilians in the area by putting measures in place to limit air pollution, but it had conditions to violate them. Sasol was another entity that was failing to meet its emission regulations.

Transition to renewable energy

Mr James Irlam, Chairperson: Climate Energy and Health (CEH), a special interest group said energy was a major public health issue, and human health was the “bottom line” of global climate change. CEH was calling for a transition from coal to renewable energy that would improve public health in SA and mitigate global climate change. Coal mining impacted communities through air pollution. The WHO recently hosted its first conference on air pollution and had noted the danger posed by coal mining on health. It recognised air pollution as a global crisis and noted its impact on climate change. Air pollution and climate change were interlinked, and they contributed to public health challenges.

Climate change would reverse the health and development gains of the last 50 years. The injustice of this was that those responsible for air pollution were the least affected. South Africa had been identified as a climate change hot spot. There was an urgent need to reduce carbon emissions and meet the global target of zero carbon emissions by 2050. It was good that climate change was now linked to health. This presented an opportunity for action in the healthcare sector. The WHO had called on governments to adopt clean energy and sustainable transport as key towards tackling climate change. The Just Energy Transition from coal to renewable energy promised an improvement in public health and global climate change.

Mr Peek commented that civil society had noted the push for nuclear energy by the government. Civil society was against the introduction of nuclear energy in South Africa.

The Acting Chairperson commented that there were funds that government had already made available to deal with mitigating air pollution. Had groundWork been able to access those funds? Was the organisation able to work in affected areas, especially rural areas, through using those government funds?

Mr Peek said through the Green Climate Fund, groundWork had been working with other actors to support waste collectors. In the past, groundWork had not made use of these funds, but lately it had noted that it as an important avenue to support the climate change initiative. GroundWorks and other organisations were calling for socially-owned renewable energy. Such energy must be guided by the people’s health and environmental interests. This needed Parliament to provide legislation and a policy framework that would be informed by the social needs to the people.

Ms Anja Hoffman, PhD Researcher: University of Cape Town, said that as part of her doctoral research she had visited a lot of households in Mpumalanga and observed the indoor pollution issue. Households were aware of the negative health impacts of urban fire and cheap self-made stoves that they used for cooking and heating. Households found it difficult to move from this source of energy to different technologies. They claimed that it was part of their culture. She asked how this social factor could be influenced and changed.

Mr Peek said this matter remained important, as culture was influential in people’s behaviour. This social factor needed to be addressed in areas like the Highveld, as it contributed to health challenges. It could be addressed only through dealing with it openly. One key challenge that made it difficult to tackle this problem had been the lack of a power supply to these households. The moment they were given electricity, they could move from their existing fire methods and embrace new technologies that had less carbon emission or pollutants.

The Acting Chairperson asked about offsets. He wanted to know if there was an engagement between groundWork and institutions that were in charge of offsets in the Highveld. Had there been a proper assessment of these offsets to see if they made positive contributions to mitigating air pollution?

Mr Peek said the offsets were what Eskom and Sasol hid behind when they had to account on air pollution. He told the Committee that groundWorks never supported offsets, as they had not worked globally. There must be an alternative option to address air pollution and hold energy industries to account, since offsets had failed to deliver fruitful results. The challenge had been energy companies failing to offset the pollution they were creating through these offset programmes. GroundWorks’ engagement with Eskom, Sasol and government had been to inform them that offsets were not working. There must be a targeted initiative that aimed to reduce air pollution. Sasol, Eskom and the Department had not agreed with civil society’s proposals on managing air pollution effectively.

Mr Euripidou expanded on Mr Peek’s theme, pointing out that civil society was not challenging the need for improvements in people’s lives. Where people lived in substandard houses, it was essential to improve their living conditions. This should be in consideration of their health. Energy companies and government must take into account the problems posed by air pollution in the Highveld region. Industrial facilities must comply with environmental regulations. Offsetting had given these industries the licence not to comply, and that was wrong.

