Department briefing on amendment to the Nairobi Convention; with Minister

Environment, Forestry and Fisheries

22 March 2022
Chairperson: Ms F Muthambi (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Amended Nairobi Convention for the Protection, Management and Development of the Marine and Coastal Environment of the Western Indian Ocean (Amended Nairobi Convention)

In a virtual meeting, the Committee was briefed by the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment (DFFE) on South Africa’s proposed tabling of accession to the amended Nairobi Convention for the protection, management, and development of the marine as well as coastal environment of the western Indian Ocean, to Parliament for approval.

The Department provided information about the Convention, including the historical background and why the amendment was necessary. This was followed by a discussion on the purpose for tabling the accession of the amendment, the key obligations the Convention was currently undertaking, the strategic focus and the implemented activities thus far.

Members raised concerns about issues such as the late payment of dues to the Convention, the mangroves dying rapidly in the St Lucia area, and what was being done about criminal activities that were affecting the environment.

A Member was interested in obtaining a breakdown of all the projects since the Department's presentation had referred to various projects the Convention had implemented. Members also wanted to establish how related or different the amended Nairobi Convention was to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Overall, the Committee was impressed and expressed its support for the accession of the amended Convention of Nairobi, which it would submit to the National Assembly as a motion. 

Meeting report

The Chairperson conveyed apologies from Mr N Paulsen (EFF), who was still travelling back to Cape Town and might join the meeting later. Another apology received was from Mr N Capa (ANC) who was in another meeting. An apology has also been received from Ms Nomfundo Tshabalala, Director-General (DG), Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment (DFFE). Mr N Singh (IFP) said he also had to travel and therefore would depart early but would try logging on.

Committee Members expressed difficulty in accurately hearing the Chairperson due to network issues.

Ms Barbara Creecy, Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, summarised what the Chairperson had said regarding the Convention. It had come into effect originally in the 1990s, and South Africa had originally acceded to it in 2003. During the period when the Convention was amended, South Africa did not accede and the Department would like to rectify that and was asking for support from the Committee.

The Minister introduced Dr Lisolomzi Fikizolo, Chief Director: Specialist Monitoring Services, and Mr Andre Share, Chief Directorate: Operation Phakisa, to conduct the presentation. She said that additional information had been added in the presentation which addressed the financial implications.  

Amendment to Nairobi Convention

Mr Share said the core purpose of the presentation was to request Parliament to approve South Africa’s accession to the amended Nairobi Convention for the protection, management, and development of the marine, as well as coastal environment, of the western Indian Ocean.

This Convention had originally been developed in 1985 under the United Nations Environment Programme's (UNEP's) Regional Seas programme. It had been established with the intent of directly addressing coastal issues as part of the Stockholm Agenda. Therefore, the overall objective was to achieve sustainable management and use of the marine and coastal environment.

The Convention had come into force in 1996, and South Africa had acceded in 2003. Currently, there were ten contracting parties.

Dr Fikizolo explained the purpose of tabling.

On 31 March 2010, the contracting parties of the Nairobi Convention, in terms of Article 19 of the Convention, had amended the original text of the Convention. The parties had correctly followed the procedure laid out in terms of Article 19 for the amendment and adoption.

The overall amendment of the original convention was based on the fact that the original Convention that was developed in 1985 did not cater for the new and emerging uses of the coastal and marine environment, and therefore it needed to be updated in order to address the current challenges.

The amended Nairobi Convention was adopted at the Conference of Plenipotentiaries on 1 April 2010 and was open for signature from then until 1 April 2011 by the contracting parties. South Africa had not signed the Convention during the signature period. The core reason was they could not timeously finalise internal approval processes. The country, however, had remained a member of the Nairobi Convention and actively participated in its activities, and in terms of Article 31, it intended to accede to the Amended Convention.

The key obligations of the Convention include:

  • To develop measures to prevent, reduce, combat, and control pollution of the Convention area (land-based and offshore sources).
  • To prevent, reduce, combat and control coastal erosion.
  • To co-operate in the field of scientific research, monitoring and assessment of pollution.
  • To establish systems for environmental impact assessment.

Dr Fikizolo also mentioned the activities the Convention had implemented thus far. These included executing the Western Indian Ocean Strategic Action Programme (WIOSAP) project that was implemented by the UNEP and funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) for a period of five years for the land-based sources and activities.

There had been an improvement in the water quality in the Swartkops and Buffalo River estuary projects in Gqeberha and Buffalo city respectively, which had been funded through grants of R1.8 million for two years.

Discussion

Mr Singh commented that many countries were not paying their dues. He asked the Department what implications this had on the overall implementation of the Convention when countries did not pay their dues. 

Mr D Bryant (DA) asked for an elaboration of the Swartkops project, and whether its waste was generated by the Motherwell Canal. How was the Convention measured in terms of performance? In addition, if obligations in the past were not fulfilled, what was the assurance going forward?

