ATC100224: Report Video Conference held with United Kingdom Parliament  on Climate Change

Water and Sanitation



1. Background


The Parliament of the United Kingdom passed legislation that introduces the world’s first long-term legally binding framework to tackle the dangers of climate change.  The legislation also established the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) as an independent body to provide the government with advice on the levels of the first three carbon budgets up to 2020 and to review the 2050 targets.  In addition to providing advice to the United Kingdom (UK) Government on reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), the committee also focuses on the challenges of climate change to the United Kingdom. 


The above initiative is the first of its kind in any Parliament, and the rationale for the Committee on Water and Environmental Affairs to engage the UK Committee on 7 October 2009 was to gain exposure and expertise on the process, mandate, vision, mission and legislative framework on setting up the Committee on Climate Change.  This could be a useful initiative if the Parliament of the Republic of South Africa, in the future, wants to set up a Committee or Unit on Climate Change.  A video conference such as this would allow Members of Parliament who are responsible for legislation and oversight to benchmark themselves against world leaders.


Further objectives for hosting the video conference encompass:


•         The hope is that this would establish a stronger and more representative group that would inject fresh impetus to achieve a deeper cooperation on climate change.  Following the initial video conference, the Portfolio Committee would look at the possibility of holding further video conferences with counterparts in other Parliaments.

•         The conference could also look at building a new paradigm for international cooperation amongst legislators in the future. The strength of the dialogue is that it can, via satellite, bring together legislators in developing and developed countries, and in future, with respected international institutions to discuss and agree on policy and actions that are both politically and practically robust.

•         The purpose of the video conference on Climate Change Dialogue Forum is to facilitate high-level dialogues amongst legislators on key environmental issues.  The ability of the environmental sector to attract greater political attention requires legislators to work together outside of formal international negotiations.  This is especially so, given that legislators can push the boundaries of what can be achieved politically as well as develop new ideas without the constraints of formal government negotiation positions.  Legislators also have a critical role in holding their own governments accountable for internationally negotiated commitments. 








2. Introduction


The following presentations and discussions formed part of the dialogue:


  • The reasons for and background to the initiative.
  • A background to the work of the Association of Western European Parliamentarians for Africa (AWEPA).
  • The work of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), Parliament of the United Kingdom.


2.1     Background on the initiative


One of the critical reasons for the initiative was to engage with the Parliament of the United Kingdom so as to learn from best practices.  The United Kingdom is the only country that has formalised a parliamentary Committee on Climate Change.  Like the Parliament of the United Kingdom, the Parliament of the Republic of South Africa had certain rules and procedures to guide the establishment of specific committees.  As the Parliament of the United Kingdom has already set up a Committee on Climate Change, the expectation is that South Africa could learn from the processes followed, progress made on the achievements and challenges encountered by the United Kingdom. 


The Climate Change Committee is an independent statutory body, which advises government on greenhouse gas emissions.  Initially, this was the core objective, but as the committee processes evolved, it began to look at other aspects of climate change as greenhouse gas emissions were only one component of a bigger issue.  One of the questions that could be asked to the legislators from the United Kingdom was the extent to which the government considered the recommendations, research or the advice of the committee and incorporated it into policy and the legislative framework of the country.


The Climate Change Act of 2008 made the United Kingdom the first country to have a binding long-term framework to cut carbon emissions.   What was critical at the time was that the country did not look at climate change only at a national level, but considered issues at regional and local levels.   Another component of the United Kingdom Climate Change Committee was to investigate the impact of climate change in the United Kingdom and propose adaptation initiatives.


2.2     Association of Western European Parliamentarians for Africa (AWEPA)


AWEPA was initially formed as an anti-apartheid organisation.  Members of Parliament in Europe however felt that they needed to engage and serve as a lobbying organisation in Africa, and in South Africa in particular. The focus, after the demise of apartheid, shifted to the assistance that the organisation could offer with the development of parliamentary democracy in Africa.  The two key areas:  supporting African countries to strengthen capacity at the national level and engaging on thematic areas of concern. 


AWEPA is currently providing assistance to Parliaments in South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Botswana and Namibia.  The current key project is to assist parliaments on key issues of climate change and to ensure that they play a role in Copenhagen.  The work undertaken post-Copenhagen is crucial, in terms of devising domestic legislation and policies aligned to international agreements so as to make the protocols more relevant to conditions at local level.


In terms of the programmatic approach of AWEPA in South Africa, one of the programmes, the Climate Change Mitigation Programme was funded by the British Foreign Commonwealth Office, a regional programme in South Africa.  The aim is to stimulate dialogue at a regional level between the parliaments of the five above-mentioned African countries.  AWEPA facilitated an exchange of best practices with Parliaments of the United Kingdom and other European countries that had already made advances on climate change legislation.  The programme included a research component, with the involvement of the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).  The IIED worked with academic and civil society organisations to deliver a broader picture of climate change legislation and policy within the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) region.  AWEPA considered research findings in formulating regional and national responses to current legislation.  The two-year programme would run up until the end of 2011.  Two regional meetings were planned.  The Climate Change Mitigation Programme was an important regional programme and South Africa was seen as the climate change champion in the region.