Air quality governance failures

Ms Robyn Hugo, Head: Pollution & Climate Change Programme, Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), presented on air quality governance failures, including non-compliance with emission standards and the lack of enforcement. The presentation put special focus on Eskom and the Highveld priority area.

She said that CER, groundWorks and Earthlife Africa had come together to form an alliance against coal mines. The objective was to challenge the building of new coal power stations for energy purposes. It called for a reduced in air pollution from existing coal stations. The phasing out of existing coal power stations remains essential in order to address air pollution and climate change. An achievement of a just transition to sustainable energy systems would create better health conditions. Air pollution from coal power stations was one of the leading contributors to carbon emissions in SA.

Eskom and Sasol were among the highest carbon emission contributors in the world. Air pollution from Eskom power stations had contributed to huge numbers of deaths in SA. In this case, Eskom had not accounted for these social injustices. It was not only air that was affected by Eskom’s pollution, but also other resources like water. Studies had indicated that SA does not need additional coal power stations. It should be accelerating the decommissioning of existing coal power stations. Renewable air power promised to address the problems posed by coal power, and could be cost effective for SA’s energy needs.

Ms Hugo said 15 Eskom stations and all of Sasol operations were in the three Air Pollution Priority Areas. These areas were declared in terms of the Air Quality Act. Their high levels of air pollution exceeded SA’s national air quality standards. These air quality standards were old and weak, and needed to be updated in order to be in line with the WHO standards of air quality. Air pollution in SA was a public health problem. Pollution contributors needed to deal with air pollution effectively. Good air quality was a constitutional right for SA citizens, but energy industries continued to infringe on that right. Government must hold industries such as Eskom and Sasol to account on air pollution.

The Highveld Priority Area still leads in terms of air pollution and air quality problems. The DEA has acknowledged that air quality remains a problem in SA. Eskom also acknowledges its power stations have a negative impact on air quality in this country. Eskom’s internal health assessments have indicated worrying outcomes for public health. In order to address these problems, Eskom and Sasol have to comply with air quality and environmental regulations. So far, they have shown no interest in complying with environmental laws and regulations, citing cost issues. This was problematic, since the issue of affordability should not outweigh the constitutional rights of people. This was unacceptable.

Ms Hugo said that in 2010, Sasol and Eskom were part of a multi-stakeholder engagement that set up SA’s Minimum Emission Standards (MES), which regulated how much air pollution was legally allowed for coal power stations, refineries and other industrial facilities. Though Eskom released many pollutants, these regulations required it to achieve improvements in three areas of pollution. The MES were structured in order to make sure that industrial facilities achieved a certain target by 2015. This had to move towards more strict standards by 2020. Although these standards were called “new plant” for 2015 MES, when measured against other developing economies, they were substantially weaker. In this case, when measured against China and India, SA’s sulphur dioxide ratios were way too low.

Since 31 October 2018, the situation had become worse, as the DEA had published amendments to the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA) that governs the MES list of activities. These amendments doubled the sulphur dioxide ratio for existing plants and effectively allowed for more air pollution from coal-fired power stations. This meant that all of Eskom’s coal power stations and Sasol’s coal boilers would be required to meet almost 29 MES targets lower than China, and 10 times lower than that of India’s MES ratio targets. Civil society in the Highveld Priority Area was calling on the Acting Minister of Environmental Affairs to withdraw the proposed amendments for a list of activities. If there was a failure to do this, civil society would take the matter to a court.

Ms Hugo said that after failing to investigate and understand the nature of the MES since March 2010, Eskom had constantly applied for the postponement of enforcement of these MES targets. In some cases, the entity had made it clear that it did not intend to meet the required MES standards. Eskom simply applied for rolling postponements of the MES complaints against it. These rolling postponements were illegal and amounted to exemptions from the law. In the same amendment announced by the DEA, it had been confirmed that no more postponements of MES 2015 were to be allowed. The DEA had stated that it would allow only one postponement of the 2020 MES list of activities for industrial facilities. The framework that governed applications for postponements was also amended by the Department.