Ms A Weber (DA) requested a specific breakdown of all the projects by name -- how many there were, as well as the year in which each began. She asked how successful the Convention was with the key obligations. What was being done about the criminal activities, and were there resources available to deal with it? How much money was needed to adhere to the key obligations? Was there an 88% loss of mangroves -- what was the plan to increase them?

Ms C Phillips (DA) asked about the money set aside for the projects and where it was being accounted for. Was the accounting of the finances made to the Portfolio Committee or to the board of the Nairobi Convention? Could the Department afford the membership fees?  She also raised concerns about the mangroves, especially those in St Lucia, as they were dying at an astronomical rate and being taken over by reeds.

The Chairperson commented to the Minister that the Committee should benefit from the Convention. She asked which policy and institutional reforms had been undertaken in response to South Africa’s participation in the original Nairobi Convention. Which policy projects had been harmonised? How related or different was the amended Nairobi Convention to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)? This was considering that the amended Nairobi Convention focused on ships, pollution caused by dumping, pollution from land-based sources, airborne pollution, and environmental damage from engineering activities, among other things.

Department's responses

The Department responded on the matter of countries not paying their dues. When it came to the system of procedures for the organisation, there was a meeting that took place every two years called the Conference of Parties (COP). However, in-between that period, the organisation had a secretariat that liaised with all focal points of the member states in the Nairobi Convention. The matter of non-payment had been raised from time to time, and there was also was consideration of the inequalities among countries when looking at an approach to the matter. At the current moment, there were no sanctions in place except to encourage countries to pay. There had been some instances where one found that some countries would not pay for a period of about three years, but end up paying after that.

Regarding the funding of projects that were managed by the organisation, the money was not entirely from contributions but was often from funds given to the organisation’s various global environmental facilities.  For example, the UPEP's contributions mostly served the purpose of running the organisation, with the gaps filled by donor funding. The organisation was among the top-performing in the continent with regard to its objectives.

On the matter of late payments from South Africa’s side, Covid-19 regulations' hard lockdown had had an impact on how the office functioned, and that was the main reason why South Africa had paid its contribution late.

In response to Mr Bryant’s question about the "Source to Sea," the project was already underway. It was based at the Swartkops River in Gqeberha.

To elaborate more on what was happening in the Swartkops River, there was a national programme where the Department, through Operation Phakisa, had been able to establish links as well as develop a laboratory with the Walter Sisulu University. This was in an area that was known as the Transkei gap, where there had previously been no facilities of significant scientific importance. This gap had to be included in this administration, and with coastal provinces, areas had been identified. Swartkops had been identified as one of the most polluted rivers. Scientific data was needed to establish a baseline through the laboratory on aspects like water and tissue samples being taken to examine the state of the river. When red flags were raised by the laboratory, the matter was attended to. In addition, a meeting had recently been held with stakeholders regarding progress. If the Committee Members wanted a detailed report on the Swartkops River, it would be provided.

Regarding the Chairperson’s question on which policy projects had been harmonised, there were none yet, as they were still in the pipeline, with discussions underway, and once finalised they would be communicated. There was one meeting every two years, and in between that there were inter-sessional discussions which would usually be about COP decisions. This included, for example, protocols on mangrove or blue carbon. There would be discussions where experts in the field from each country were invited, and the Secretariat of the Nairobi Convention would also be present and identify areas where there was a need for prioritisation.

At COP11, the organisation would be able to report on developments.

Further questions

Mr Bryant requested the documents of the projects with all the specifics. This was to properly measure how well these projects were being rolled out, as well as implemented. The follow-up question was the impact of the late payment -- had other payments also been impacted by the lockdown? The matter was concerning, and thus needed to be investigated.

Ms Werber said she was thankful that Dr Fikizolo had clarified the projects matter, and apologised for any misunderstandings.

The Minister suggested that Mr Bryant’s question on the other late payments be responded to in writing, because Dr Fikizolo may not be able to answer it from a line function point of view.

Department's response

Dr Fikizolo was grateful for the compliment given by Mr Bryant, and assured the Committee that the organisation would respond in writing to his question about the late payments. The breakdown of the projects documents with all specifics would also be provided to the Committee.

The Chairperson mentioned this was the shortest meeting the Committee had had and extended a vote of thanks to the Minister and the speakers.

Mr Bryant asked for confirmation that the Committee supported the Nairobi Convention, as it had been proposed as an agenda item by the Chairperson at the beginning of the meeting.

The Chairperson apologised to the Committee, as she had forgotten. She proposed that the support for the accession be formalised, and that it be submitted for adoption to the National Assembly as a motion.

Ms Weber seconded the Chairperson’s proposal, which was adopted.

The meeting was adjourned. 

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