Legalbrief Environmental – SA continues on pro-coal trajectory

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Legalbrief Today Environmental Law & Justice Watch
Issue no:690 Tuesday 16 February 2021
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Today's Headlines
South Africa: Activists hail victory against miner in SLAPP suit
Regulator addresses Koeberg's structural integrity
Analyses: Brave judge empowers local community
Shell ruling shakes corporates' 'culture of impunity'
Africa: Polythene bags make a comeback in Kenya
Sub-Saharan air quality improving – study
World: Fossil fuels killing millions annually – study
Eilat oil pipeline threatens unique Red Sea corals
Environmental Focus  
Mining: SA continues on pro-coal trajectory

Despite its pledge to lower emissions under the Paris Agreement, SA continues to favour coal, as was made evident by two alarming decisions last week, one in the courts, and one at executive level, writes Legalbrief. Firstly, environmentalists have lost their bid in the SCA to close down the Somkhele coal mine in Mtubatuba, near the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park in KZN. A GroundUp report by legal writer Tania Broughton says the matter was taken on appeal in the KZN High Court (Pietermaritzburg) by the Global Environmental Trust (GET) after it failed to obtain an interdict to halt operations at the anthracite-producing mine. The application was supported by hundreds of members of a neighbouring local community who claimed they were affected by the mining activities which had resulted in a ‘vast industrial rock dump’, contributing to water shortages and health issues. The mine is one of the largest resources of open-pit mineable anthracite reserves in SA and is the principal supplier to ferrochrome producers in the country, essential for the production of steel. GET alleged that Tendele Coal Mining, which operates the mine, did not have environmental and land-use authorisation and was unlawfully exhuming and removing traditional graves. However, in the High Court, Judge Rishi Seegobin said the applicants had not produced evidence to support their claims and had not made out a proper case for an interdict. Rather they had adopted a ‘scatter-gun approach’, hoping to hit one target or another. The SCA, by majority of four to one, dismissed the appeal against Seegobin’s ruling. Judge Nathan Ponnan, writing for the majority, said the interdict sought was far-reaching and would have the effect of closing Tendele’s operations ‘more the reason, one would think, for a proper case to have been made out on the papers’.

Full Groundup report



And, secondly, after losing many court battles to allow the opening of a coal mine in a protected and freshwater source area, the Mpumalanga Government has resorted to cutting corners. According to a City Press report, Agriculture and Environmental Affairs MEC Vusi Shongwe has now excluded 27 503ha of land – where the Yzermyn Underground Coal Mine is supposed to open – from the Mabola Protected Area near Wakkerstroom. The area is a freshwater source in the Enkangala-Drakensberg Water Source Area. There are only 22 such areas in SA that supply 50% of the country’s freshwater. Most are situated in the highest parts of the catchment areas that receive the most rainfall. Indian company Atha-Africa Ventures has been trying to start mining in the protected area for the past seven years. Its plans were derailed by environmental organisations that successfully challenged the authorisations and licences by government departments, including Mineral Resources & Energy, Environmental Affairs, and Water & Sanitation. Shongwe said he had consulted all stakeholders before making the decision to exclude portions of Kromhoek, Goedgevonden and Yzermyn farms. The Centre for Environmental Rights warned that Shongwe’s decision to circumvent court judgments and the Protected Areas Act set a dangerous precedent. Mariette Liefferink, CEO of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment, said Shongwe’s decision was in direct conflict with actions proposed in the National Water and Sanitation Master Plan, which aimed to protect ecological infrastructure by this year. ‘Further, the SA Human Rights Commission directed the then Department of Environmental Affairs and the Department of Water and Sanitation to take definite steps to ensure the legal protection of our water source areas. The MEC’s decision flies in the face of all of those efforts,’ Liefferink said.

