Climate Change: Department briefing


07 August 2007
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Meeting Summary

A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.

Meeting report

7 August 2007

Chairperson: Mr L Zita (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Department PowerPoint presentation Part1, Part2, Part3, Part4, Part5 & Part6
[PMG is awaiting the original of this document]

Audio recording of the meeting

The Committee was impressed with the Department’s presentation which gave a detailed account of climate change in a South African context, as well as the international negotiations around emission reduction. Members touched on a number of issues in the discussion that followed. These included carbon trading, carbon capturing and storage, the relationship between the trade negotiations and issues of climate change, adaptation strategies, the need for an African negotiation platform, the progress as far as the Clean Development Mechanism, the impact that developments such as golfing estates had on the environment, clean technologies as well as the possibility of a technology fund that would make clean technologies more accessible to developing countries.

The Department made clear that there was a need to promote and develop strategies of adaptation to climate change and not only focus on how to prevent it. Using cleaner and clean technologies now would greatly reduce the negative consequences that might only be felt decades from now. For the Department, key issues included: affordability of clear technologies, the implementation of adaptation strategies, “climate proofing” infrastructure and community investments, technology transfer as well as financial and technological support, knowledge and access to information.

Chairperson’s opening remarks
The Chairperson said that the misguided belief that climate change was nothing but an invention by “some scientists” had caught up with everyone including those “in the White House”. Everyone now accepted that climate change was an important issue and one that humanity had to grapple with. A meeting convened by the US President would be held in Washington in October and its was expected that it would result in a new commitment by the United States on the issue. He added that although developing countries could not be held solely or mainly responsible for climate change, they had to play a role in addressing it. He hoped that the Department presentation would provide the Committee with greater clarity on the matter.

Department presentation
Ms Joanne Yawitch, Deputy Director General (DDG), Environmental Quality and Protection and Ms Judy Beaumont, senior policy advisor for climate change, represented the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT). She noted the presence of a South African Weather Services delegation at the meeting.

Ms Yawitch thought it important to explain the context in which South Africa’s climate change activities took place. She pointed out that although South Africa was a small country, there was quite a high level of national consensus on the importance of the issue and the need to address it.

The South African government managed the work on climate change through a number of clusters. These included an inter-ministerial committee (IMC) on climate change, supported by a body of senior officials who did the preparatory work as well as, very importantly, a National Committee on Climate Change (NCCC), which was an inter-sectoral forum.

All Cabinet decisions on climate change were first processed through the IMC. The NCCC was the most significant body in the efforts to address climate change in South Africa. It consisted of all government departments that did work in the area of climate change, representatives from industry and business, the different science bodies, academics as well as a number of civil society organisations. It was a broad-based coordination forum that acted as a kind of clearing house that sifted through all the information. Within the space of about 18 months, the forum had grown from about 20 to 70 participants.

Ms Beaumont made the presentation, which gave a detailed account of the DEAT’s approach to addressing climate change in South Africa as well as South Africa’s position in the international negotiations. She detailed the potential impact climate change would have on South Africa, the progress in the field of science and economics, South Africa’s priorities in relations to international negotiations, recent developments in the international arena as well as South Africa’s Long Term Mitigation Scenarios (see presentation).

Ms J Chalmers (ANC) was sure that Members would benefit from the presentation which she thought was clear, informative and instructive. She noted that there were a few aspects that had not been touched on much in the presentation. The presentation had for instance not really spoken of carbon trading when it touched on matters of mitigation and adaptation. She asked if carbon trading was really a mitigating factor and not simply a way for developed nations to pay their way while still continuing to emit as much greenhouse gases as they always had. She wondered if it was something the Committee ought to be concerned about and sought more clarity on this matter of which the Minister van Schalkwyk had spoken “quite positively”.

Mr A Mokoena (ANC) said that the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) was gradually disappearing from public awareness and sought more information as to its viability.

Ms Yawitch agreed that a philosophical debate about the merits of the CDM could be had. She explained that the CDM set up a carbon trading system that could be interpreted as allowing developed countries to carry on polluting and that resources went into developing countries where greenhouse gas emissions were not so high.

The DEAT’s problem with the CDM related to the difficulty Africa had as far as accessing it. CDM figures across the world indicated that in Africa there were fewer projects than anywhere else. Of the African countries, South Africa had the most such projects. The complexity, cost and management of the mechanism, the capacity needed to mobilise projects and the scale of projects all presented a challenge. In addition the transaction cost for CDM was also quite high. Africa had in recent years been negotiating for the reform of the CDM system so that benefits would “flow in a much easier and less costly way towards the African continent”.

