Minister Edna Molewa’s speech on the national Climate Change policy

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We meet following the approval by Cabinet last week Wednesday of Government’s National Climate Change Response Policy.With this National Climate Change Response Policy, South Africa now has a clear roadmap of how the nation must respond to the global challenge of climate change. Like other countries, the number one threat to our sustainable development, economic growth and quality of life is related to the impacts of climate change. Early impacts are being felt on agricultural production, food prices and food security, which will have disastrous social and economic consequences if we do not take bold steps to address climate change. The South African government is committed to playing its part in ensuring that we take active and bold steps to respond to this lurking threat. This policy will guide Government’s approach to climate change impacts and our transition to a climate resilient and low-carbon economy – premised on our commitment to sustainable development and a better life for all. It also aims to ensure that all sectors of the South African society take part in the effort to mainstream climate-resilient development. The development of the policy has a long history, starting almost exactly six years ago, and coincides with an apparent increase in the frequency and intensity of some alarming extreme weather events across the world. The finalisation of this ground-breaking policy also coincides with the forthcoming 17th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP17) and the 7th Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP 7) being held in Durban from 28 November to 9 December 2011. The South African government recognises that the impacts of Climate Change have the potential to completely undermine developmental gains that have been made up till now. The study of climate change economics conducted by Sir Nicholas Stern showed that if no action is taken to mitigate climate change it would cost between 10% and 15% of global GDP by 2050. Firstly, the policy confirms that climate change is already a measurable reality and along with other developing countries, South Africa is especially vulnerable to its impacts. The White Paper presents the South African Government’s vision for an effective climate change response and the long-term, just transition to a climate-resilient and lower-carbon economy and society. The policy also notes that South Africa’s response to climate change has two objectives:
(1) To effectively manage the inevitable climate change impacts through interventions that build and sustain South Africa’s social, economic and environmental resilience and emergency response capacity; and
(2) To make a fair contribution to the global effort to stabilise greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that avoids dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system within a timeframe that enables economic, social and environmental development to proceed in a sustainable manner. Our Policy is guided by various principles set out in the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the National Environmental Management Act, the Millennium Declaration and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and these principles are detailed in section 3 of the policy. The policy also describes the overall strategic approach for South Africa’s climate change response as being needs driven and customised; developmental; transformational, empowering and participatory; dynamic and evidence-based; balanced, cost effective as well as integrated and aligned. In terms of strategic priorities, section 4 of the policy sets out South Africa’s climate change response strategy to achieve the policy objectives in a manner consistent with its outlined principles and approach and which is structured around the following strategic priorities: risk reduction and management; mitigation actions with significant outcomes; sectoral responses; policy and regulatory alignment; informed decision making and planning; integrated planning; technology research, development and innovation; facilitated behaviour change; behaviour change through choice; and resource mobilisation. In terms of adaptation, section 5 of the policy includes a risk-based process to identify and prioritise short- and medium-term adaptation interventions to be addressed in sector plans. The process will also identify the adaptation responses that require coordination between sectors and departments and it will be reviewed every five years. For the immediate future, sectors that need particular attention are water, agriculture and forestry, health, biodiversity and human settlements. Resilience to climate variability and climate change-related extreme weather events will be the basis for South Africa’s future approach to disaster management and we will use region-wide approaches where appropriate.

This policy will guide Government’s approach to climate change impacts and our transition to a climate resilient and low-carbon economy.