Full City Press report

See also a report on the CER site


The climate crisis garnered only a handful of cursory mentions in President Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation address last week, writes Sheree Bega, environmental journalist, in a Mail & Guardian Online analysis. ‘Meanwhile, the world is burning from record-breaking temperatures, with 2020 tied with 2016 as the hottest year on record,’ she notes. 'SA is working to fulfil its commitments under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Climate Agreement,’ she states. ‘Ramaphosa said SA's work on climate change would be guided by the presidential Co-ordinating Commission on Climate Change, which would meet for the first time this month, after its appointment in December. With its heavy reliance on coal, the country’s climate commitments continue to be rated as highly insufficient,’ she states. ‘In last year’s speech, Ramaphosa promised that the Climate Change Bill would be finalised, but this crucial legislation still has not been passed,’ Bega notes. ‘Eskom, said Ramaphosa, as the country’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, “has committed in principle” to net zero emissions by 2050, and to increase its renewable energy capacity,’ she writes. ‘Systems are being put in place for qualifying municipalities to buy power from independent power producers, and bids for 2 000 megawatts of emergency power will be announced. Experts, however, are concerned that this emergency power-procurement process is skewed towards expensive power ships and gas-to-power projects, excluding competition from renewable projects,’ notes Bega. ‘Ramaphosa’s Government continues to throw a lifeline to coal. One example, cited in his speech, was how progress is being made on several major water infrastructure projects, including Phase 2A of the Mokolo and Crocodile River Project. This project is intended to pump water to the water-scarce Waterberg to enable the development of new polluting coal infrastructure in the region,’ she explains.

Full Mail & Guardian Online analysis

South Africa  
Litigation: Activists hail victory against miner in SLAPP suit

The Western Cape High Court has thwarted efforts by Australian miner Mineral Commodities Limited (MRC) to silence fierce critics of its operations in SA. Business Day notes a series of defamation cases were launched by the Western Australia-based mining group and its local subsidiary against three local environmental attorneys and three activists in 2016 and 2017. Deputy Judge President Patricia Goliath was scathing of MRC’s scare tactics in her judgment handed down last week, and held that the lawsuits were an abuse of the legal process. The lawsuits arose from statements made by two community activists, Davine Cloete and Mzamo Dlamini; two attorneys at the Centre for Environmental Rights, Christine Reddell and Tracey Davies; private attorney Cormac Cullinan; and social worker John Clarke. In early 2017, Cloete, Reddell and Davies had criticised MRC’s subsidiary for environmental destruction and non-compliance with mining and environmental laws at its Tormin mineral sands mine in the West Coast. Dlamini, Cullinan and Clarke were targeted in 2016 after they criticised the conduct of MRC and its CEO (and one of the plaintiffs), Mark Caruso, in relation to the company’s proposed titanium mining operation at Xolobeni on the Wild Coast. Plans to mine the area have been in the works for a decade and tensions over it have manifested in community violence and several murders. Although the Department of Mineral Resources granted MRC mining rights, the project remains in limbo after a 2020 High Court judgment determined rights could not be granted without the full and formal consent of the community.

In its defamation suits, MRC sought a collective R14.25m in damages from the defendants, or public apologies. In her judgment, Goliath found the nature of the cases fit the description of Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation or Slapp lawsuits, notes the Business Day report. The essential aim of such suits being ‘to silence those challenging powerful corporates on issues of public concern. In essence the main purpose of the suit is to punish or retaliate against citizens who have spoken out against the plaintiffs’. ‘Corporations should not be allowed to weaponise our legal system against the ordinary citizen and activists in order to intimidate and silence them,’ Goliath said in her judgment. ‘Litigation that is not aimed at vindicating legitimate rights, but is part of a broad and purposeful strategy to intimidate, distract and silence public criticism, constitutes an improper use of the judicial process and is vexatious.’ Leanne Govindsamy, the Centre for Environmental Rights’ head of corporate accountability and transparency, said the judgment was a clear signal from the courts that SA law provides protection for civil society activists who engage in robust debate and free expression in the course of their activism. ‘This judgment makes it clear that, in SA, corporations will not succeed in using Slapp suits to silence criticism about their environmental impacts from environmental activists,’ she said.