Ms Chalmers, stating that growth and development should happen in an “emission-conscious” manner that would not result in regret later, was very concerned about the sprouting of various developments such as golf estates across South Africa. The country’s coastline was covered in such developments. She wondered what was being done to ensure that these developments and construction did not contribute to the emission of greenhouse gases.

Ms Yawitch said that as the presentation indicated it was necessary to consider the long-term impact of the technology choices we made now. There was already a high concentration of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere and that presence already had a negative impact. One had to deal with what had already happened as well as with what could potentially happen in the future. It was of critical importance to consider the impact actions taken in the present would have 20 to 50 years later. This was part of the reason why measures to address climate change often had very long time frames.

Issues of low carbon technology, renewable energy sources and clean technology were key to South Africa because the technology choices we made today would move us in a particular direction. The more renewable energy we invested in, the more energy efficient the industry would become and the less emissions there would be. Such a scenario would make the country better able to combat global warming.

Mr G Morgan (DA) agreed that the presentation was good and appreciated the fact that it considered national, local and personal efforts to address issues of climate change. He was aware that the DEAT considered the effects climate change had on poverty reduction but was surprised that that was not articulated in the presentation. He suggested that when talking to policy makers, the link between climate change and poverty alleviation be raised. Water availability, extreme weather events etc could undermine the strides South Africa had already made inn terms of poverty alleviation.

Ms Yawitch thought the comment important. Variability, extreme weather events, changes in agriculture and climate disasters could have a devastating effect on livelihoods. The Rooibos farmers in a Clanwilliam community project were finding that they had to change their methods to cope with the changing climate. She emphasised that one had to make sure that community based agriculture as well as infrastructure investments were not jeopardised. One had to respond to all issues around poverty and development and had to ensure that investments were “climate proofed”. Such efforts were already being made in the Western Cape.

Mr Morgan thought the quote by President Mbeki was a fitting end to the presentation and he said that he would like to see that climate change was mentioned in the next State of the Nation address. All the relevant ministers would then have to make their voices heard on the matter too. He would also like to see that a greater number of Ministers taking part in climate change awareness raising campaigns even before policies around the issue were revealed.

Mr Morgan said that technology transfer was important to developing countries and that the Annex 1 countries and China particularly focused on it. He asked whether the DEAT could expand on South Africa’s stance on it and the development of a global technology fund as a way of contributing to the payment of the transfers as well as South Africa’s response to patent rights of technology. He knew that some other countries were seeking concessions.

Ms Yawitch agreed that useful technologies existed in the in the western world and that they had patents that were very expensive. A way had to be found to ensure the dissemination of technologies across the world. Affordability was a major challenge. India had suggested a ‘technology fund’ that would allow developing countries to gain access to technology. A big part of the solution would found in not only the new path breaking technologies, but also in the simple cleanup technologies that were already in existence. There were also more ambitious long-term technologies that ranged from nuclear fusion to the hydrogen economy in which South Africa was participating. She agreed that technology transfer was a key issue.

Mr Morgan noted that the presentation outlined a two-track process leading up to 2012 and after. He knew that due to the historical responsibility developed countries shared for climate change South Africa did not support binding targets, but asked if DEAT envisaged binding targets by 2020.

Ms Yawitch explained that it was believed that developing countries should do what was appropriate for them - this may or may not include taking on binding targets. Much of the work DEAT was doing at this point in time was aimed at determining what South Africa could do as an economy. If they country was to make a commitment in terms of targets, it was vital that it understood what it was capable of.
Mr Mokoena wondered where DEAT had sourced the information reflected in the presentation. He suggested that the sources should enjoy global authority so that Members were not confused by conflicting reports.

Ms Yawitch informed the Committee that the figures came from the international panel on climate change. Once the greenhouse gas inventory had been completed the data would have to be updated. She assured Members that the DEAT used the standard international figures.

Mr Mokoena was surprised that South Africa was thought to be the biggest emitter of greenhouse gas. The US was known to emit 75% of greenhouse gases. He thought it important to make clear the context in which statistics were calculated.

Ms Yawitch agreed and explained that during negotiations everyone interpreted things in a way that would further their interests. China for instance wanted greenhouse gas emissions to be measured by head or population size - they had a much bigger population and therefore they would have a much lower average. Brazil argued that greenhouse gas emissions should be measured according to who historically bore responsibility. This complicated method would stretch as far back as the beginning of colonial times and would take into account which colonial power was in power at different stages of history. Other countries wanted to have it worked out across GDP as that would work to their advantage. South Africa’s long-term mitigation scenario planning was aimed at allowing it to engage with all the different models within the international negotiations. South Africa though their mitigation planning was developing a good understanding of what their situation was and could thus determine how each model would impact on its own situation.

