/ 30 September 2021

Climate change Bill to be tabled in parliament

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South Africa’s first comprehensive legal framework for climate change will go to committees when parliament reconvenes after the 1 November local government election. 

This will coincide with COP26, the United Nations climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland, in the first week of November when diplomats will negotiate the terms of actions committed to addressing the climate emergency. 

The cabinet has passed the Climate Change Bill, which outlines a coordinated response to the threat.

“The Bill spells out that all adaptation and mitigation efforts should be based on the best available science, evidence and information. It further gives effect to South Africa’s international commitments and obligations in relation to climate change, and defines the steps to be taken to protect and preserve the planet for the benefit of present and future generations,” the department of environment, forests and fisheries said.

“The tabling of the … Bill in the national assembly will represent an important step forward in the development of our country’s architecture to manage and combat climate change.”

The Bill, which will facilitate South Africa’s transition to a greener economy, compels businesses to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that accelerate climate change. 

It identifies sectors where greenhouse gas emissions must drop. Big polluters are allocated “carbon budgets”, and they won’t be allowed to exceed their emissions budget. This requires the development of thresholds and will also inform a company’s carbon tax bill. 

Several other countries have established or amended their climate change legislation in 2021, including Uganda, Germany, Fiji and Ireland, following the European Union’s adoption of its own such law.

The United States congress passed a law that allows the president to call a national emergency on climate related events.

South Africa has put in place one of the most elaborate and consultative climate governance systems observable among developing and emerging economies, according to researchers at the London School of Economics and Political Science, the Grantham Research Institute and the University of Leeds.

They identified governance challenges “such as those around tensions between the state and private sector, which are relatively more important in South Africa than in some other countries owing to its history and recent political dynamics”.

They said state capture and corruption had created a political crisis that had resulted in uncertainty over the direction of climate change and energy policy, distracted leadership and low political will to act further.  

“A systemic issue that could become a roadblock for the implementation of South Africa’s nationally determined contribution to the Paris Agreement is the lack of alignment and policy coherence: in other words, the gap between climate change goals and the objectives set in other key strategies and policy documents that determine the trajectory of development,” the researchers said.

Their report found that the financial resources needed to augment governance capacities to work on climate change in key agencies was limited.

Earlier this month, Bloomberg reported that the treasury was considering swapping South Africa’s sovereign debt for an equity injection into power utility Eskom to close down coal fired plants. 

Deputy Finance Minister David Masondo said this debt-for-climate swap would result in South Africa pledging an equivalent amount as an equity injection into Eskom and could also be used to deal with the effect on coal communities. 

The Climate Policy Initiative estimates South Africa’s economic transition risks at an aggregated R2-trillion, of which 60% has already been incurred. A further R362-billion may result from infrastructure investments being contemplated that may not be economically viable in a low carbon transition.

A technical paper released by the treasury in 2019 said addressing both climate change and South Africa’s development agenda would require the reallocation of capital, the mobilisation of new financial resources and the strategic realignment of existing resources over the short, medium and long term. 

“Climate change planning is becoming part of the budget process and fiscal risks monitoring by the treasury,” it said.

“Economic modelling work is being undertaken and the treasury is working towards climate classification and tagging in the budget to enable tracking of climate-related expenditure. Treasury capital appraisal guidelines, which are under review, will incorporate climate resilience,” the treasury said in the report.