Full Business Day report (subscription needed)


Prominent environmental lawyer Cormac Cullinan said Goliath’s ‘strong’ judgment was an important step in developing common law procedures ‘to stop the powerful abusing legal processes to silence those who expose the ecological and social harm they cause’. ‘This is an important victory for free speech in the public interest,’ a GroundUp report quotes Cullinan, one of the six defendants, as saying. In his response to the judgment, social worker John Clarke said: ‘The judgment is a triumph of collaboration between journalists, lawyers and social workers in support of people who are vulnerable and historically disadvantaged, to show that the Bill of Rights can become more meaningful and that it can triumph over mining rights.’ ‘What we have done in this judgment is, hopefully, put an end to malicious “lawfare”. They say that in war, truth becomes the first casualty, and in lawfare, truth becomes a hostage. What Judge Goliath has done with this judgment is to release the hostage of truth.’

Full GroundUp report

See also a Daily Maverick report


Non profit shareholder activism and responsible investment organisation Just Share’s board of directors has welcomed the judgment. A Mining Weekly report notes that Just Share said SLAPP was a mechanism to drag out legal processes and, ultimately, silence environmental activists. Just Share board chairperson Dugan Fraser said corporates like MRC used SLAPP suits – which were notoriously drawn out and expensive legal battles – with the intention to intimidate people who exercise their constitutional rights. ‘This judgment is an extremely important victory for advocacy and activism in the public interest. It sends a clear message that freedom of speech on matters of public interest will be proudly defended by our courts,’ said Dugan. CER executive director Melissa Fourie said that, as the environmental and climate justice movement grew in response to the climate crisis and ecological breakdown, environmental activists who criticised corporations that contributed to climate change and destruction of biodiversity were facing growing threats and intimidation. ‘Although there is still a lot to be done to protect activists from threats and intimidation in South Africa . . . it is a relief that our courts recognise and are willing to protect the crucial importance of civil society activism for environmental justice,’ she noted.

Full Mining Weekly report

General: Groups accuse department of bias in Limpopo project

Environmental lobby groups are challenging the approval of the Musina-Makhado Special Economic Zone (MMSEZ) in Limpopo based on a legal argument that the provincial department has a direct interest in the matter and therefore cannot grant environmental approval. Beeld reports that Earthlife Africa, groundWork and the Environmental Justice Community Network of SA also allege that the environmental impact study was partly plagiarised and full of errors. The Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), acting on behalf of the NGOs, says in a letter of demand to the Limpopo Department of Environmental Affairs that the zone would have a devastating effect on residents and the biodiversity of the Limpopo River. Furthermore, the NGOs are demanding that the matter be referred to the National Department of Environmental Affairs as the Limpopo Government is conflicted. The MMSEZ is partly driven by the provincial government itself. The CER also argues that national approval is necessary as the impact would have multinational implications. Zimbabwe is affected as water would be used from the Limpopo River, the lawyers say. MMEZ spokesperson Shavana Mushwana said the final environmental impact study has been submitted and the Limpopo Department of Environmental Affairs was expected to reach a conclusion soon. Mushwana said the impact study started in 2018 and they maintain that a ‘thorough job’ was done.

Full Beeld report (subscription needed)

General: Water released from Vaal Dam to mitigate river flows

Despite the devastation of Tropical Storm Eloise, heavy rains have brought relief to some of the country’s dams. A Daily Maverick report notes that last week, the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) opened three sluice gates to release water from the Vaal Dam, which had reached 106% capacity by that morning. Crowds stopped on the side of the road to watch the gates open. While some took pictures, others marvelled at the torrent of water flowing through. DWS spokesperson Sputnik Ratau said water was released to mitigate river flows from the Upper Vaal, which were rapidly filling the dam. The Vaal Dam, which forms part of the Integrated Vaal River System (IVRS), had already reached 100% capacity by 8 February. This is the first time the dam has been full since 2017. Gauteng, the Free State, North West and Mpumalanga depend on the IVRS, which has a network of 14 dams. It is crucial for the economic hub of Gauteng and supplies water to key industries such as Sasol and Eskom. Ratau said that concerns that additional water pressure would cause the dam to collapse were unfounded. ‘When we prepare to build a dam, part of what gets into the design is an allowance for even more water than the dam can accommodate.’ In the case of the Vaal Dam it was an additional 20% to 26%. ‘We are still well within the capacity,’ he said.