She concurred that the figures appeared false in relation to the US’ emissions. South Africa had a small population and was quite dependent on coal. This meant that it was a high emitter – it was small in population size small size but energy intensive. Brazil had a much higher hydroelectric power usage and thus did not emit as much greenhouse gases, but had much deforestation.

Mr Mokoena thought the information very interesting and pointed to the importance of contextualising figures when making presentations to the Committee.

Mr Mokoena pointed out that prior to the bigger, international agreement, the Kyoto protocol, Africa had its own version called the Bamako Convention. It focused on the African situation and gave African countries the opportunity to amongst themselves, discuss issues of relevance before going to a global forum. He suggested that that convention be revived so that the challenges climate change posed could be driven home, rather than to get lost in the global debate.

Ms Yawitch pointed out that the Bamako Convention dealt with issues related to waste and not specifically with greenhouse gas emissions. Over the past few years much work had been done internationally to develop a common African platform as a basis from which to negotiate internationally. At the annual Convention of Parties (COPs) there was now also a meeting of African negotiators. Before the last COPs there was a meeting of African ministers – a document providing the stance from which Africa negotiated was prepared.

She assured the Committee that African countries were starting to develop a common African platform as the basis of its negotiations. During the meeting itself African negotiators met, and often if for some reason they did not negotiate as G77, African negotiators negotiated as part of an African bloc. She reminded Members that there were very different views within Africa too but that there were certain issues on which African countries shared a common view.

Mr Mokoena also applauded the manner in which the presentation sought to draw ordinary people to contribute to turning the tide of climate change by making small changes to their day-to-day lives and energy consumption.

Mr Mokoena requested the representatives from the South African Weather Services (SAWS) to comment on the issues DEAT had raised in its presentation.

Dr Jonas Mphepya, General Manager Operations (SAWS), explained that SAWS monitored the weather and interpreted what they observed. At the moment they were not developing models. Currently they were monitoring the greenhouse gases at Cape Point. That information gave them an indication of what was happening in the atmosphere. Data from the Cape Point site was used to produce all the studies and reports that were written on the subject.

SAWS also monitored parameters like temperature and rainfall across the whole country and had been doing so for ages. That data made it possible to note and monitor weather trends. The recapitalisation project would allow them to explore the adaptation projects. This would be used to warn communities via their quarterly seasonal forecasts, which predicted climate events. SAWS would be happy to make a presentation to the Committee.

Mr S Rasmeni (ANC) welcomed the presentation and sought clarity on the statement that human socio-economic activity also contributed to emissions.

Ms Yawitch explained that human socio-economic activity referred to developmental activities that included everything from forest clearing in the Amazon and Central Africa, in order to provide timber for logging, to building more power stations and to industrial activities. Climate changes had always been happening, but the extent to which human activity had increased had resulted in the massive change. She emphasised that developing countries could not considering halting their development but had to make sure that the manner in which growth took place did not exacerbate the problem.

Mr Rasmeni asked whether Government departments had embarked on campaigns whereby the reduction of emissions could be brought about.

Ms Yawitch responded that the Department of Science and Technology (DST) did, as was required in terms of the Kyoto Convention, a technology needs assessment in relation to climate change. That department was busy working on a climate change research and development strategy, which should be finalised by the end of the year. This strategy would give direction to South Africa’s negotiations in terms of technology.

The Chairperson sought an update on the global debate around adaptation and asked what the specific measures poorer countries needed to put in place to adapt to climate change.

Ms Beaumont said that it was difficult to say whether the debate around adaptation was being won. An important start was made at the Nairobi COPS in December 2006 where the five-year programme on adaptation was negotiated and agreed upon. One needed to bear in mind that that programme was a five-year one and that adaptation was a 10 to 15 year long process. Essentially the programme was about research and not implementation. The negotiations with in the UNCCC were packaged into all negotiations that related to research and technology and implementation. Adaptation still fell within the first category.

The Five-year programme had a number of sub categories and called on all parties to comment on all aspects of adaptation. The most recent request was for all information on adaptation practices within countries. That exercise had been useful in that South Africa for the first time listed all the adaptation programmes it ran. While the list was impressive it also gave a clear indication of the challenges that lay ahead. South Africa was still in the early stages of its adaptation interventions. Ms Beaumont emphasised the importance of the exchange of information among countries.

The next step was for the G77 countries to argue for a formal expert group on adaptation. There needed to be a focal point on adaptation so that it could be highlighted, as was the case with mitigation. From an African perspective the urgency was on implementation. Climate change would have an impact that would require adaptation that went beyond normal development programmes. It would require financial and technological support as well as knowledge and access to information. The adaptation argument eventually had to be shifted into an implementation stage.