No facilities in priority areas should be granted postponements. This had been a call by civil society for a long time. Air quality standards in these areas were out of compliance. The new amendments proposed that facilities should first comply with other emission standards. They should account for previous reductions from pollutants that were granted postponements and give material compliance in relevant areas. For industrial facilities that would seek postponements on the 2020 MES, they would need to show that by 2025 they would be able to meet the 2020 MESs. They also would also need to provide a clear plan in place for decommissioning those stations for which they were applying postponements, by 1 March 2030.

Despite the overwhelming evidence on the impact of Eskom’s non-compliance with the 2015 MES and the devastating impact of air pollution from its coal power stations, in February 2015 the DEA had granted more postponements. These postponements were for the “existing plants” 2010 and “new plants” 2015 MES. Ms Hugo said it appeared that Eskom would seek another set of postponements in the near future. There were applications for postponements for 11 of its plants. Eskom had continued its failure to comply with MES targets and the DEA had not taken any meaningful action against the entity. The Department had instead granted Eskom more postponements. This was despite the fact that all of Eskom’s power stations were in priority areas and had weak compliances for air pollution and air quality.

Ms Hugo agreed with Mr Peek that all violations of environmental licences and regulations were criminal acts in terms of air quality legislation. There were administrative authority mechanisms available for Parliament and the government to use in order to force Eskom to comply with environmental management regulations. The CER and its clients had been supportive, active and vocal participants in various Highveld Priority Areas. There was a lot of frustration at the lack of progress and the ongoing health impact of air pollution by energy industries. The CER had conducted its own analysis on whether the declaration of the Highveld Priority Area (HPA) and the development of a quality management plan had improved air quality in the Highveld.

Ms Hugo referred to the report launched by CER on 2 October 2017, titled “Broken Promises,” which found that air quality in the HPA remained poor, and that outside air quality standards had a serious health impact on people in the area. Failure to reduce air pollution by key industrial facilities had led to air quality compliance problems in the HPA. The government’s decision to grant the biggest MES polluters in the HPA concessions had made it difficult to reduce air pollution. Therefore, improving air quality in the HPA was an essential obligation for government. To meet its constitutional obligation towards the people of the HPA, government must at least take steps to meet its Constitutional and Air Quality Act obligations.

The CER recommended that immediate steps be taken to reduce pollution. HPA facilities must comply with the MES. The National Air Quality Officer should review MES postponements already granted. No further MES postponements should be allowed, or other atmospheric emission licence (AEL) variations that allow emission limits to be exceeded.  AEL licensing authorities should suspend the issuing of all new AELs in the HPA until there was consistent compliance with all national air quality standards.

Ms Hugo said that more than 13 months later, there had been no DEA response to these CER calls. The failure to comply with air quality law meant people continued to suffer from air pollution in the priority areas. This reality was acknowledged by government in its own reports. Since the CER and other organisations had worked on these issues for many years without any fruitful outcomes, there was no other option but to consult the courts. The aim was to defend the constitutional environmental rights for the people in the Highveld.

Mr Peek referred to the role of the Legal Resources Centre. In 2004, civil society had come to Parliament to protest against Sasol’s emissions. In that case, civil society achieved two victories -- minimum emission standards and health were also included in the Air Quality Act. He congratulated the work of civil society in trying to alert government on the links between health and the environment. It was also in these engagements that hotspots for air pollution were declared priority areas. These were the joint efforts of civil society, Parliament and government.

However, those gains were being rolled back by the current challenges of air pollution and air quality. Eskom and Sasol’s continued application for MES postponements were hindering these previous achievements. The DEA was at fault because it was granting these entities more postponements. It was important to have a country that had sustainable economic and developmental growth, but that did not mean high levels of air pollution should be acceptable. Air pollution that continued to pose health risks to poor people was immoral and illegal.

Renewable energy players must be allowed to enter the energy market and present a new approach to energy production. SA had got weak limits against very old industrial facilities on air pollution. He noted the absence of the Department of Health, commenting that it was difficult to understand why it was not part of these engagements on environment and health. It was a concern that the Minister of Health, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, had not gone to the WHO conference on Environmental Health held from 30 October to 1 November 2018.

