Just Share and amaBhungane seek details on corporate climate lobbying

  • Just Share and the amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism have launched access-to-information requests to promote transparency around behind-closed-door engagements between business and government which influence South Africa’s policy and regulatory approach to climate change and the energy mix.

Just Share and amaBhungane submitted the requests on 10 August 2023, in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act 4 of 2000 (PAIA). The PAIA requests seek details of closed-door meetings and other interactions between government officials and private industry representatives relating to:

  • South Africa’s policy and regulatory approach to climate change mitigation and adaptation;
  • South Africa’s energy mix;
  • the just transition to a low-carbon economy; and
  • any associated infrastructure and resource exploration activities.

Such engagements are generally referred to as corporate lobbying. (Find out more about the eight requests, and the entities involved, in our FAQ section below.).

Through these requests, Just Share and amaBhungane seek to promote transparency through the public disclosure of direct engagements that shape South Africa’s decision-making on key issues that are of public concern. This is to safeguard against attempts by private industry actors – in particular from the fossil fuel industry – to shape government laws and policies in the interests of corporations instead of the public. Disclosure of meetings between corporate representatives and government policy-makers is both necessary and important.

Of equal importance, and therefore included in the scope of these information requests, are the meeting minutes and other written documentation exchanged between these parties, which may contain submissions, undertakings, or agreements in favour of specific interests.

As countries face the need for urgent action on the global climate crisis, there is growing awareness that powerful corporate actors may work behind the scenes to delay or dilute countries’ climate change responses. Research by Influence Map, an international thinktank, has already highlighted the negative influence of corporate lobbying on South Africa’s climate change policy.

A recent brief by Just Share explains that the lack of clear regulation on corporate lobbying in South Africa has enabled a form of “policy capture”, in which corporate actors can work to change South Africa’s climate change policy outside formal consultation processes, without any knowledge of, or participation from, civil society organisations and the broader public.

Climate change and energy policy in South Africa affect every one of us. The public has a right to know whether corporate entities are using bilateral meetings and other forms of direct engagement to influence public policy to protect their profits instead of our future.

These access to information requests are the first step in protecting and exercising multiple constitutional rights, and to ensuring greater transparency and accountability in South Africa’s response to the climate crisis and its just transition to a low-carbon economy.

In terms of PAIA, the information holders have 30 days to respond to our requests. The deadline for response is 11 September 2023. 

FAQ 

Which bodies have received PAIA requests?

 Just Share and amaBhungane have sent PAIA requests to eight bodies, including key government departments and industry associations, and a major corporate polluter.

Government bodies:

  • The Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE);
  • The Department of Forestry, Fisheries, and the Environment (DFFE);
  • National Treasury; and
  • The Presidency.

Industry associations:

  • Business Unity South Africa;
  • The Energy Council of South Africa; and
  • The Minerals Council of South Africa.

Private companies:

  • Sasol Limited, the largest private emitter of greenhouse gases in South Africa and a major emitter of toxic pollutants regulated under national air quality laws.
What information has been requested?

Each PAIA request asks for details of meetings between these government and industry actors which pertain to: South Africa’s policy and regulatory approach to climate change mitigation and adaptation, South Africa’s energy mix, the just transition to a low-carbon economy, and any associated infrastructure and resource exploration activities. The requests to Sasol and DFFE also extend to discussions of the implementation of air quality laws.

In addition to a list of such meetings, the categories of records included across the PAIA requests are minutes associated with each meeting, and any other written documentation exchanged between the parties linked to the above subject-matter. Written documentation includes, but is not limited to, memoranda, proposals, presentations, recommendations, legal and policy submissions, agreements, or undertakings.

The requests are confined to information from April 2021 to the date of response.

Who has responded and what is the deadline for responses?

PAIA provides that information holders have 30 days to respond to a request. The requests were made on 10 August 2023; the deadline for responses is 11 September 2023.

As of 22 August 2023, we have received acknowledgements of receipt from Sasol, Business Unity South Africa, Energy Council of South Africa, Minerals Council of South Africa, National Treasury, and The Presidency. DMRE and DFFE are both yet to respond.

Why should this information be made public? 

There is growing awareness globally of the risk of corporate lobbyists working behind the scenes to delay or dilute climate change policy. Research suggests that industry bodies in South Africa are heavily engaged in such lobbying.

These requests are an important step to ensure greater transparency in climate policy making in South Africa. The public has a right to know whether powerful commercial entities are working behind the scenes to influence government climate policy to protect their profits rather than our future.

We make these requests in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act, PAIA, which gives effect to the right of access to information provided for in section 32 of the Constitution. These requests do not seek access to any personal information or legitimately confidential information.

Public access to the categories of records requested are necessary to both exercise and protect section 24 (an environment not harmful to health and wellbeing) and section 33 (just administrative action) in the Bill of Rights, both of which could be unjustifiably infringed where corporate lobbying activities interfere with legislative and other measures that seek to mitigate and limit real threats to the public. This is especially so where bilateral engagements occur in parallel to public consultation processes related to the development of policy, bills, regulatory instruments, and the implementation of existing laws; all of which have far-reaching and sometimes irreversible impacts. In addition, section 16 (press freedom) enables the publication of any disclosed records to raise awareness and allow for scrutiny. This is an important function of civil society organisations acting in the public interest and it is heightened in the current context where disclosure of corporate lobbying activities is not mandatory in South Africa.

Author: Bryan Groenendaal

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