Full Daily Maverick report


The Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) has assured the public that the country’s large dams are not likely to collapse as a result of the heavy rainfall that is predicted to continue until mid-February. According to an SA News report, the Department’s Director in the Dam Safety Regulation Unit, Wally Ramokopa, said more than 5 000 registered dams in SA stand strong even in the midst of spillages as experienced in some dams due to heavy rains in some parts of the country, Ramokopa said that since Tropical Cyclone Eloise reached SA, it has only received two reports of potential damage to water infrastructure. These are the Pioneer Dam in the Kruger National Park, as well as a barrage in Phalaborwa where a radial gate failed after being opened to release floods as a result of the cyclone. Ramokopa said most of the country’s large dams are designed to withstand floods and assured that ‘there is no need for people to be alarmed for possible water infrastructure collapse’. He added that dam owners have to conduct safety inspections at least every five years. In addition to the dam safety regulations dam owners must abide by, Ramokopa said the department’s Dam Safety Office conducts dam safety compliance monitoring inspections to ensure that dam owners implement recommendations, once the dam safety evaluations are received. All owners are bound by law to comply, Ramokopa emphasised.

Full SA News report

Energy: Outa, HSF oppose new nuclear build proposal

The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) and the Helen Suzman Foundation (HSF) have opposed Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe’s proposal to procure new nuclear power capacity. According to an Engineering News report, this comes after the National Energy Regulator of SA (Nersa) issued a consultation paper and called for public input, comment and response to a determination by the Minister in terms of the Electricity Regulation Act to procure 2 500MW of new nuclear power in SA. While Outa does not see a scenario in which SA can afford it, HSF believes the concerns with a nuclear build have not been dealt with in a credible and thorough manner. ‘If Nersa makes the wrong choices today, many people could be burdened with unaffordable and unreliable energy for decades. In the case of nuclear energy, given that the build time is at least a decade hence, those responsible for making these choices will also not be around to be accountable,’ Outa said. In a submission to Nersa, HSF suggested a least-cost option for additional power generation needs to be established in a credible manner, which it does not believe has been done; arbitrary limits to the annual construction of renewable energy options cannot be applied to forecasts, as such conduct provides not only clear evidence of an irrational approach, but also leads to the inevitable perception of a process that has been intentionally manipulated for undisclosed purpose.

Full Engineering News report


Meanwhile, energy experts and commentators are speculating on the significance of the omission of any mention of nuclear energy by President Cyril Ramaphosa in his State of the Nation address. One has suggested this might be a sign that the government may have dropped its commitment to the nuclear power option. A Cape Argus report notes that Ramaphosa said government will soon be initiating the procurement of an additional 11 800 megawatts of power from renewable energy, natural gas, battery storage and coal in line with the Integrated Resource Plan 2019. Mark Swilling, Distinguished Professor of sustainable development at the School of Public Leadership, Stellenbosch University, said: ‘It is significant that nuclear wasn’t mentioned. It’s not like government forgot about nuclear. The DMRE has after all been pushing nuclear power very hard. What is more likely is that the department failed to get its way, and that can only be a good thing, as nuclear is expensive and risky, especially when there are cheaper alternatives.’ ‘What the President announced is a very good start, but not enough. Instead of the procurement of an additional 11 800 megawatts, what we need is at least 20 000MW if we are to be free of load shedding by 2025,’ added Swilling.

