Life after Coal welcomes passing of Climate Change Bill in South Africa but it has shortcomings

  • The Life after Coal campaign welcomes the passing of the Climate Change Bill in the National Assembly this week, paving the way for it to go to the National Council of Provinces for concurrence. Read more
  • Once agreed to there, it can be signed into law by the President and become the country’s first Climate Change Act.
  • However, they are  disappointing that the Bill does not make excess emissions an offence, and instead relies on intended measures by National Treasury that will levy a punitive carbon tax rate for emissions in excess of a carbon budget.

This long-awaited legislation governs South Africa’s climate action and imposes an obligation on a wide range of organs of state, including provinces and municipalities, to align their policies, laws and programmes to the principles and objects of the Bill. This will set the scene for creating the much needed all-of-government effort necessary for an adequate and holistic climate change response.

The Bill makes our Nationally Determined Contribution – or The Paris Agreement greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction target – a legally binding obligation to be adhered to by emitters, and enforced by the state. This is done via the mechanism of a carbon budget which will be allocated to larger emitters to ensure that adequate climate change mitigation measures are undertaken. In addition, various sectors, such as energy and transport, will be subject to sectoral emissions targets, providing a further management tool for emissions reduction.

It is disappointing that the Bill does not make excess emissions an offence, and instead relies on intended measures by National Treasury that will levy a punitive carbon tax rate for emissions in excess of a carbon budget. This effectively leaves emitters with the choice of ‘paying to pollute’ which is unacceptable in the face of the urgent need to reduce emissions by 45% by 2030 to try and limit warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. This temperature limit is one the scientific community calls for to attempt to avoid condemning millions poor people to death due to consequences such as storms that will impact those in informal settlements around the world and rising sea levels that will impact those living in low lying areas such as the Cape Flats, Lagos and Bangladesh. Taking strong mitigation action will also reduce the deadly and toxic air pollution experienced by those living in fossil fuel zones such as the Mpumalanga Highveld.

The Bill also imposes obligations on roleplayers in all three tiers of government to assess climate risks and vulnerabilities and formulate response plans to address those climate change impacts which are locked into the system, and which are projected to intensify in even the best-case scenarios. The timeframes in the Bill for these response plans do not reflect the urgency of the climate crisis, with certain of these plans only being required five years after the Climate Change Act comes into being.  South Africa has been identified as being vulnerable to intensifying flooding, droughts, heatwaves and other extreme weather events, impacts which are already being seen around the country.

The Act, once promulgated, will be the first piece of legislation that defines and references the Just Transition, an approach which ensures that vulnerable workers and communities are not burdened with the social and economic costs of decarbonising the economy and society.

Author: Bryan Groenendaal

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