Discussion

Mr Peter Atkins, Director,: Credible Carbon asked if the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (NERSA) had the power to take licences away from Eskom if the entity failed to implement and comply with MES regulations?

Ms Hugo answered that only the DEA had the power to hold Eskom to account and suspend licences for coal power stations. Licencing authorities were municipalities, but the National Environmental Management Act stipulated that if a compliance notice was given into a certain industrial facility and that facility failed to address that matter, the licence could be withdrawn. Licences were given between the energy industry and the municipalities.

Ms Elaine Mills, Argus Media journalist, asked about the engagement process between government departments on the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP). She also wanted to find out progress on the litigation against the two coal plants that groundWorks and CER had initiated -- KiPower and Khanyisa coal-fired powers stations. She also wanted to find out about China’s aim to invest in a coal mine or coal-fired powered station in SA, and asked if there was there any information that the development could be opposed since there were sometimes different rules that governed independent special economic zones. She also wanted to know whether there was any truth in the allegations made by former Eskom chief executive Matshela Koko, that the way independent power producers were allocated licences by NERSA was unlawful.

Ms Hugo said Mr Koko was referring to the decision on the Earthlife nuclear judgment, where it was argued by the court that NERSA did not conduct public consultations before it made its decision. The court in this case had said the two nuclear determinations must be set aside due to the failure of NERSA to conduct public consultations. No consultations had been conducted on the determinations for coal and new renewables in the case of the introduction of Independent Power Producers (IPPs). The energy regulator was always required to provide public consultations on IPPs. This remained the call by civil society for NERSA to conduct those public consultations.

CER and groundWorks were waiting on two pending high court applications for environmental authorisation for Khanyisa and Thabametsi coal-fired power stations. These power stations did not have NERSA generation licences, and Thabametsi did not have an atmospheric commission licence. Thabametsi also did not have a water use licence. Khanyisa did have an atmospheric commission licence and a water use licence, but both of these licences had been challenged on appeal by groundWorks and CER. Civil society was calling for these power stations to be excluded from the IRP.

Mr Peek addressed the question on the Chinese development. He said when groundWorks heard on the news that President Cyril Ramaphosa had signed an agreement with China, it had called for the President to release the Memorandum of Understanding between SA and China on the investment agreements. SA could not afford to build new fossil fuel power plants -- that was the message from the International Energy Agency (IEA). Currently, there was no clarity on whether the proposed plan would be used in the IRP or the Special Economic Zone (SEZ). SEZs like the Inga Dam or the nuclear energy proposals put out by the government were not necessary for SA. This was the overall view of civil society in the energy, health and the environment sector.

Ms Hugo observed that even the energy that was proposed for the SEZ would have anegative impact on climate change and the environment. The process for the coal plants would continue to be challenged by civil society in the SEZ.

The Acting Chairperson touched on the achievement of groundWorks and other civil society organisations on getting the minimum emission standards. He wanted to know if civil society did acknowledge the initiatives taken by the DEA, and that the Department understands the challenges and wants to address them. Was it not disruptive to propose new initiatives from civil society while the Department was working on addressing these environmental issues? Did the fact that the Department was not enforcing emission standards appear as if it did not care about civil society concerns? He wanted clarity on what civil society’s interventions in the energy and environmental sector were really about.

Mr Peek said groundWorks’ position was that the emission target that SA was trying to set for greenhouse emissions moving forward would not be able match the global targets by 2050. This was where the concern emerged from -- the current initiatives were not harsh enough to deal with current and future emissions.

Ms Hugo said the minimum emission standards were not about just the greenhouse gases. Eskom and Sasol emitted more pollutants than what the MES focused on. The two proposed coal-fired power stations would be among the leading greenhouse gas emitters in the world. SA’s nationally determined emission targets were not ambitious enough, and were rated as inefficient by Climate Tracker. Things were becoming direr, and more urgency was crucial in terms of environmental health risks and climate change. Another interest for civil society was the Climate Change Bill, which had to be fast-tracked in order to provide platforms for civil society.