Full Cape Argus report

Energy: Regulator addresses Koeberg's structural integrity

The National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) has issued a statement saying that the structural integrity of containment structures at Koeberg Nuclear Power Station currently comply with relevant safety tests. The Citizen reports that the statement comes after numerous news outlets last week noted that the nuclear reactor building at Koeberg was deteriorating quickly – implying that a radioactive catastrophe might be a possibility should there be an accident at the Cape-Town based plant. The NNR said that they can confirm that despite the concrete cracking and delamination observed on the outer surface, the containment structures remained effective for protecting the environment from radiation during accident conditions. ‘The Koeberg Nuclear Power Station is continuously monitored to ensure that the operation of the plant complies with nuclear safety requirements at all stages of operation,’ said CEO Bismark Tyobeka.

Full report in The Citizen

Energy: Eskom support for increased self-generation praised

The renewable energy sector, particularly the solar energy industry, has welcomed Eskom CEO André de Ruyter’s backing of an increased generation licence exemption cap that will allow individuals or businesses to build generation facilities of up to 50MW without a permit. However, the SA Photovoltaic Industry Association (Sapvia) believes there must be policy and regulatory action. According to a Cape Argus report, its chief operating officer, Niveshen Govender, said: ‘Sapvia has long been engaged in advocating for the systematic easing of licensing thresholds, to unlock the significant opportunity held by distributed generation. We therefore welcome the support of the state-owned utility for lifting licensing thresholds from 1MW to 50MW in order to accelerate distributed generation by large customers.’ He said Eskom’s support should encourage the Department of Mineral Resources & Energy and the National Energy Regulator of SA to expedite regulatory changes. ‘The deployment of embedded generation capacity will release the pressure on Eskom’s already constrained supply. Simply put, distributed generation provides rapid, clean additional capacity to the grid,’ Govender said. He added that, in addition to creating jobs, distributed generation could encourage localisation and industrialisation, which could potentially be the driving force behind the country’s economic recovery.

Full Cape Argus report (subscription needed)

Corporate: Independent grid operator by next year – Eskom CEO

Business Day reports Eskom CEO André de Ruyter has announced that by this time in 2022, SA could have an independent grid operator in place. As Eskom works to restructure into three business units, De Ruyter said a priority focus is on the transmission business and establishing an independent system transmission operator (Ismo). ‘The establishment of this Ismo is an exceptionally important intervention in order to attract more private investment in the generation capacity that we need from private investors. That is why we have prioritised (it),’ De Ruyter said. Although the Ismo’s creation is subject to regulatory approvals, ‘if all actors in this particular ballet play their role and give us their approval as quickly as is required, then we should have the Ismo in place within the next year’, he said. The Ismo, De Ruyter said, will allow for this matchmaking between buyer and seller in a transparent way, very much like the JSE. The unbundling of the other two Eskom businesses – generation and distribution – has also continued, and although legal separation for all three is targeted for the end of 2021, they have been successfully ‘divisionalised’ and are managed and controlled by three divisional boards, each with its own MD.

Full Business Day report (subscription needed)

Pollution: Cape Town told to clean up Diep River catchment

Milnerton residents are celebrating the news that a directive from the Green Scorpions will finally force the City to fix the multiple sources of pollution in the Diep River and Milnerton lagoon. A Cape Argus report notes that the order was confirmed by Local Government, Environmental Affairs & Development Planning MEC Anton Bredell who said he had taken a decision to modify an existing directive issued to the City regarding the Diep River catchment following an appeal lodged by the City. ‘The modification to the existing directive includes requesting the City to submit revised incident protocols and contingency plans for the Koeberg and Sanddrift pump stations. The directive remains in effect and instructs the City to continue to implement its action plan to address the pollution and degradation concerns,’ said Bredell. Bredell said the City was implementing more than 50 interventions in ongoing efforts to improve the water quality and reduce the pollution in the catchment area and the lagoon. ‘This includes major infrastructure upgrades that are at various stages in the Diep River catchment. The largest of these is the R2.2bn Potsdam Waste Water Treatment Works Upgrade which is expected to be complete by August 2025,’ said Bredell. Milnerton Central Residents Association secretary Liete van der Eems said: ‘Should the City of Cape Town not adhere to the strict conditions set out in the directive they may be held criminally liable and will face fines up to R10m or individuals within the City may face imprisonment for up to 10 years.’

