Local Agenda 21: briefing


09 May 2000
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Meeting report

9 May 2000

Brochure: Local Agenda 21, South Africa [e-mail linden@iafrica.com for document]

Mr Patrick Kulati of UCT's Environmental Evaluation Unit (EEU) began the presentation by explaining that the EEU is an implementing agent of Local Agenda 21. Its has a capacity and awareness-building programme to provide training and support to politicians and government officials. The program is funded by USAID.

The training targets government officials on both local and provincial levels. It is partnering with universities and technikons in other provinces, especially historically disadavantaged universities.

Dr. Merle Sowman then gave a presentation on the concept of sustainable development. She explained that sustainable development is a holistic and integrated approach to planning and development that encompasses financial as well as social and environmental problems.

Section 24 of the South African Bill of Rights makes a bold statement of commitment to environmental concerns, and there is a suite of legislation on environmental issues that culminated in the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA) in 1998. On the planning side, many provincial planning and development acts take the Development Facilitation Act (DFA) further with respect to environmental issues, and require environmental impact assessments.

In practice, however, many new development plans, including RDP housing, have had trouble making the shift to a holistic approach to planning. In many respects, they still resemble the pre-1994 models.

Dr. Sowman presented case-studies and slides to illustrate this point. The failure to consider long-term sustainability results in developing sites that have unsuitable soils to sustain housing or infrastructure, have high water tables which result in flooding, and are too distant from transportation routes and business opportunities. All of these problems result in large financial burdens that could have been avoided.
Too often, a multi-disciplinary approach and involvement of local communities that could produce more informed decisions is lacking.

Mr Kulati then took the floor once again, to make the connection between sustainable development and Local Agenda 21 (LA 21).

He explained how local decisions such as those described by Dr. Sowman have produced global environmental problems. These include global warming, deforestation, desertification and toxic pollution, as well as an increase in poverty.

Since the 1970's these linkages between the local and the global have been increasingly recognised. One of the key outcomes has been the 1987 Brundtland Commission Report, which first defined the term "sustainable development" and called for international co-operation. This was followed by the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), which was a watershed in the history of development.

The conference produced several crucial documents, including the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and Agenda 21.

Agenda 21 is a document that provides a global blueprint for sustainable development for the 21st century and beyond. The major issue is sustainable human settlement. Since local activities have been identified as the root of many problems and solutions for sustainable development, local authorities have a vital role to play in educating, mobilising and responding to the public. Chapter 28 is the Local Authorities' mandate to implement LA21.

Local authorities are called upon to undertake a consultative process with their populations to analyse environmental conditions, prioritise issues, prepare implementation plans, evaluate and receive feedback. This is a break with the "top-down" approach. This participatory process is supported by the government, and LA21 is trying to facilitate it.

Some of the benefits of this process are:

It reduces the trade-offs between sustainability, social justice and economic viability, as all of these begin to work together.
- Service delivery is improved.
- Long term planning replaces immediate need as the focus.
- Efficient use of local skills and resources is encouraged.

The presentation concluded with some suggestions for what Members of Parliament can do to support this process:

Think about long term implications of actions and decisions.
Ensure that environmental issues remain high on the government agenda and that environmental functions across departments are adequately funded.
- Give political support for LA21.
- Raise awareness in constituencies.
- Ensure the implementation of policies.

Committee members showed a lot of enthusiasm for the programme, and the following ideas came out of the discussion:

1. Workshop
Ms. Mbuyazi proposed having a day-long workshop with all of the other portfolio committees, as sustainable development is multidisciplinary and touches all of them.

Mr Grouwier supported the idea of a workshop, but stressed the importance of strengthening linkages between national, provincial and local institutions. Few local authorities in fact have LA21 as part of their strategic plans, and the workshop should therefore focus on how it could be implemented. Mr Grouwier would like to see a mandate given to the NCOP to consult with provincial governments on starting implementation with local authorities.

The Committee Chair, Gwen Mhlangu, committed herself to organising a workshop, and added that the findings of the African Solutions Conference should be incorporated as well.

Dr. Sowman pointed out that the African Solutions Conference was the beginning of a process that has been carried forward by the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT). There needs to be better communication with the Director General's office, and a workshop is being planned for June/July.

Ms. Mhangu agreed that the committee should be briefed by the Director General, and again committed to organizing a workshop to sensitize all parliamentarians to LA21. All the stakeholders, including the NCOP (National Council of Provinces) and SALGA (South African Local Government Association) should be included.

Mr Moss requested a handout of the EEU presentation to make available in the constituencies. Mr Kulati said that this would be possible, and that an information kit would be distributed to the members.

2. Environmental education.
This was proposed by several members as necessary for the implementation NEMA, and the Chair agreed that something should be organized on this topic.

3. Research support
A dialogue between the Portfolio Committee and the EEU was begun in order to formalize research support for parliamentarians on environmental issues. This would not only help parliamentarians prepare for debates and briefings, but would also make them less dependent for knowledge on the very government officials they are supposed to oversee.

The Chair of the Portfolio Committee on Housing was also in attendance at this meeting. That committee will in turn host a future joint meeting on the issue of Local Agenda 21.


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