Mr Peek said that during the 2010 negotiations, agreements had been made between government, Eskom, Sasol and civil society. After people had left the room, different outcomes had been communicated and implemented, or at times ignored. Civil society was often side-lined in those pronouncements. This remained a concern when issues required joint commitments and efforts.

Mr Euripidou said the recent doubling of sulphur dioxide targets were a repeat of past experience. Civil society had come with a proposal, had compromised at times on targets, yet industries did not comply. There was a culture of non-compliance in the energy secto,r and what was troubling was that the industry was failing to meet weaker MES targets compared to other developing countries. The culture of non-compliance from energy companies needed to be changed urgently.

Ms Hugo touched on the doubling of the sulphur dioxide. She said it was unlawful to weaken the already weak MES. The Air Quality Act states clearly that sufficient information must be available to enable members of the public to make meaningful objections or representations. The notice for draft amendments on the Air Quality Act did not provide any indication of whether any of the MES would be changed. Civil society noticed only when it was published on 31 October that changes had been made to the MES. This was a huge problem in regard to openness between government and civil society.

Mr Rudin asked if MPs had any plans regarding the reported non-compliance from energy industries. Did the Committee have any plans in place to hold Eskom and Sasol to account?

Mr Peek said the DEA could also assist on this question.

Ms Steenkamp said the Committee had had a clear stance on these energy entities when engaging on air quality. These entities were told to do everything possible to finalise these standards and comply with emission targets. Eskom had received a caution from the Committee to stop reapplying for postponements and deal with emission issues. It was surprising to hear that some of these postponements were budgeted for by Eskom. The Committee had been too soft on the big emitters, and that needed to change. There needed to be harsh taken against Eskom and Sasol in terms of accounting for air pollution. If this stayed as it was for too long, it would become more harmful.

Ms S Mchunu (ANC) called on the Committee to encourage energy companies to comply with national laws and regulations on environmental conduct. If companies failed to meet these targets, there must be consequences. The presentations shared by civil society showed an alarming situation for public health should there be a continued failure to address air pollution. Poor people were suffering due to the failure of energy companies to tackle air pollution.

The Acting Chairperson called for the DEA to be harsh on Eskom and Sasol, and should not offer them postponements. The Committee had always expressed concerns about non-stop postponements offered by the DEA to Eskom and Sasol. The Climate Change Bill provided an opportunity for Parliament to address non-compliance by these energy entities. It would help pave the way for sustainable solutions. It remained the responsibility of the DEA to deal with companies who violated environmental regulations. Eskom and Sasol should be working hard to achieve the MES in their current standards -- that was their obligation. The DEA should answer for themselves why there was a failure to deal with these issues.

DEA’s response

Mr Vumile Senene, Director: Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), acknowledged the issues raised by civil society on environmental health. The discussions had covered a lot of governance issues relating to air quality. The DEA had always engaged the Committee and civil society on these issues. The energy sector remained a key factor in the environment and health problems faced in the Highveld region and SA as a whole.

The current energy mix and policy that existed in SA presented huge environmental challenges. Energy transition was needed and it must be done in a sustainable manner. If it were possible to switch off the old plants and use new renewable plants, it would be easy to address environmental health problems. It should be able to sustain economic development of the country. This meant that more government departments were required to address the problems of the energy sector regarding health and the environment. It was not the role of DEA only – Health and Energy needed to come to the table as well.

The impact of climate change remained a concern for government. The DEA acknowledged that there was an issue of air pollution facing SA, and this was completely undisputed. This problem was made up of many sources. Indoor pollution was a key challenge. The engagements that were needed to get the energy transition to move forward had to be conducted in a correct manner. Joint efforts between government, civil society and the industrial sector were required to address this issue. The DEA had proposed a time frame for energy transition and realised the urgency to achieve it.