Full Cape Argus report (subscription needed)

Mining: Sibanye-Stillwater earns high carbon disclosure rating

Precious metals miner Sibanye-Stillwater has achieved an ‘A-’ rating by non-profit global environmental disclosure platform CDP, in recognition of its climate change action and disclosure. A Mining Weekly report notes that Sibanye has achieved ‘Leadership’ level ratings for six consecutive years for its carbon and climate change disclosures, and its 2020 rating is higher than the average rating of ‘C’ in the ‘Metallic mineral mining’ group, the average rating of ‘C’ in Africa and the average rating of ‘C’ globally, Sibanye-Stillwater notes. Moreover, it mentions that Sibanye is in the top 11% of global companies in its group classification that reached ‘Leadership level’ with a score of ‘A-‘. About 9 500 companies participated during the most recent CDP Climate Change disclosure process. CDP’s yearly environmental disclosure and scoring process is widely recognised as the gold standard of corporate environmental transparency, supported by substantial investors globally who requested companies to disclose data on environmental impacts, risks and opportunities through CDP’s platform, posits Sibanye.

Full Mining Weekly report


Platinum-group metals (PGMs) producer Impala Platinum (Implats) said last week it has received an A rating for its water disclosure submission to the CDP for the 2020 CDP Water Disclosure Project. A Mining Weekly report notes that the rating, which also marks the second consecutive year Implats has achieved this score, places it in the leadership band with a select group of only 106 companies for achieving best practice in their 2020 disclosure, awareness and management of water security risk. Implats scored well in eight of the 11 categories measured by CDP, namely its risk assessment, risk exposure and responses, business strategy, governance, its integrated approach to environmental challenges, its targets and goals, as well as water-related opportunities. ‘We are delighted to again be recognised by the CDP for our water disclosure. We worked hard on the management of this precious resource and are pleased this has been recognised by our high ranking relative to the sector and our peers,’ said Implats CEO Nico Muller.

Full Mining Weekly report

Criminal: Judge wants answers on rhino trial's continued delays

More than a decade ago, Limpopo game farmer Dawie Groenewald and his co-accused were arrested on a multitude of rhino poaching-related charges, yet their criminal trial is yet to start – and a judge wants answers. According to a Pretoria News report, Groenewald and his eight co-accused once again briefly appeared in the Gauteng High Court (Pretoria) last week, and their case was postponed to 1 March. But this is only to pave the way forward, and it is expected that the trial will not go ahead on this date. Judge Bert Bam demanded a detailed affidavit from the defence team, setting out what caused the delays. ‘If I find that anyone has delayed this matter on purpose, I will consider making an appropriate order in that regard,’ Bam said. Groenewald, alleged to be the rhino horn syndicate kingpin, and his co-accused, who include a helicopter pilot, two veterinarians and professional hunters, have appeared in court on several occasions over the years, during which their trial was postponed. One of the delays was caused as the group was awaiting a Constitutional Court ruling confirming the lifting of SA's moratorium on domestic trade in rhino horn. This resulted in the state dropping about 60 charges against the accused, and an amended charge sheet was subsequently served on the group earlier. They are, however, still facing about 1 600 charges, ranging from racketeering, money laundering, illegal hunting of rhino to dealing in rhino horn. One of the new glitches at the start of the hearing was the fact that Advocate Piet van Wyk SC, who had been representing them over the years, passed away last year due to Covid-19. A new legal team took over the defence, headed by Advocate Jaap Cilliers SC and his team. All the accused are out on bail.

