The Committee was briefed on measures that were taken by the Department to address poor air quality in priority areas in the country, and the efficacy of ambient air quality monitoring in South Africa in a virtual meeting.
Members heard that the three priorities areas identified under the Air Quality Act are the Vaal Triangle Airshed, Highveld and Waterberg Bojanala. The progress thus far on these three priority areas over a five-year period includes the increase in government capacity over the Highveld and Waterberg Bojanala and an increase in compliance and awareness activities across all the three priority areas.
There are 130 government owned stations across the country with different objectives. The data can be accessed through the South African Air Quality Information System (SAAQIS) app, which is operable under Android and IOS systems. The cost of erecting and operating a station cost around R1.3 million to R3 million dependent on the pollutant while the annual cost of maintenance per year on each station costs around R28 000.
Members asked what specifically the climate monitoring stations for greenhouse gas monitors – ‘Do they offer different results from air quality monitoring stations’? ‘Are the stations that you referred to in the presentations challenged by section damage’? And ‘Can you offer us the statistics for the past financial year on the damages by those activities (e.g. vandalism)’? The Committee was informed that South Africa prides itself on having Global Atmospheric Watch stations centred at Cape Point for monitoring greenhouse gas emissions for climate change mitigation purposes. It is one of the 15 stations in the world and one of three in Africa. Members were pleased to hear that the Department consults the community in all the phases of their projects as they felt that if the community is fully involved during the rolling out of these programmes, they will safeguard these stations, therefore decreasing or eliminating the rate of vandalism. The Department will provide a report on the costs that were incurred by the Department due to vandalism of the stations.
Regarding vandalism and theft at stations, the South African Weather Services (SAWS) tries to mitigate these issues by the introduction of armed response teams and camera installations. When Members asked ‘How are the by-laws in the municipalities implemented and policed in terms of AQA’? they were informed that the by-laws are adopted and implemented by municipal councils after community engagements. The status and updates on the municipal by-laws are recorded annually in Air Quality reports. In answer to questions on climate change and carbon tax monitoring, the Committee was informed that the Department only monitor’s air quality in relation to the ambient air quality standards established within the country as the different stations measure different air pollutants.
The Committee asked the Department to increase the spatial representation of air quality monitoring stations to assist in disaster risk and response planning. Also those areas with potential health risks need to be identified. The collaboration between the Department and the private sector needs to be strengthened, as the SAWS need’s to work closely with the provinces and municipalities to address capacity building issues and the management of stations. The Chairperson advised Members to encourage collaboration between the SAWS and local government within their own constituencies to emphasise the importance of air quality monitoring to achieve the healthy environment mandate of AGENDA 2063.
The Chairperson of the Committee welcomed the Members to the meeting and offered a special welcome to a delegate from Mpumalanga province, Mr T Makaringe (ANC, Mpumalanga).
Apologies received from Mr A Arnolds (EFF, Western Cape), Ms M Mokause (EFF, Northern Cape) and Ms W Ngwenya (ANC, Gauteng). The apologies were accepted by the Committee.
The Minister of Enviroment, Forestry and Fisheries, Ms Barbara Creecy was asked to tender apologies from her Department, and no apologies were made. The Minister introduced the agenda of the day to the Committee which was to give a briefing on measures that were taken by the Department to address poor air quality in priority areas. Mr Mnikeli Ndabambi (representative of the South African Weather Service, SAWS) and Dr Thuli Khumalo (representative for the National Air Quality and Climate Change Office branch) were introduced as the presenters of the meeting. The Minister highlighted that she has a meeting to attend at 15:30 and therefore asked to be excused from the meeting within 30 minutes.
The Chairperson welcomed the request from the Minister, welcomed the presenters and applauded the Ministry on the marvellous job delivered during the last meeting with the Legislature.
Briefing on air quality initiatives
Dr Khumalo greeted the Committee and introduced herself as the National Air Quality Officer as delegated by the Minister. Dr Khumalo stated that:
- Under the Section 18 (1) of the National Environmental Management: Air Quality Act (39) of 2004; NEMAQA (AQA), three areas were identified and declared as the Priority Areas (PA) and are : Vaal triangle Airshed (VTAPA) in May 2009, Highveld (HPA) in April 2012 and Waterberg Bojanala (WBPA) in 2015.The VTAPA is under review after public comments and the Department is finalising the comments so that the Minister can establish Air Quality Management Plan (AQMP) implementation;
- Multi-Stakeholder Reference Groups (MSRGs) and Implementation Task Teams (ITTs) were established under the AQMP implementation. The MSRGs and ITTs serve to create platforms for stakeholder engagements, information exchange and reporting on air quality management, interventions, practices, goals and strategies. These two teams enable the government and all stakeholders to understand stakeholders’ priorities, concerns and serves to maximise opportunities to improve and leverage available resources; and
- The key Implementation Projects identified are included in some of these umbrella projects:
- Health studies - e.g. examining and observing people’s health profiles to understand the days when the air pollution was high;
- Source Apportionment Study - Tracing of pollution samples;
- Air Quality Offset Projects - E.g. Sasol has provided ceilings, insulation for household to retain energy and decrease their use of fossil fuels; and
- Alternative fuels pilot projects – Utilising of other low carbon fuels to decrease the pollution in the area.