Ms Steenkampp asked if there was any cooperation between DEA, Energy and Health. What had these Departments come up with so far to address air pollution?

Mr Senene said the Department had engaged with other departments on the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP). The DEA had contributed significantly to the IRP Parliamentary process. This was an initiative that involved many government departments, and those linked to energy, environment and health had all contributed to the Parliamentary process from both an air quality perspective and climate change. On health, the DEA had undertaken studies on priority areas and looked at the impact of air pollution on public health. This was aimed at involving the health element in air quality. Going forward, inter-ministerial Committees would be essential in conducting joint cooperation between the DEA, energy and health on these issues. The presentations given would help the DEA to harness more understanding regarding the impact of air pollution on air quality, climate change and health. There was still room for improvement.

Ms Steenkamp said Mr Senene was not answering her question. She wanted to know whether the DEA had had contacts with other departments. Was there a joint committee in place to deal with air pollution, energy and health challenges?

Mr Senene said there was no committee yet, but on the IRP, the DEA had made it clear that for air quality, there needed to be decommissioning of old coal plants. This message had been shared with the departments concerned. This was aimed at ensuring that SA meets its emission targets in priory areas. The Department was also supporting the current IRP plan. The focus on air quality was in line with the DEA’s aim to tackle the issue of air pollution in priority areas. There could be a focus on Eskom in the future, but there was promise that Eskom could achieve significant changes on air pollution if it complied with the IRP plans.

On the strategy to address air pollution, the DEA noted that there was a need to include the Departments of Health and Housing. Some of the houses that had been built in previous years were not up to standard. They forced people to use fossil fuels. There was a coordinating committee on this matter, and it had received approval from the President to start its work. It was part of the IRP strategy. The DEA promised to use that coordinating committee to drive the issues of air pollution and air quality, especially indoor air pollution. It was looking to incorporate all the departments in order to have a coordinated approach to energy transition. The work had not commenced yet -- it required a guiding document as a strategy before Departments engaged.

Ms Steenkamp wanted to confirm if that was a strategy to mitigate air pollution in low income communities.

The Acting Chairperson interjected and said that after much input from all parties, it may be good for the Committee to take time and digest the information presented. The Committee would get its head around the documents and see what it should do. It may have to engage further with the Department, and tighten certain matters that would require the Committee’s attention. The Committee would be able to look at what strategies and policies were already in place, and  check for possible solutions to matters and let the Department account on some of the issues that could be easily addressed. This would also include calling Eskom and Sasol to the Committee so that these entities could indicate the challenges they were facing. This would give the Committee a balanced view. It would not be aimed at giving these institutions an option not to comply, but it would rather be a fact-finding initiative. The Committee needed to understand the kind of mechanisms available to the Department to address the issues raised by civil society. At the centre of all this was the need to place the interests of ordinary people first.

The Committee would be able to have an informed perspective on the impact of these air quality initiatives on economic growth and development, as indicated by the Department. This would lead the Committee to taking research-based decisions. The decisions of the Committee on these matters required more research and investigation involving all parties. It was only fair to allow the Committee to engage further on the issues raised and presented. He asked for understanding and patience from civil society. The process needed to be well informed, and it would include getting input from other Committee Members from energy and health. This would inform the Committee on whether certain institutions needed to be prosecuted or postponements had to be stopped in order for them to follow MES regulations.

Mr Peek concluded by commenting that the Committee would have a huge job in bringing all stake-holders together to gain a common understanding. All stake-holders were important if there was to be a possibility of making sense of the environmental challenges posed by air pollution in the Highveld areas. The IRP and the Climate Change Bill must be at the forefront moving forward.

Mr Peek indicted that the Departments of Urban Settlements, Water Affairs, Energy, Economic Development, Science and Technology, and Health had been invited to the Colloquium. There was hope that these entities would hear the presentations and concerns from civil society, and that in the next year there would be progress made in addressing these issues. It was difficult to not be concerned about these environmental challenges.

The meeting was adjourned

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