Full Pretoria News report


The Hawks have arrested two men after they were found in possession of rhino horn and suspected stolen property in Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape. A TimesLIVE report notes that Hawks spokesperson Captain Yolisa Mgolodela said the two suspects, aged 27 and 36, were arrested during an operation at a restaurant at the beachfront on 12 February. The team seized rhino horn and two vehicles, Mgolodela said. The suspects were expected to appear in the Port Elizabeth Magistrate’s Court yesterday.

Full TimesLIVE report

Conservation: Smart technology for Somkhanda Reserve

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Save our Species African Wildlife initiative, co-funded by the EU, recently approved an investment that will see a rapid transformation of technology available to game rangers at Somkhanda, a community owned reserve in KZN. A Cape Times report notes that the initiative aims to improve the long-term survival prospects of threatened species. The IUCN has awarded a grant to Wildlands, a programme of the Wildtrust, to assist the Somkhanda Community Game Reserve in transforming its monitoring and patrolling system to incorporate smart technology that will enhance security. The monitoring and patrolling system, known as the Vulcan Earth Ranger system, will integrate and display all historical and real-time data available from a protected area. Meiring Prinsloo, Somkhanda reserve manager said: ‘It is like having your finger on the pulse of the reserve security at all times, which is crucial in allowing us to effectively protect our wildlife and biodiversity.’

Full Cape Times report (subscription needed)

Conservation: SA tops exhibitor list at annual hunting convention

An undercover video recorded by animal welfare activists shows vendors at a recent trophy-hunting convention selling trips to shoot captive-bred lions in Africa, despite past public assurances by the event's organisers that it wouldn't be allowed. A report in The Citizen, notes that despite a deadly pandemic and lockdown restrictions, South African hunting outfitters still topped the exhibitor list at the annual Dallas Safari Club’s (DSC’s) annual convention. The event was hosted virtually this year. According to Humane Society International (HSI) and Human Society of the US (HSUS), the convention offered hunting trips to kill at least 319 types of mammals in 70 countries. Out of the 306 outfitter exhibitors, 104 offered hunts in SA, totalling 47 hunting packages, making SA top of the list at 29% of all exhibitors. SA’s closest competitor was Namibia, offering just 15 hunting packages. HSI-Africa wildlife director Audrey Delsink said: ‘Far more beneficial to conservation and the country’s economy on a sustainable basis is the promotion of wildlife watching – not killing sprees for a privileged few.' According to HSI-Africa, the ‘trophy-hunting industry generally pays lip service to conservation or uses the term to try to justify and legitimise its existence’.

Full report in The Citizen

Waste: KZN landfill sites in a parlous state – Edtea

A detailed report looking at the state of landfill sites in KZN has painted a grim picture of these facilities, blaming municipalities for failing to turn them into lucrative economic opportunities. According to a report in The Mercury, the Department of Economic Development, Tourism & Environmental Affairs (Edtea) said economic opportunities were being squandered that could be derived from the proper management of waste, rather than taking it to dump sites. The department made the revelations during its briefing of members of its committee on the state of landfills in the province. Msunduzi Municipality has for many years been battling to manage its New England Road landfill, with the facility catching fire on numerous occasions and releasing toxic fumes into the air. Due to the latest fire at the site, the SA Human Rights Commission announced that it was taking the municipality to court for its poor management of the landfill site. Director for Waste Management Noloyiso Walingo, who delivered the report, said that of the nine district municipalities, only two – eThekwini and King Cetshwayo – were managing their landfill sites well. Staff shortages and a lack of equipment contributed to the poor management of landfill sites. Some municipalities, the report said, had unregistered landfills and there were about 339 illegal dumps across the province.