The Chairperson asked whether any initiatives towards a technology fund had been developed. He also sought comment on whether South Africa, India and Brazil could together be able to look into developing and sharing clean technologies. He added that those developed countries that wanted to help might even be able to join such an initiative.

Ms Beaumont explained that the G77 position was that there needed to be a global technology acquisition fund. The patent or the intellectual property was often costly and thus there needed to be a global fund. The argument for such a fund had not yet been won.

Within the India, Brazil South Africa (IBSA) partnership, there had been a number of attempts to form an IBSA climate change working group. There was a framework for such cooperation. It included provisions for exchange of information and best practices, South-South cooperation on technology development, transfer and partnership, as well as cooperation in negotiation. The forum was not making much progress at present and this could be ascribed to India‘s concerns about “where the international agreements were going”. The DEAT was working with the DST, which had a much broader IBSA technology framework.

Ms Yawitch added that South Africa did have particular partnerships on climate change. It was part of a sustainable development dialogue with the United Kingdom (UK). Other government departments such as the Department of Minerals and Energy (DME) and DST had technology relationships and partnerships.

The current US administration’s strategy saw climate change as an issue of technology and initiated many partnerships, which they set up to promote technology-based solutions. South Africa participated but made clear that its participation was not an alternative the multilateral system.

Referring to South Africa’s facilitative role between the countries of the North and the South, the Chairperson asked for clarity on what South Africa was arguing.

Ms Beaumont thought it important to understand why South Africa was able to play a facilitative role. South Africa was playing a strong role in the argument for Africa developing an African platform from which to negotiate. All climate change negotiation positions went through a G77 negotiation process.

South Africa also had good relationships with many of the EU countries. The country had to push so that the pace of negotiations matched the urgency of the matter. The road map for negotiations included reaching agreement on the more ambitious emission reduction targets for developed countries set for the second commitment period. The G77 countries were saying that at the 2007 COPS in Bali there had to be agreement on what had to be negotiated by when so that there was no gap between the fist and second commitment periods.

She urged members not to forget that climate change was very complex and that countries had different development agendas. The G77 itself comprised countries with vastly different development agendas. Any deal had to be structured in such a manner that all parties felt that they had given something and gotten something. That was what negotiation was about.

The Chairperson asked whether it was possible to link the activity of the COPS with that at the WTO. One could argue that if the WTO were to reduce subsidies several countries would be able to adapt to climate change better.

In Ms Beaumont’s opinion climate change per se was not influencing the negotiations at the WTO level. Negotiations there were at quite a difficult stage and it did not appear as though much headway had been made. She agreed that there was a direct link between climate change and trade. The WTO was about trade at the moment and the negotiators there were quite single-minded about that. The WTO Trade and Environment Committee looked specifically at defining what an ‘environmental good’ was. She explained that it comprised an array of different clean or cleaner technologies. The WTO negotiations were about reducing the tariff of environmental goods. Although climate change was also about trade and economics the focus at the WTO had so far been on trade only.

The Chairperson asked the DEAT to comment on what could be expected from the upcoming meeting in Washington as well as from a new US administration.

Ms Beaumont responded that it was difficult to know what to expect. A preparatory meeting would start in Vienna on 28 August. South Africa was hoping that at that inter-sessional meeting there would be progress on the dialogue, as well as on the Kyoto emission reduction targets. It would provide an opportunity for the big developing countries to assess what message they would like to get across at the Washington meeting. It was becoming very important for those countries to articulate what actions they were already taking towards sustainable development as well as towards reducing and using cleaner technologies. South Africa would want to leave the Washington meeting believing that the initiative had contributed to the multiparty negotiations under the UNCCC.

The Chairperson said that South Africa had embarked on a very ambitious programme around infrastructure development that amounted to R400 billion. He asked whether the Government had insisted that cleaner technologies be used in these developments.

Ms Yawitch explained that the Eskom programme had received wide publicity. Initially the Eskom programme had had very little around renewable energy. Now there was talk of developing a solar energy power station in the Northern Cape and a wind farm in the Western Cape. Renewable energy was thus slowly coming into Eskom, not so much to combat climate change but rather to address the country’s energy capacity needs. There was even talk of Eskom through the roll out of a big programme subsidising the use of solar geysers in households. Eskom reported that its shift to nuclear energy was an attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. DEAT’s stance was that cleaner technology and the more efficient running of industrial processes would have a big impact across the economy. They looked at where reductions could be made across all sectors.