South Africa’s approach to mitigation is addressed in section 6 of the policy and balances the country’s contribution as a responsible global citizen to the international effort to curb global emissions with the economic and social opportunities presented by the transition to a lower-carbon economy as well as with the requirement that the country successfully tackles the development challenges facing it. In addition to the direct physical impacts of climate change, the policy also notes that there are also secondary economic impacts where South Africa may be economically or socially vulnerable to the impact of climate change related response measures – i.e. measures taken by others or ourselves to reduce Green House Gas (GHG) emissions,either internationally or nationally, that have negative economic or social consequences for South African economic sectors, jobs, welfare or even at local community level. In section 7, the policy notes that Government will take a multi-pronged approach to addressing and managing response measures, especially in respect of those that may have negative consequences. It is also worth noting that this policy has not been developed in a vacuum as many sectors, organisations and companies are already developing or implementing climate change related action. The scaling up and of these existing initiatives as well as the immediate development and roll-out of new proven so-called “no regret” policies and measures are an integral part of this White Paper. Section 8 of the policy introduces a suite of Near-term Priority Flagship Programmes consisting of both new initiatives and the scaling up of existing initiatives that will be implemented while the first sectoral desired emission reduction outcomes and carbon budgets are being developed and initial adaptation interventions prioritised. Section 9 of the policy deals with jobs and aims to limit jobs contraction to those areas of the economy where excessive carbon intensity is unsustainable, whilst promoting and expanding the green economy sectors. The policy also aims to promote investment in human and productive resources that will grow the green economy. To do this, Government will assess the vulnerability of the different economic sectors to climate change and develop Sector Job Resilience Plans. To mainstream climate-resilient development, section 10 of the policy directs that all Government departments and state-owned enterprises will need to review the policies, strategies, legislation, regulations and plans falling within their jurisdictions to ensure full alignment with the National Climate Change Response within two years of the publication of the policy. On the basis of the outcome of these reviews, government will determine what adjustments need to be made to achieve alignment with the goals and objectives of the National Climate Change Response, and will identify any additional legislative or regulatory measures that are needed. The National Climate Change Response itself will be reviewed every five years from the date of publication. Government departments will start communicating with citizens about climate change to inform and educate them and to influence their behavioural choices. This includes setting up and maintaining early warning systems so that our people can take specific actions to reduce risks to themselves, their households and property. The policy also acknowledges the need to mobilise financial, human and knowledge resources to effectively address climate change. To this end, Government will use existing financial institutions and instruments and it will help to develop new ones. This includes international financial assistance specifically for climate change response actions. During the initial period of transition to a climate-resilient and lower-carbon economy and society, Government will establish an interim climate finance coordination mechanism to secure the necessary resources for priority programmes. Section 12 of the policy recognises that the formulation of effective responses to climate change requires a country-wide monitoring and evaluation system to measure climate variables at scales appropriate to the institutions that must implement climate change responses. To monitor the success of responses to climate change, and to replicate the ones that have worked well, we need to measure their cost, outcome and impact. To this end, South Africa will, within two years of the publication of the policy, design and publish a draft Climate Change Response Measurement and Evaluation System. Although the Climate Change Response Monitoring and Evaluation System will be based on South African scientific measurement standards and will be undertaken through the Presidency’s Outcomes-Based System, it is expected that the system will evolve with international Measuring, Reporting and Verification requirements.

In conclusion, the policy notes that, amongst a range of environmental constraints that are of necessity playing an increasing role in social and economic development planning, climate change represents the most urgent and far-reaching challenge of our time. While every country will have to develop its own adaptive responses to the effects of climate change, effectively mitigating climate change to ensure the disruption caused to human and natural systems is within manageable parameters can only be achieved through a concerted and coherent global response. Furthermore, responding to climate change is a cross-generational challenge. The effects of action or inaction will not be felt immediately, but will have significant consequences for future generations. Ladies and Gentlemen, this policy represents our commitment to adapt to climate change and contribute to the global mitigation effort. In terms of our contribution to the global mitigation effort, the decision to institute sectoral desired emission reduction outcomes and the use of a carbon budget approach where appropriate is regarded as being momentous as it represents a concrete and practical commitment by South Africa. Realising this commitment will require sustained effort and cooperation from all spheres of government, the private sector and civil society formations, and ultimately will depend on decisions by individual citizens to embrace climate-friendly lifestyles and habits. Working together we can still save tomorrow today.

– By Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa