International Conventions: briefing


30 August 1999
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Meeting report

30 August 1999

The Portfolio Committee was briefed by the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism on the international conventions dealing with Climate Change and Biological Diversity.

The Chairperson, Ms Gwen Mahlangu (African National Congress) welcomed the Portfolio Committee and the Department. The briefings were being held in preparation for the meeting with the members of the Danish Parliament the following day.

Mr Lengoasa, the Chief Director for Environmental Quality and Protection, thanked the committee for the opportunity to present a briefing. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is the key convention relating to climate change. The aim of the convention is to stabilise green house gas emissions at a level that would allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to changing temperatures, to ensure that food production is not threatened, and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.

Mr Lengoasa noted that predictions for temperature increase vary between 1-4 degrees, with a sea level rise around 60 cm. South Africa was vulnerable to climate change issues due to the scarce availability of water, and the impact of agriculture.

South Africa ratified the convention in 1997 as a developing country. Therefore while South Africa was highly dependent on coal, a common green house gas producer, there is no obligation on South Africa to reduce emissions.

The guiding principles in the Convention are that there are common but different responses required from all countries. Those that are better equipped to do more, should do more. The precautionary principle should be applied. Therefore even if there are no hard scientific facts relating to Green house gasses and climate change, action should still be taken. The needs of developing countries need to be taken into account, and sustainable development should be followed by all.

The Kyoto protocol aims to take the general framework agreement and clearly define the roles and responsibilities of the various countries. The protocol was adopted in December 97. The aim of the protocol is to reduce the level of emissions by 5% in relation to 1990 levels. The USA is responsible for 37% of emissions, yet has not ratified the convention. 55 Countries are required to ratify the convention before it comes into force.

South Africa's commitments under the convention are to publish Green house gas inventories, policies and measures, to promote the transfer of technology, to promote sustainable management of the forests and other gas sinks, to consider climate change issues in all economic, socio-economic and environmental policies, to promote systematic research into climate change, and to communicate to the other conference of parties on the implementation of the convention.

Mr Holomisa (United Democratic Movement) asked whether the GEF was funding any of the initiatives, and if not, whether applications could be made to the GEF.

Ms Chalmers (African National Congress) noted that the comment had been made that South Africa data collection was poor, and asked for further information.

Mr September (African National Congress) asked whether South Africa had a green house gas inventory, and what co-operation on the issue was happening with the universities.

Mr Lengoasa (Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism) replied that the programme was not part of the GEF funding. At present funding had been sourced to fund capacity building within the department. The data collection required was on upper air climate issues. The Weather Bureau, due to budget constraints, was not able to send up as many weather balloons as possible. Some research on climate change was been done at universities, but nothing that was focused directly on the issues of the convention. The department was intending to work with the universities to focus on the needs of the department.

Ms Chalmers (African National Congress) noted the issue was crucial, with international implications. Did the department consider it had a responsibility to educate the public on greenhouse emissions? She found it extraordinary that the USA was dragging its feet, and put it down to the profit factor.

Ms Van der Merwe (African National Congress) queried whether the convention would be affective without the USA, and asked what sort of lobbying was being done on the USA.

Mr Holomisa (United Democratic Movement) noted that there were many industries in South Africa creating green house gasses. In addition there were others wanting to relocate to South Africa. He asked what co-operation was happening with the Department of Trade and Industry in monitoring the issue.

Mr Opperman (Democratic Party) asked what sort of monitoring was occurring and whether South Africa was making any progress.

Mr Lengoasa replied that there is no general programme in place within the department with respect to an education and awareness campaign. On the issue of the USA, he acknowledged that it was a bone of contention among the convention members. One of the results of the USA not ratifying the convention was that other developed countries such as Britain were not prepared to either. The next conference of parties would focus on the issue. Replying to the question on monitoring, Mr Lengoasa replied that informal discussions with the DTI had begun around the National Waste Management Strategy. In addition, issues relating to DTI arising from the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA) were being looked at. The first priority was to use the Waste Management Strategy process to clearly define a set of standards, which could then be enforced under NEMA. At present the monitoring was not very effective, and was being done by local authorities on a voluntary basis.

Mr Greyling, from the NGO Globe, noted that the USA position was controlled by a motion from the US parliament, stating that the USA would not ratify unless all countries, whether developed or developing, had equal obligations. At the conference of parties, the USA always had the largest team, often around 150 people, and weighed down the progress and discussions.

The chair thanked Mr Lengoasa for the briefing, and asked Dr Tiba, the Chief Director for Biodiversity and Heritage, to present a briefing on the Biological Diversity issues.

Mr Tiba indicated that his briefing would focus on putting international conventions relating to Biological Diversity in context. He stated that there were four key conventions relating to biodiversity. These were:
The Convention on Biological Diversity
The Ramsar Convention
The Convention on Migratory Species.

The Conservation on Biological Diversity (CBD) was the key convention, and gave sovereign rights to parties over their biodiversity. The convention has three key aims, these being the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of the components of ecological systems, and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits of biodiversity.

The white Paper on Biodiversity and the Sustainable use of Natural Resources was the key guide for South Africa policy. The white paper establishes six key aims. The first is the conservation of landscapes, ecosystems, species and genetic material that contribute to biodiversity. The second aim is the sustainable use of the resources while minimising adverse affects. Thirdly, benefits of the resources need to be analysed. Fourthly, the expansion of human capacity to utilise resources. The fifth aim is to create conditions and incentives for conservation policies. Finally, to co-operate and related to the international community.

In implementing the White Paper, many projects were being undertaken outside of the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism. These include the working for Water Project, the Genetically Modified organisms act, the Indigenous Knowledge programme, the Foresight Project, and the Community Based natural resources Project.

Within the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, there was a CITES project, a Clearing House mechanism, a biodiversity strategy and action plan, with envisaged legislation, and a systematic reclassification of protected areas.

The Chair noted that the meeting was well timed in terms of lobbying for funding, as they constituted a large lobby group. The Chair welcomed the Director General to the meeting.

Mr September (African National Congress) noted the concern over genetically engineered foods, and suggested that maybe the Portfolio Committee should be briefed on the issue.

The Department stated they would be happy to provide more information on the issue.

The chair took a further round of questions from the members. A representative from GLOBE introduced the organisation briefly, before the meeting was closed.

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