South Africa

Major headache for new climate laws in South Africa

The Parliamentary Monitoring Group (PMG) has found that critical climate bills are not given enough engagement nor properly understood by people in parliament – stalling progress and creating headaches for South Africa’s initiatives to fight climate change.

The PMG is a non-profit organisation that disseminates and tracks essential information from South Africa’s legislative bodies. In a recent report, the group examined the actions and effectiveness of parliament in achieving outcomes related to the climate change agenda.

The Climate Change Bill, introduced in Parliament in February of this year, acknowledges the need to address the urgent threat of climate change; however, it has faced slow adoption and is not being taken seriously, said the Environmental Monitoring Group.

President Cyril Ramaphosa said that the bill would provide the necessary legal basis for the government to meet its ambitious climate commitments, including moving away from solely relying on fossil fuels for energy generation – specifically coal.

Summarily, according to the PMG, the bill aims to:

  • Provide a coordinated and integrated response to climate change;
  • Provide for the effective management of climate change impacts;
  • Make a fair contribution to the global effort to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations;
  • Ensure a just transition towards a low-carbon economy and society;
  • Give effect to South Africa’s international commitments and obligations concerning climate change.

According to the African Climate Alliance, climate change is an increased risk to the country, its citizens and its economic growth. As a result, Parliament must understand that it is obligated to ensure and take all necessary measures to capacitate itself institutionally.

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Civil society believes that there is not enough engagement on the subject of climate change, with the little that it does receive often being limited in Parliament, PMG said.

Parliament, it added, does not understand how any effective response must be mainstreamed across all policies and departments. The Centre for Environmental Rights noted that Parliament’s understanding of climate issues remains rudimentary – wasting time and limiting exploration of deeper issues.

Climate change is seen as an isolated issue for the current parliament and, subsequently, is treated as such. The climate and the legislation addressing it should, however, be considered more widespread within all branches of law that affect it, PMG said.

It said that the Portfolio Committee on Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment – which is responsible for holding other departments accountable in terms of environmental sustainability – is also not using all the tools it has at its disposal.

The PMG found that committee meetings conducted on environmental discussions are not being maximised to their full effectiveness and are not conducive to sharing information or learning.

Parliament has, however, announced a Steering Committee that would bring together all parliamentary committees whose law-making and oversight responsibilities affect the climate. Civil society groups have welcomed this development but stressed that insights must remain rooted in scientific findings.

They now call on the government and parliament, in particular, to address climate change legislation with a keen eye.

Further recommendations include that:

  • The costing and financing of domestic climate law be drawn up, formulated and budgeted for effectively.
  • The cross-cutting impact of climate change, where more than one industry is affected by legislative changes to climate bills, be considered.

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