2.3     Video Conference with the Parliament of the United Kingdom


In providing input to the South African Members of Parliament, the legislators from the United Kingdom provided an overview of the establishment of the Committee on Climate Change. The Committee on Climate Change is an independent body established under the Climate Change Act to advise the Government on emissions targets, and to report to Parliament on progress made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  The Climate Change Committee priorities were:


·        To provide independent advice to Government on setting and meeting carbon budgets and targets.

·        To monitor progress in reducing emissions and achieving carbon budgets.

·        To conduct independent research and analysis into climate change.

·        To engage with representatives interested in climate change from across the UK in order to share research and information on climate change and gain input into the analysis.


A new Adaptation Sub Committee (ASC) has been set up which will sit within the Climate Change Committee.  The ASC’s function will be to analyse how the UK can adapt to the impacts of climate change.


The Climate Change Act 2008 makes the UK the first country in the world to have a binding long-term framework to cut carbon emissions. It also creates a framework for building the UK’s ability to adapt to climate change.  The Climate Change Bill finished its passage through parliament on 18 November 2007, and was enacted by Royal Assent on 26 November 2008.


The Act creates a new approach to managing and responding to climate change in the UK through:  setting ambitious targets for reducing emissions, taking powers to help achieve them, and strengthening the institutional framework.  It will also enhance the UK’s ability to adapt to the impact of climate change by:


·        Requiring government to assess the risks climate change poses to the UK at least every five years, with the first Climate Change Risk Assessment due in 2011.

·        Requiring government to regularly publish an updated national adaptation programme to address those risks, covering England and reserved matters.  The first statutory programme is expected in 2012.  The Act commits the government to preparing a statutory National Adaptation Programme.  The decision to give the Programme a formal, legal basis demonstrates the Government’s commitment to ensuring that the UK is prepared to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

·        Allowing the Government to require public authorities and statutory undertakers to assess, where necessary, the risks of climate change to their work and set out what action they need to take in response.

·        Requiring Government to produce guidance on how to undertake a climate risk assessment and draw up an adaptation action plan.

·        Establishing an Adaptation Sub-Committee of the Independent Committee on Climate Change in order to oversee progress on the Programme and advice on the Climate Change Risk Assessment.


The Climate Change Act will allow the government to require public authorities and statutory undertakers to undertake an assessment of the risks that climate change poses to their organisations, and develop an action plan.  Currently, there are no standard reporting approaches.  The Act therefore requires the government to produce guidance for such authorities to use.  The guidance will ensure that any adaptation reports requested under the power in the Act are of a consistent quality, and will give information on the different types of approaches that might be applicable to different organisations.


The impact of climate change will vary, even within a relatively local area, and action will need to be taken at the most appropriate level.  This will often be regional and local, rather than national.  In addition, many of the actions that need to be taken early, but have a long-term impact are delivered at local and regional levels.  These include spatial planning and investments in schools, houses, hospitals and roads, and the provision of a wide range of essential public services.


Climate change must be the most important long-term challenge for councils…inaction is not an option. Local government is uniquely placed to tackle climate change with a democratic mandate for action, close proximity to citizens, and a strategic role leading other public, private and voluntary sector partners.


Local authorities are at the forefront of planning for the impact of climate change and picking up the pieces when the weather creates problems for local communities.  The introduction of a new performance indicator on adaptation in the core Local Government Performance Framework helps to raise the profile of adaptation.


3.  Recommendations


Parliamentarians in South Africa enable the implementation of environmental law and governance through the legislative, oversight, publicising and participatory responsibilities.  The South African Parliament, through the work of its various portfolio committees, provides a successful example of this process.  This is illustrated by the work of the Portfolio Committee on Water and Environmental Affairs, which oversees environmental law and ensures good governance.  Furthermore, Members of the Portfolio Committee on Water and Environmental Affairs are particularly obligated to ensure that the oversight and legislative guidance on climate change undertaken by South Africa at all levels, is implemented as it has major repercussions on the future of water, food security, agriculture, health, etc.  Therefore, it is critical that this portfolio is the lead portfolio in undertaking the following:


§         Setting up a multi-party, inter-sectoral committee on climate change and sustainable development in the Parliament of the Republic of South Africa. This committee to engage the 9 provincial legislatures on undertaking collaborative work on climate change issues.  More research needs to be undertaken on whether existing initiatives such as setting up a GLOBE office on climate change within the institution is a viable one.  The GLOBE offices in other parliaments, including the parliaments of the UK, the EU, Japan and Mexico, have provided MPs with opportunities to interact with specialists and parliamentarians from other countries.

§         The Portfolio Committee on Water and Environmental Affairs undertakes public hearings, debates, seminars, setting up video conferences, attending conferences at a national, regional and international level to impart knowledge and learn from best practices from other nation states.

§         The Portfolio Committee on Water and Environmental Affairs to hold a dialogue on the formation of the committee on climate change and sustainable development, with the relevant select and portfolio committees to forge a programme from these discussions.  Parliament needs to devise a coherent, coordinated approach to climate change.  This will therefore involve a collaborative approach comprising meetings of all units, committees involved on this issue to path a way forward for the institution.

§         The Portfolio Committee will also be assessing the outcome of the deal in Copenhagen and make recommendations on the role of legislators in undertaking oversight over the new deal.

§         Quarterly briefings from the Department of Environmental Affairs on the progress it is making towards the finalisation of South Africa’s Climate Change policy.


Report to be considered.



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