- Some of the goals achieved from AQMP Implementation Progress Goals include:
- The introduction of ambient air quality monitoring across priority areas by SAWS, provinces, municipalities and the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) to space out locations to spread the limited resources across the identified priority areas; and
- The enforcement and compliance monitoring by DEA Environmental Management Inspectors in collaboration with provincial and municipal officials to improve compliance in line with air quality legislation and authorisation.
- Government capacity has increased over VTPA, WBPA and HPA over a five-year period (2015 – 2019), while there is still a government capacity issue at Sedibeng. There is continuous training, but air quality remains a scarce skill in government.
- The compliance inspections have increased across all the priority areas, but the Department will also monitor the impact of COVID -19 on this trend; and
- Awareness activities have increased across the priority areas, with high activities in the HPA during 2017. Numbers of engagement activities are projected to increase post COVID -19 pandemic on the air pollution issue.
- The legal requirement to monitor the ambient air quality is reflected in NEMAQA Section 8(b) (i) to assess compliance with ambient air quality standards and Section 8 (c) (ii) to determine and report on the state of ambient air quality.
- The mandate of SAWS is to ascertain whether the prescribed ambient air quality standards are followed, assess impact of ambient air on humans and the environment and to provide quality information for policy or strategy development, air quality research and modelling.
- There are 130 government owned stations across the country with different objectives (e.g. for different pollutants). The data provided by these stations in fed into the South African Air Quality Information System (SAAQIS) and it provides real -time information on the state of air to the public. The SAAQIS is operable through an app on Android and IOS.
- The cost of the erection and implementation of the stations is expensive, ranging from R1.2 million to R3 million, which is dependent on the monitored parameters. The annual maintenance cost is around R28 thousand per station per month. The maintenance includes calibration of instruments, changing of gases and electricity.
- There are total of 15 SAWS operations monitoring stations located within the National PAs. VTAPA, HPA and WBPA have six, five and four stations and 13, 11 and a six year record of continuous monitoring.
- In terms of pollution trends, the particulate matter is a problem in the republic due to a drier climate, activities generating this pollutant and the vast empty space in the Northern Cape. Also, a long and dry winter increases the suspension of this pollution in the air for longer periods, which leads to non- compliance. VTAPA has reached non- compliance over a two-year period. If this is the case, the Minister is advised to withdraw and declare the areas as a non-priority.
- Challenges encountered includes the cost of instruments which is affected by international markets, vandalism, relocation of stations to a better secured area, power line theft, limited technical capacity and budget for maintenance by municipalities and some provinces.
- For future station management is to maintain the current NAAQM and keeps it functional but the Department will place a moratorium on the procurement of new stations and lower cost devices that require less maintenance.
Mr A Cloete (FF +, Free State) requested the copy of documents on Air Quality Management Plans that were referred to, especially the one in VTAPA to be made availed to the Committee. ‘How are the by-laws in the municipalities implemented and policed in terms of AQA’? ‘Are the stations that you referred to in the presentations challenged by section damage’? ‘Can you offer us the statistics for the past financial year on the damages by those activities (e.g. vandalism)’? Mr Cloete further asked how has the SAWS changed their media approach - from old TV and newspaper manuals to social media to communicate to the public. “On that note, I am trying to connect to the website you referred to in the presentation, but it is frozen! “
Ms C Labuschagne (DA, Western Cape) asked what specifically the climate monitoring stations for greenhouse gas monitors – ‘Do they offer different results from air quality monitoring stations’? ‘Regarding the moratorium based on the new stations, how long will it be’? Ms Labuschagne asked the Department to consider informing the Select Committee on the process of this.
Ms L Bebee (ANC, KZN) asked the Department on the institutional arrangement of the centralised Energy Fund. ‘What is the status of the subsidies mainly from Petrol SA and IGAS to establish a national petroleum company of South Africa’? Ms Bebee asked what the current and projected future energy needs and plans are for the country in terms of the national energy supply.
Mr T Matibe (ANC, Limpopo) asked the following questions: (1) The rate of vandalism and mitigation strategies to combat vandalism in these stations that monitors air quality (2) ‘How much does load shedding on an annual bases impact the data monitoring and accuracy of these stations’? (3) ‘How does the Department account for larger areas with higher industrialised activities (higher emissions of gases) that are not covered by the stations’? (4) ‘What is the interface between the Department and the private sector on monitoring the stations’?
