/ 8 March 2021

South Africa to get another commission, this one to tackle the climate crisis

Without action by 2030
Climate change poses a health risk to our society.

The cabinet has plans to establish a presidential commission that will examine the country’s climate crisis, according to Dr Thuli Khumalo, the deputy director general for climate change and air-quality management at the department for the environment, forestry and fisheries.

Climate change poses a health risk to our society. This risk may come from extreme weather conditions like droughts and storms, such as the recent cyclone Eloise, which claimed 21 lives in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Madagascar, eSwatini and South Africa. 

“The cabinet approved the establishment of the Presidential Climate Change Co-ordinating Commission (PCCC). The commission’s overall objective is to advise on South Africa’s climate-change response to ensure the realisation of the vision for effective climate-change response and the long-term just transition to a climate-resilient and low-carbon economy and society,” Khumalo told parliament’s portfolio committee on the environment, forestry and fisheries last week.

“The composition of the PCCC should include representation from relevant departments across the state, social partners, business organisations, academics and experts, and civil society,” she said. 

Companies such as Eskom, Sasol and Engen have not been held accountable for the greenhouse gases and fossil fuels they emit. 

For instance, in 2014 Eskom was challenged by the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) when it applied for a postponement of the minimum emission standards.
This application made it clear Eskom was trying to ignore  the deadly health effects of its coal-fired power stations.

According to the CER, air pollution and emissions from Eskom’s coal-fired power plants are responsible for 2 200 premature deaths each year. This includes the deaths of 200 children. The deaths are a result of exposure to PM2.5.

If stringent measures are not taken against such companies, fighting climate change will continue to be an uphill battle.

For  the past five years, Khumalo’s department has been developing sectoral emissions targets and carbon budgets. “South Africa has several early warning systems and is in the process of developing more for different sectors and different weather-related hazards,” Khumalo said.

“The carbon budget is set to be implemented in 2023, together with phase two of a carbon tax for organisations with emissions above the carbon budget,” she continued. “The alignment between the carbon tax and carbon budget will ensure that the carbon tax enforces the carbon budget (that is, a higher tax rate applied to emissions above the carbon budget)”.

The carbon tax law was passed in 2019. It is a response to climate change that aims to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions in a sustainable, cost-effective and affordable way.

However, South Africa has dragged its feet in implementing the Paris agreement, a legally binding international treaty on climate change. Its purpose is to limit global warming to below 2°C degrees more than pre-industrial levels.

In 2020, the cabinet approved the national climate change adaptation strategy, which aims to mainstream and fast-track planning for climate change. 

Chris Gilili is a climate and economic justice reporting fellow, funded by Open Society Foundation for South Africa.