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Civil society and academics urge an SA Climate Change Bill that’s tougher on big polluters

Civil society and academics urge an SA Climate Change Bill that’s tougher on big polluters
Thousands of climate activists protest outside Parliament in Cape Town on 20 September 2019. (Photo: Leila Dougan)

Several recommendations were made by civil society organisations and academia on Tuesday as the portfolio committee on forestry, fisheries and environment heard oral submissions on South Africa’s mooted Climate Change Bill.

On Tuesday, the portfolio committee on forestry, fisheries and environment heard oral submissions on South Africa’s mooted Climate Change Bill. Organisations, from JustShare to Oxfam South Africa and beyond, urged stronger protections against fossil fuel industry lobbying efforts and a greater emphasis on human rights.

Dr Britta Rennkamp of the African Climate and Development Initiative (Acdi) at the University of Cape Town was the first to make a submission. She said, “We think [the bill is] a really important piece of legislation going ahead, because we need a coordinated response. Climate change is very transversal and it’s really important to bring all the actors together.”  

She explained that a major emphasis of their submission was, “It’s very important to think around the other legislation that is already in place and make sure that it aligns and doesn’t hinder … because it builds on the constitutional rights of future generations to use the planet … and to have resources available to make a decent living on this planet. So it needs to be in alignment with that and that’s why we think it’s very important that you use the bill to make these constitutional rights very prominent.”  

Rennkamp added that with regard to adaptation, the bill could be “stronger … we also need to update the legal basis on Loss and Damage because what’s happened in the COP last year in Sharm el-Sheikh has not quite reflected on the initial draft that came earlier in the year.”  

Read more in Daily Maverick: COP27 makes history with agreement on ‘loss and damage’ fund for vulnerable countries impacted by climate change 

In their written submission, Acdi suggested: “The Act must provide a legal basis for dealing with Loss and Damage (L&D). The recent floods in KwaZulu-Natal have made it all too real that L&D is here and now. L&D must form part of the Objects of the Act, and responsibilities for L&D must be assigned, across national government and where its capacity is exceeded, state clearly South Africa’s expectations of the international community.” 

Importance of public participation

Rennkamp was followed by Nkateko Chauke, head of programmes at Oxfam South Africa which is part of a global organisation fighting poverty, inequality and injustice. 

“We work with marginalised communities to challenge and transform systems that perpetuate poverty and inequality in southern Africa,” she said. 

“And so our submission also focuses on the fact that this legislation should respond to the needs of society… [and] really emphasises the social aspects, the human rights aspects of the provisions of the legislation”.  

She said there needed to be a stronger emphasis on public participation.  

“We don’t believe in structures of hierarchy but rather want to ensure that the citizenry – people – are the anchors of legislation. And so within that context, we feel strongly that climate planning and decision-making should be placed as closely as possible to communities, emphasising also the fact that… section 29 of the bill, which looks at questions around public participation should actually be more robust, more deliberate in how it promotes public participation, but also entrenches social accountability mechanisms. 

“While the bill also mentions that it seeks to build a robust and sustainable economy and a healthy society, a bigger emphasis should be put on building an inclusive and resilient economy that reduces vulnerabilities for people,” said Chauke. “We also want to focus on and emphasise that the bill needs to take into account the need for gender parity at all levels of decision-making.”  

She said that Oxfam saw the current draft of the bill as insufficient for tackling the problem of displacement resulting from climate impacts.  

“The bill – as it stands – is very silent on questions around displacement, particularly looking at the impacts of climate and how they also perpetuate vulnerabilities and also displacement for marginalised communities. So the bill itself should better consider the cascading effects of displacement, and how we integrate that in relevant legislation… emphasising the need for policy coherence and harmonisation.”  

Fossil fuel industry lobbying

Chauke was followed by Robyn Hugo, the director of climate change engagement at Just Share, a nonprofit shareholder activism organisation. She voiced concerns about the fossil fuel industry’s lobbying and how this can be addressed in the bill by “effective compliance and enforcement provisions, and especially meaningful penalties. 

“This need is even more urgent as more and more evidence emerges of how over a decade of anti-climate corporate lobbying has weakened and continues to weaken climate action, policy and legislation.”  

Read more in Daily Maverick: Government must not give in to intense fossil fuel industry lobbying on carbon tax bill 

She continued: “Lobbying can and should be responsible. Responsible corporate climate lobbying or advocacy refers to activities by companies and their industry associations to influence climate-related policymaking in a way that aligns with the goals of the Paris Agreement. 

“Independent research demonstrates that in South Africa, obstructive corporate climate policy engagements are actually delaying ambitious climate policy and putting the country’s climate goals in jeopardy. So fossil fuel companies have been shown to have significant influence over government climate policy.

“The lack of lobbying regulation and the lack of lobbying disclosure by corporates have allowed certain companies and their industry association representatives to employ various tactics to undermine South Africa’s climate change response for over a decade.

“Another important part of this prevalent corporate climate lobbying narrative is that corporates, despite their vested interest in preserving the status quo, are actually best placed to regulate themselves and in fact, should largely be left alone to do so. In other words, mandatory measures and regulations are unnecessary and where these do exist companies should be incentivised to comply, rather than penalised when they fail to do so.

“However, what’s overwhelmingly clear from the current alarming state of the climate is that to date, voluntary measures by governments, by emitters to reduce GHG emissions and low – if any – penalties for excessive emissions have very clearly dismally failed to achieve their goal. Global emissions continue to rise and the timeframe to take adequate climate action to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis is rapidly narrowing.”  

Read more in Daily Maverick: The need for action on the climate crisis is more urgent than previously assessed – IPCC 

She concluded: “It’s imperative that effective climate change legislation with significant consequences for noncompliance be enacted without delay. This means that the long-awaited Climate Change Act cannot afford to be weak on compliance and enforcement, particularly given the country’s significant emissions and the severe climate risk we face.” DM

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