Mr Cloete highlighted that South Africa has implemented the carbon tax as a mitigation strategy to reduce the greenhouse gas emission. Mr Cloete asked why the country owns one greenhouse gas monitoring station situated in Cape Town.
Mr M Nhanha (DA, Western Cape) apologised for an interrupted connection due to high winds in the Eastern Cape. He asked to what extent the Department involves the community when stations are established. Mr Nhanha felt strongly that if the community is fully involved during the rolling out of these programmes, they will safeguard these stations, therefore decreasing or eliminating the rate of vandalism.
In response to Mr Cloete’s question on municipal b-laws, Dr Khumalo said that the by-laws are adopted and implemented by municipal councils after community engagements. The status and updates on the municipal by-laws are recorded annually in Air Quality reports. In terms of security issues, Dr Khumalo said that the stations must be put in areas with proper continuous electricity supply, hence the stations are mostly relocated to schools, police stations and clinics. However, there are some stations that are not hosted at these acclaimed secured areas. Dr Khumalo advised that the Department will provide a report on the costs that were incurred by the Department due to vandalism of the stations.
In terms of climate change and carbon tax monitoring, Dr Khumalo stated that the Department only monitors air quality in relation to the ambient air quality standards established within the country. Dr Khumalo further emphasised that the different stations measure different air pollutants. For example, particulate matter is an issue, therefore it was monitored across all the stations, while the ozone is not monitored everywhere. Additionally, in response to the question by Ms Labuschagne on low cost monitoring, Dr T Khumalo advised that the information regarding the logistics will be provided in writing.
Dr Khumalo said that during load shedding there is no data recording; however the Department introduced the Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) facility that runs for a short period of time to keep the air conditioner running. In order to facilitate data comparison, the Department adopted a minimum data requirement strategy. Low cost monitoring will be introduced and adopted by the Department to improve the data monitoring of areas that are otherwise excluded due to limited resources, spatial issues and insufficient electricity supply.
Regarding the question posed by Mr Nhanha on community engagements, Dr Khumalo said that this will be considered as an area for improvement. However, the Department consults the community in all the phases of their projects.
Mr Ndabambi said that South Africa prides itself on having Global Atmospheric Watch stations centred at Cape Point for monitoring greenhouse gas emissions for climate change mitigation purposes. It is one of the 15 stations in the world and one of three in Africa. Therefore, it is very important to at least have one.
Mr Kamaseelan Chetty, Air Quality Senior Manager, SAWS said that the SAAQIS app is available at all national app stores. One needs to search SAQQIS, download the app with either Android or IOS operating system’s to access air quality monitoring data. The SAWS app that offers weather forecast as well as storm checking is also available and installable at app stores. In terms of instruments, Mr Chetty said that mostly computer screens are stolen from stations and the SAWS tried to mitigate these issues by the introduction of armed response teams and camera installations.
The Chairperson thanked the presenters for answering the questions and opened the floor for follow up questions.
Follow Up Questions
Mr Cloete requested two reports on (1) vandalised stations and (2) municipalities that adopt or do not adopt the by-laws.
Dr Khumalo said that the Department will collate the information from the Department and the SAWS and provide it to the Committee.
The Chairperson asked the Department to increase the spatial representation of air quality monitoring stations to assist in disaster risk and response planning. For example, in the Health sector, the Chairperson said that areas with potential health risks need to be identified. Also, the impact and predictions of infections like SARS and COVID-19 to poor air quality. The Chairperson stated that collaboration between the Department and the private sector needs to be strengthened. The Chairperson added that the SAWS need’s to work closely with the provinces and municipalities to address capacity building issues and the management of stations. The Chairperson advised the Members to encourage collaboration between the SAWS and local government within their own constituencies to emphasise the importance of air quality monitoring, to achieve the healthy environment mandate of AGENDA 2063.
Ms Labuschagne asked when the Committee will get an input on the National Energy Fund. She further commented that the presentation on ambient air was quite fine, but Ms Labuschagne further said that she was not satisfied with delegates from the SAWS regarding the question on climate change as “The delegate took more than two minutes to answer me without a presentation”.
The Chairperson asked the Committee Secretary to forward all the questions that were asked by the Committee but not answered by the presenters. A written response was advised by the Chairperson.
Mr Cloete asked if there will be a specific Committee where the Department will be engaged with regarding the waste and sewage management under the same meeting.
Ms Labuschagne said that sewage management is a local government issue and is not the problem of the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS). However, mismanagement of sewage leads to water pollution, which will affect the DWS as well as the DEA. At a micro level, Ms Labuschagne advised that the DWS and the DEA should be interfaced with sewage management to foster a broader policy that can enhance collaboration between waste and sewage management.
Mr Matibe asked for a joint standing meeting with the Select or Portfolio Committee to see how pollution can be integrated with other affected Select Committees.
The Committee adopted its minutes of 25 August 2020.
The Chairperson thanked the Committee for all their inputs and adjourned the meeting.
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