Dr Cachalia thanked the presenters for an informative briefing and thought it encouraging that national and international committees had been established to deal with the challenge of climate change. He was interested in what percentage of budgets had been set aside to implement mitigating methods.

Dr Cachalia noted that the presentation indicated that taking action now would require about 1% of the gross domestic product (GDP). That meant that in 20 years time it would cost about 20-30% of the GDP and that was a frightening scenario for developing economies.

Ms Yawitch said that the Stern Report showed that implementing mitigating measures now would be more beneficial than doing so later. In thirty years time the consequences would be much greater. The report made a political argument for taking action now. In the long run dealing with the displacement caused by extreme climate events would be greater. Planning now would be more economical.

Dr Cachalia asked whether DEAT thought that climate change featured strongly enough on the African Agenda.

Dr Cachalia asked if the carbon capturing mechanisms as used in Australia might be useful in South Africa. The Chairperson added that the Committee would visit Australia to investigate the carbon capturing mechanism.

Ms Yawitch said that Australia and a number of other countries had done much work on carbon capture and storage. At the moment it was at the research and pilot implementation stage and the question was when the technology would be considered commercially viable and ready for roll out. As she understood it, it was very dependant in geology. The South African National Energy Research Institute (SANERI) was assessing whether the country’s geology was such that it was conducive to the storage and use of carbon. Eskom was not so much involved with carbon capture and storage but was running an underground coal gasification work that was still in the pilot and experimental stage. South African coal companies that own mines in Australia were involved in that country’s processes.

She added that South Africa and Australia had a bilateral partnership around climate change. Although South Africa and Australia did not necessarily agree on everything, there were a set of objective factors within the energy mix of both economies and biodiversity. Both were Southern Hemisphere countries and thus had much to learn from each other on climate issues. The study tour the Committee would undertake would be useful and the DEAT would be pleased to share information with the Committee.

Mr Mokoena said that he was making a case for the resuscitation of Bamako Convention. He felt that that forum should be reintroduced so that its leaders and experts could thrash out African issues relating to climate change before they were aired on a global platform. This could only improve Africa’s negotiations.

Ms Yawitch thought that the Member’s concerns could be followed up. The African Union (AU) dealt with climate issues in its African Ministers Conference on the environment, which was part of the AU structure. South Africa would chair the committee in 2008 and could then use it as an opportunity to strengthen the discussion generally but also within the African context.

Mr Morgan sought greater clarity on the greenhouse gases inventory of which not much was heard anymore. He knew that in October 2005 a memorandum of understanding had been signed at Gallagher Estate. He understood the need for such an inventory and wondered when the first report could be expected. He asked if industry players were now measuring the gases they were emitting with the view of releasing that information. He also asked if DEAT oversaw the initiative and whether they measured the smaller emitters who were also numerous in number.

Ms Yawitch said that for the long term mitigation scenario planning they had an emissions trajectory. It was a statistical model based on existing information. They had appointed service providers who were doing the counting. The inventory ought to be complete by April or May 2008. Internationally there were greenhouse gas protocols for particular economic sectors. These protocols determined how greenhouse gases in different sectors were counted. South Africa’s counting was done in relation to these protocols.

The smaller emitters’ amounts were essentially estimated by taking into consideration factors such as the size of the sector, the outputs in growth and economic outputs. It was a quite complicated process. It was a difficult sector to deal with. The transport sector was the most difficult to deal with as it contained a variety of emissions. That sector required much more work and expertise but other sectors were reasonably easy to deal with.

Prof Renais Dube of SAWS added that SAWS in partnership with DEAT would host the Air Quality and Information System which was the first national air quality database and would include all kinds of emissions including greenhouse gases. It spoke directly to the Air Quality Act (2004). SAWS would house it and they had already formulated the MOU that outlined responsibilities. DEAT was responsible for pooling the data from the monitoring stations. A company had been appointed to help them run the process. In October SAWS would undertake a benchmarking visit to Australia. SAWS would be employing client liaison officers to supply information and technical expertise to clients.

Ms Chalmers referring to the Waste Management Bill that would shortly appear before the Committee asked if climate change issues would be reflected in it.

Ms Yawitch said that climate change was part of the waste issue and was linked to the notion of getting the planet to the point that one had sustainable patterns of consumption and production. Patterns of consumption and production needed to change and the imbalance between North and South had to be addressed. The solution could not be found in technology only. At the moment there was over-consumption in the North and many resources went into sustaining those areas. Waste management addressed sustainable consumption and production but did not address climate change directly.

The Chairperson thanked the DEAT and SAWS for their input.

The meeting was adjourned.


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