South Africa plans to study need for new climate change law

by Jocelyn Newmarch | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 3 June 2014 08:36 GMT

A windmill pumps water from a borehole near Graaf Reinet in South Africa's Karoo, Oct. 11, 2013. If energy companies and the ruling African National Congress get their way, the wilderness could soon see scientists and geologists mapping out shale gas fields and looking at whether fracking will work here. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

Image Caption and Rights Information
As a fast-developing country, pursuing energy-intensive growth, South Africa is coming under pressure to act on climate change

JOHANNESBURG (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The election of South African parliamentarian Cedric Frolick as president of the Global Legislators Organisation (GLOBE International) earlier this year is likely to turn the spotlight on his country’s domestic climate policies and regulations, as legislators gather for a world summit in Mexico later this week.

GLOBE, which is made up of national parliamentarians from more than 80 countries, supports legislators through national chapters to develop and advance laws on climate change, natural capital accounting and forests.

Unlike some countries, such as the United Kingdom and Guatemala, South Africa lacks overarching climate change legislation. But a study on whether the fast-developing nation needs such a framework law is due to be launched soon, said Frolick, who is House Chairperson of the South African National Assembly.

Frolick’s election as GLOBE head in February marks the first time the organisation has chosen a president from outside the G8 group of wealthy nations, reflecting the increasing geopolitical importance of emerging economies, including South Africa, Brazil and China.

As they pursue energy-intensive growth, these countries are also coming under pressure to rein in their rising emissions of planet-warming gases, with all states expected to contribute to mitigation in the next global climate deal due to be agreed in Paris in late 2015.

In a recent interview with Thomson Reuters Foundation, Frolick said domestic climate legislation would play a crucial role in securing an international climate deal. “Legislators, through their law-making function, can facilitate their respective governments to fast-track the need for transitioning to low-carbon, climate resilient development,” he said.

South Africa, meanwhile, is using a range of policy instruments to boost its resilience to climate change impacts, including support for the renewable energy sector and the “Working for Water” programme, Frolick said. The water initiative, launched back in 1995, clears alien plants from water courses, while providing rural employment.

Frolick cited it as an example of how some existing government programmes have become increasingly important tools in the nation’s efforts to adapt to climate stresses like droughts and floods. “Working for Water” has become “pivotal” in boosting the resilience of South Africa’s water and biodiversity resources to climate change, he added.


Currently, South Africa’s climate policy is governed by the National Climate Change Response White Paper, which was gazetted in 2011.

Rashmi Mistry, economic justice campaign manager for Oxfam, believes legislation on climate change could help get results on the ground.

“When government creates a bill or an act it can be held more accountable. Policy can come and go. It might never be implemented, and there is no legal authority ensuring that the policy is implemented,” she said.

While South Africa has produced some innovative policy, action on climate change is a cross-cutting issue that requires significant political weight to drive it forward, Mistry said.

If a Climate Change Act were to be introduced, all government departments - including those responsible for energy and mineral resources - would need to take account of climate change in what they do. Legislation could also help realise rights enshrined in the constitution, such as the right to a safe environment, Mistry added.

Frolick said South Africa has made significant progress on tackling climate change. The National Climate Change Response White Paper recommended that a detailed study should be carried out to identify whether there is a need for a dedicated climate change law. This study is expected to be included in the work programme for the new parliament, following national elections in May, he added.

Joanne Yawitch, CEO of the National Business Institute, a non-profit organisation that fosters dialogue between government and business on environmental issues, argues it would be preferable to make sure all existing laws take account of climate change imperatives, rather than drafting a standalone piece of legislation.

“It’s better to ask, what do we want to do, and is there an enabling framework?” she said. For example, if reporting of greenhouse gas emissions by business were made mandatory, this would probably require legislation, she added.

Emissions reporting will be a necessary precursor to the implementation of a carbon tax, currently scheduled for 2016. But to be effective, it will have to be well-monitored and part of a national emissions reduction plan, experts say.

“The devil is in the detail, and that’s why it hasn’t happened yet,” Yawitch said.


Asked whether South Africa has room to make innovative policy, given the challenges it faces as a developing country, Yawitch said the problem lies not in drafting policy, but in implementing it. Ability to do this varies widely across government departments and regions.

“Institution-building is very complicated. We tend to pass very ambitious legislation in South Africa, but our capacity to implement is not always there,” said Yawitch. “We have three spheres of government (national, provincial and local) and nine provinces, which makes for a complex governance system.”

South Africa’s Water Act, which provides for catchment management agencies, is regarded as a cutting-edge piece of legislation and has been studied internationally, but its implementation has been uneven at best, according to the Parliamentary Monitoring Group. Only a few agencies – which are meant to facilitate equitable and sustainable access to water resources – are operational.

Johan van den Berg, chairman of the South African Renewable Energy Council, says South Africa has been “very innovative” in designing its flagship initiative, the Renewable Energy Independent Power Procurement Programme (REIPPP). As a result of this process, 20 percent of South Africa’s electric power is due to come from renewable energy sources by 2030. In 2013, 96 percent of electricity was produced from coal and nuclear.


South Africa suffers from high unemployment, poverty and inequality, as well as a constrained energy supply. Yet like other fast-developing economies, it must also take action to reduce growth in its greenhouse gas emissions.

The design of the REIPPP took all these priorities into account – despite the common perception that socio-economic development, economic growth and environmental protection have contradictory goals.

Energy producers allocated renewable projects under the REIPPP umbrella are required to spend a percentage of their revenue on development projects within a 50km radius of the project site.

With 3,700 megawatts already procured, some R11 billion ($1 billion) is due to benefit local communities, with the first investments made in the next year or two. Funding will go towards community needs, such as schools and clinics. One wind farm has installed solar street lights, for example.

“There are 590 million people in Africa without access to energy. South Africa is extremely well-placed to come up with models that can be rolled out to empower communities,” van den Berg said.

Jocelyn Newmarch is a freelance journalist and sustainability communications specialist, based in Johannesburg.

This story is part of a series of articles, funded by the COMplus Alliance and the World Bank, looking at progress and challenges in developing nations’ efforts to legislate on climate change, ahead of the June 6-8 World Summit of Legislators in Mexico City, organised by the Global Legislators Organisation (GLOBE International).

Latest News
Comments Close
South Africa plans to study need for new climate change law

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of the Thomson Reuters Foundation. For more information see our Acceptable Use Policy.

comments powered by Disqus