Newly appointed Environment, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Barbara Creecy delivered her R7.5-billion budget vote statement in the National Assembly on Thursday, emphasising the socioeconomic threat of climate change, as more than two-million South Africans are directly dependent on the environment for their income.
“When we take into account that each of these breadwinners supports eight to ten others, we start to understand the true significance of our natural resources to our economic and social wellbeing.”
Creecy noted that the underpinnings of the economy were facing “unprecedented threats” from climate change, environmental degradation and the loss of biodiversity.
“Since 2012, climate change, extreme weather events and water supply crises have consistently featured in the top five risks in terms of both the likelihood of these events occurring and the consequences of their happening.”
She added that it would require all spheres of government, business, labour and civil society participating in a programme of joint action to combat these threats.
Creecy noted that the second draft of the Climate Change Bill (CCB) is currently being discussed at the National Economic Development and Labour Council.
She commented that, given public concern about issues such as energy security, job losses and retrenchments, the debate around the CCB must outline the objectives and processes of a just transition and ensure that it took place in an orderly manner.
The Minister also noted increased public concern around air quality and committed to an immediate review of the Priority Area Air Quality Management Plan and its implementation.
Further, Creecy said the management of waste, particularly single-use plastic waste, was a matter that required urgent attention. She said the department was assessing single-use plastic products with a view to finding effective ways to prevent, divert and recycle plastic products.
“Happily, our plastics industry is already looking at local innovations to give these products a second, sustainable life in, among others, the building, construction and furniture-making industries.”
Additionally, the Chemicals and Waste Economy Phakisa looks to increase the volume of waste diverted from landfill to beneficiation processes.
“As agreed at the Jobs Summit in October 2018, the department is studying 49 applications for the beneficiation of waste, including slag from the ferrochrome sector; ash from combustion plants; and pulp and gypsum from the pulp, paper and cardboard sector.”
The Minister noted widespread condemnation of the level of littering, adding that interventions such as the Plastic Bag Regulations and the plastic bag levy had been insufficient. She called for a united national effort to clean up the country under the banner of the Good Green Deeds.
With regard to biodiversity, Creecy noted that illegal poaching and illicit wildlife trade continued to threaten conservation efforts. “Accordingly, the time has come for us to review our efforts together with our sister departments in the Security and Justice Cluster.”
The department has also set ambitious targets to transform the biodiversity economy during this sixth administration. “As part of the national stimulus package, our department is supporting 107 projects with infrastructure such as game fencing, water reticulation, game donations, training and capacity building for new and emerging game farmers.”
On the issue of fisheries, Creecy said, “it is important to re-state today the decision to review the 2020 Fishing Rights Allocation Process, which will see the re-issuing of licences for 12 of the 22 fisheries”.
The Minister emphasised that this decision had been taken following consultation with the sector and was aimed at ensuring the department followed all regulatory and legislative requirements.
“It is essential that the process is seen to be fair, open and transparent. It must promote the transformation of the sector and create sustainable livelihoods for the many coastal communities that have no other means of support,” the Minister stated.
Creecy also noted the importance of effective compliance and enforcement as it underpinned environmental justice.
“Combating environmental crime in all its forms contributes to our efforts as government to ensure social cohesion, safety and security. At the same time, as part of the collective effort to reduce the impact red tape on economic activity, we are consolidating and streamlining regulatory processes, automating permit and developing other applications to reduce the cost of compliance,” she noted.
During the debate, the Inkatha Freedom Party’s (IFP’s) Narend Singh noted that “we are the principal actors in the poisoning of the environment”, specifically referring to the use genetically modified maize and ignorance around the possible dangers of fifth-generation technologies and their environmental impacts.
He called for independent environment and health studies to be conducted by the environmental department in these areas as a precautionary measure.
Singh lauded Creecy for suspending the octopus fishing licences in False Bay following “numerous unnecessary” deaths of whales that had been caught in octopus traps. He asked that False Bay be declared a marine protected area.
He also called for the immediate ban of single-use plastics and noted that while the IFP supported the budget, it would have wanted to see an increase in allocation for enforcement and compliance programmes.
The Democratic Alliance’s James Lorimer said the department had to clean house or risk doubt being cast on everything it did.
He also called for legislation to ensure “barrier zones” be created to keep activities such as mining away from the boundaries of national parks and conservation areas, lest these activities adversely affect the parks and destroy tourism revenue.
He and the Economic Freedom Fighter’s (EFF’s) Nazier Paulsen agreed that environmental authorities needed to be capacitated and empowered through legislation to act against mining companies that neglected their environmental responsibilities, although Paulsen took it further, stating that previous mine owners needed to be forced to return to rehabilitate mines they had abandoned.
Paulsen also recommended to Creecy that she adopt the “civil society driven One Million Climate Jobs initiative as a government programme” to assist in the transition toward a renewable energy-based economy.
He said her budget lacked imagination and that the EFF rejected it.
Meanwhile, Greenpeace Africa senior political adviser Happy Khambule noted the organisation’s disappointment that Creecy had stopped short of declaring a climate emergency, but nonetheless welcomed her commitment to reviewing the Priority Area Air Quality Management Plan.
“This is a critically important move as the evidence is increasingly overwhelming that South Africa is in the midst of an “airpocalypse”, largely due to Eskom’s addiction to coal,” he stated.
EDITED BY: CHANEL DE BRUYN