International Conventions: hearings


30 August 2000
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report

This Report is a Contact Natural Resource Information Service
Taking Parliament to People, and People to Parliament


The aim of this report is to summarise the main events at the meeting and identify the key role players. This report is not a verbatim transcript of proceedings.

30 August 2000

Documents handed out:
1. Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT) - International Conventions and Agreements on Environmental Issues
2. Overview on the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development

NOTE: Presentation notes and additional documents can be found on the Contact Website ( in the Documents Section!

The first day of the hearings started with an overview on the DEAT strategic priorities and future direction by the Director-General (DG), Dr Crispian Olver. The DG asked members for advice in prioritising conventions as the Department's limited resources need to be focused on the issues most relevant to South Africans.
The first presentation was on the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development, presented by Mr Paul Maclons, Chief Director within the DEAT. The hearings then turned to Biodiversity and the various conventions relating to this topic. They included:
- The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD);
- Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES);
- Ramsar Convention (Wetlands);
- Bonn Convention (Conservation of migratory species of wild animals);
- Convention on Desertification.

The section on biodiversity was presented by Dr Nombasa Tsengwa, the Deputy Director General. The hearings then moved on to the International Conventions dealing with Atmospheric Protection, Chemicals and Waste. The presentation was led by Mr Jerry Lengoasa, a Chief Director within the Department. His discussion included the following conventions:
- United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC);
- Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs);
- Rotterdam Prior Informed Consent Convention (PIC);
- Basel Convention (Transboundary movement of hazardous waste);
- Montreal Protocol (protection of ozone layer)
Each presentation was followed by discussion where both MPs and NGO's were asked to comment and ask questions on the Conventions.

Dr Olver's slide presentation - introduction ( - documents section)

The DG prefaced his comments by stating that these hearings would set the benchmark for the amount of reporting needed, as specified by Section 26(i) of the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA) of 1998. NEMA states that the Minister must report to Parliament on all international agreements.
South Africa, according to the DG, is involved in the negotiation or implementation of nearly 40 conventions and agreements dealing with the environment. They are all listed in Document 1(above). The costs to DEAT are approximately 200 trips per annum (3.5 million Rand in travel costs) and approximately 10 million Rand in membership fees and dues. In the SADC region there are also seven conventions to which SA is a party to.

Dr Olver posed the question to the committee members whether they thought the UN system disempowers developing countries. This question is based on the fact that among the developing nations SA is doing quite well and yet SA is still struggling to meet the obligations of the conventions. Within the UN design the tendency is to multiply conventions rather than rationalising them. There are also worries that the perks involved with attending international deliberations is leading to the promulgation of an increasing number of conventions. What is needed is a balance between effective management of SA's internal system and the need for international agreements. The DG did not think that balance has been achieved. Unless we prioritise the conventions we will not be able to service both the conventions and the line functions within the country.

The DG then moved on to discuss the issues of prioritisation, how it is possible and on what criteria this process could be laid. He pointed to a global survey of experts on the most critical environmental problems today that is used by the international community to rationalise the priority placed on certain conventions over others. At the top of this list were such issues as climate change; freshwater scarcity; deforestation and freshwater pollution. What is needed says Dr Olver is to superimpose the SA view on top of these global probleMs Many of the issues that SA considers critical to its development are not given priority. Poverty is fourth last on the list but must be considered one of the most severe environmental problems in SA.

The DG concluded his statements by asking members to think about what criteria should be used in deciding which conventions will become priorities and which will be deemphasized. It is difficult because all are important and the prioritization must be base on the strategic direction and decisions that the country must make.

Mr S Grove (ANC) asked that members try and develop criteria as the presenters discussed the various conventions. Some of the conventions need to be fully participated in as they set the policy direction for the country. Mr Grove asked the presenters to include in their presentations a section on why the conventions benefit SA and reasons that they should be prioritised.

Ms J Semple (Democratic Party) said that in terms of South Africa's priorities, would it not be extremely useful to have a survey of SA experts similar to the global survey discussed above.

Mr September (ANC) noted that many of the deliberations regarding these conventions take place without any participation by NGO's or Members of Parliament. He asked that working groups be arranged that could look at the issues from a more diverse vantage point and these groups could act as SA's representatives at the various meetings.

Ms J. Chalmers (ANC) stated that the Committee would need more information on the capacity of the DEAT to send people to these conventions.

The Chair, Ms G Mahlangu (ANC) noted that universities should also be a part of delegations as they have the technical advice that could benefit the SA delegation in its deliberations.

The United Nations Commission for Sustainable Development, Mr P Maclons, DEAT
The Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) was started as a follow up to the UNCED. Its objectives were to improve international cooperation and to monitor the implementation of Agenda 21. The CSD reports to the UN's Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and the UN General Assembly.

According to Mr Maclons, this agreement is important to SA for the following reasons. Since 1994 all new policies developed in SA have been based on a foundation of sustainable development. Sustainable development aims to synchronize economic, social and environmental factors into a development strategy. The DEAT provides a national monitoring role, ensuring the implementation of the CSD priorities in legislation and regulations (ex. NEMA) and they report at both the national and international levels.

Mr S Grove (ANC) asked what the function of the department is within the CSD.

Mr Maclons answered that the DEAT is the focal point, the coordinator of the government's sustainable development initiatives.

Ms J Chalmers (ANC) asked how the CSD translated into tangible prograMs

Ms Nqodi (ANC) asked what measures were being implemented to engage local government authorities.

Mr Maclons answered that a major training program for local authorities was being driven by the University of Cape Town, USAID and the DEAT. It is a multiyear program designed to raise awareness about local Agenda 21.

Mr Moss (ANC) asked why SA was simply an observer on this committee.

Mr Maclons answered that Africa's seat was on a rotation basis and that observer status was SA's maximum possible involvement at this point in time.

Ms Semple (DPA) asked which government departments were involved and how effective has the cooperation been between them.

Mr Maclons answered that through the Committee on Environmental Cooperation (CEC), mandated by NEMA, there is extensive coordination between the 10 national departments, the 9 provincial environment departments and the South African Local Government Association (SALGA). Mr Maclons stated that he saw great cooperation between government structures within the CEC framework.

Ms Nqodi made the comment that if SA was serious in their desire to host the 2002 Review (Rio +10), are we confident enough that our SD structures are strong enough?

The DG said that this was an extremely valid point, that in fact the larger metropolitan areas are the only ones with strong Agenda 21 structures in place. The rural areas are much further behind in the implementation of the Agenda 21. The Municipal Systems Bill in Parliament right now will have a significant effect on the ability of the local authorities to implement relevant programmes next year is critical, said the DG, as from the elections the local governments have one year to implement Agenda 21 in their area. The CSIR runs programs that will give local officials the capacity to implement Agenda 21 in their municipalities. The goal of the national department is to have the Integrated Development Plan (IDP) of every municipality in tune with Agenda 21 by the end of next year.

Mr De Camara (DP) stated that as is often the case, local authorities are given new obligations and responsibilities but not the resources to fulfill them. Will this be the case?

Mr Maclons pointed to the CSIR program as evidence of the governments support to the local officials. Referring to the point raised by Ms Nqodi, Mr Maclons stated that part of the selection process to host the review in 2002 is the progress of the country in implementing Agenda 21.

Habitat Council made the point that it is critical to include the local officials in the discussions and deliberations of issues that involve them.

Business South Africa asked whether there was a relationship between hosting the review and setting the agenda (is this a position of influence?).

Dr Nombasa Tsengwa - Deputy Director General
See presentation notes - (documents section)

The key convention dealing with biodiversity is the CBD, or Convention on Biological Diversity. The CBD, says Dr Tsengwa, is a mother convention which has many offshoot conventions and protocols. The key conventions are the CBD, CITES and the Convention to Combat Desertification (CCD).

Mr Swart (ACDP) asked to what degree the Department of Agriculture (NDA) is involved in the CCD?

Ms Chalmers (ANC) said that there are many other reasons why the DEAT should be the lead body in the CCD, that it is not simply a land issue.

Dr Tsengwa replied that the role of the DEAT in the CCD is that of coordinator but perhaps that role should be changed, that the NDA should take over.

Mr S. Grove (ANC) asked what is required of SA with respect to the CCD. How are positions developed within SA? What is preventing SA from participating fully in the CCD conferences? Mr Grove asked the Department to comment on his assumption that if the Department concentrated on implementing the Ramsar convention it could focus less on the Bonn convention. He also stated that the CCD is suffering because it is being shuttled around so much.

Ms Khumgeka Njobe from the NDA stated that all the issues the members had raised were actually being dealt with at a grassroots level but that for the most part they were not being reported as part of the implementation of the CCD. There is also a joint standing committee under the CCD that should perhaps be reactivated.

Dr Tsengwa added that in terms of Mr Grove's comments that in SA there are more migratory species than those that inhabit the wetlands. The Bonn convention ensures the protection of all of SA's migratory animals as they cross international borders.

NGO Comments:
Dr T Hofman, National Botanical Institute, stated that he was one of the authors on a recent paper on the causes of desertification in SA. The science has been done and now the requisite programs need to be created to address the problems This convention, says Dr Hofman, needs to find a home, to have one of the Departments take a leadership role.

Environmental Monitoring Group (EMG)
The presenter stated to the committee that since the National Action Plan was launched in 1998 there has been no significant progress. He wished that the NDA would take more of a leadership role, as the DEAT has shuttled the CCD around from DG to DG since 1998.

Lorraine Lotter from Business South Africa (BSA)
BSA would be keen to know how the Department of Trade and Industry has been involved in the negotiation and development of the biodiversity convention. She also wanted to know when the process would begin to ratify the biotechnology safety protocol.

South African Bio-Freeze
Also wanted to know when government was planning on signing the protocol.

SA delegations need to be aware of opportunities for influence in deliberations. Example used of CITES conference where one group cut budget by 20% while other more popular groups were debating other issues. He also stated that more regional cooperation was needed.

Markus Bergerner from TRAFFIC
In one of the presentations the Department had commented that some SA legislations conflicted with the Bonn convention. Which ones? He then commented that the DEAT seemed to take the lead at the conventions but not at the implementation stage.

Dr Tsengwa replied that some of the hesitation in the implementation is due to lack of a clear understanding of who is supposed to take the lead. The DEAT is looking for direction from the Committee on this issue and once this is given the NAP can be implemented more effectively. She stated that in terms of the bio-safety protocol that the NDA was to assume the lead role.

The DG commented that NEMA recognized the cross-cutting nature of environmental management when it set up the CEC. The CEC's first annual report is due soon and should give much insight into the nature of interdepartmental environmental planning.

Dr Tsengwa stated that in terms of the criteria to judge the CBD one must remember that the CBD is a framework convention that produced many others and that it may be evaluated by looking at the NAP (the NAP is itself an obligation to the CBD).

Mr Bergerner from TRAFFIC asked if the CEC's minutes were public.

The DG responded that the minutes are presented to the Minister who must produce an annual report.

The Chair then suggested that perhaps it would be useful if working groups were organized to look at the conventions in more detail. The working groups would include NGO's, Universities, the DEAT and members of the Portfolio Committee.

Atmospheric Protection, Chemicals and Waste
Mr Jerry Lengoasa - Chief Director
Presentation notes can be found at in the documents section.

Mr Lengoasa began with a brief presentation (which can be found on our webpage) followed by questions from the members. The conventions discussed in his presentation were:
- United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
- Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)
- Rotterdam Prior Informed Consent Convention (PIC)
- Basel Convention (Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Waste)
- Montreal Protocol (Protection of the ozone layer)

Mr September (ANC) commented if it would be possible to list all the pollutants for the public. He then asked how much international progress has been made to find a replacement for DDT.

Mr Lengoasa responded by noting that it would be difficult to list all the pollutants because they come in so many forMs In terms of DDT, it is still needed to combat malaria in some areas. No replacement has yet been found, but the levels of DDT use have been dramatically reduced in recent history.

Ms Nqodi (ANC) asked the Department which chemicals are exported and imported by South Africa.

Mr Moss (ANC) asked whose responsibility it is to monitor the waste.

Mr Lengoasa answered the first question by noting that South Africa is mostly a transit country. We are aware of most of the waste that passes through our country, but often ships do not even port so monitoring becomes a little more difficult. In terms of exporting, SA is not yet a signatory to the treaty that deals with this issue.

NGO comment from Groundwork:
Groundwork commented that a database of chemicals is needed in SA along with programs to reduce and control the amount of waste in the country. In terms of the Basel Convention, six years have passed since its inception and yet little has been done in terms of implementation. Our reporting to the international secretariat has also been sub-par. She also noted that as of yet SA has not signed the Basel Ban which prevents developed countries from exporting their waste to developing countries. Groundwork asked that the Department sign this as soon as possible. Her final comment was that all imports and exports of hazardous waste should be made public, possibly via the DEAT website.

Lorraine Lotter from Business South Africa stated that DDT is not manufactured in SA. The limited reporting is due to the lack of a database. Two pilot projects on "waste information systems" are currently being tried in two provinces.

The Chair briefly summed up the days events and the meeting was adjourned for the day.

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