Full report in The Mercury (subscription needed)

Waste: uMlazi 'business forum' intimidates refuse workers

Uncollected rubbish is piling up on the streets of uMlazi because a ‘business forum’ demanding work from the eThekwini Municipality has stopped refuse collection by threatening municipal employees, forcing the council to pull its workers out of the area. According to a report in The Mercury, the municipality said it had not been able to collect rubbish in the township for the past 14 days after an unidentified business forum threatened its staff. The city had struggled to consistently collect refuse in Durban’s largest township as the service is interrupted every few months. The unidentified business forum wants to force the city to revert to outsourcing the refuse collection to private contractors, sources said. The service was insourced about a year ago following tensions over the employment of contractors to collect refuse. This led to the city deciding to insource the service and hire people from the township as workers. The city viewed the latest intimidation of its staff to prevent them from carrying out their duties as tantamount to treason, saying the ‘criminals’ disguised as business forums were depriving more than 60 000 people of basic services. Municipal spokesperson Msawakhe Mayisela said the service had been interrupted due to threats to city employees rendering the service by an unknown business forum grouping. ‘We urge the law-enforcement agencies to assist in arresting the people behind this campaign. These people are known, and it is not the first time they have done this,’ he said.

Full report in The Mercury (subscription needed)

Criminal: Joint sea patrol operations net poachers

Joint sea patrol operations in the Cape of Good Hope section of Table Mountain National Park (TMNP) have led to the arrest of at least 16 poachers since the start of the year. A Cape Times report notes that TMNP Marine Rangers, in partnership with the City's Marine Law Enforcement Unit, conducted the joint sea patrol operations since January with multiple successes. On 14 January, the City said its Marine Law Enforcement officers arrested four suspects for fishing illegally at Olifantsbos in the Cape Point Nature Reserve. The poachers' boat was also impounded. TMNP rangers arrested two suspects during the same operation. On 29 January, TMNP Rangers arrested five suspects at Slangkop Lighthouse in Kommetjie who had illegally harvested 18 abalone and four rock lobsters. On 3 February, the City's Marine Unit officers in another joint operation with TMNP rangers, arrested four suspects with 730 lobster tails at Brightwaters in the Cape Point Nature Reserve and also impounded a ski boat. The next day, City Marine Unit officers arrested a suspect with 83 undersized abalone and 30 periwinkles in the Strand area.

Full Cape Times report (subscription needed)

Water: Nandoni dam residents still waiting for compensation

The Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) has appealed to the residents of Nandoni in Vhembe District, Limpopo, to be patient as the process to finalise their compensation continues. An SA News report notes that residents from 33 villages near the dam site were relocated by the department to make way for the construction of Nandoni Dam in 1998. Villagers were moved to modern houses and offered vast patches of land for orchards as part of their compensation deal. Water and Sanitation Deputy Minister David Mahlobo visited Nandoni in October and November 2020, where he met with the affected residents, including community leaders, traditional leaders and officials of Vhembe District Municipality to discuss their compensation. At both meetings, it was agreed that the compensation of villagers would be sped up. In December 2020, Human Settlements, Water & Sanitation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu met with the community and traditional leaders to confirm the compensation deal. ‘As a result, 300 affected families have already been paid their compensation and the department is in the process of paying outstanding families. The department has committed itself to complete the process of payment by the end of next month, which is the end of national government’s financial year,’ the DWS said last week. The department has appealed to claimants not to be distracted from the agreements and timelines, as per previous meetings with the Minister and Deputy Minister.

Full SA News report

Conservation: Biocontrol insects released into Boksburg Dam

Intensifying its fight against hyacinth, the City of Ekurhuleni has joined hands with Rhodes University’s Centre for Biological Control to release biocontrol insects to help curb the invasive hyacinth. According to a report in The Citizen, as a pilot project, over 2 000 neochetina beetles, which is one of the biocontrol insects used to manage water hyacinth, were released into the Witfield Dam in Boksburg. The dam is 90% covered in hyacinth. Mankgodi Hlongwane, a specialist in biodiversity and conservation, said through this joint fight the City aimed to determine pathways of new invasions, the invasion ecology and the management of emerging aquatic weeds. ‘Water hyacinth needs to be eradicated and since the infestation is severe in most dams across the City, we need an integrated approach in removing, controlling and eradicating these aquatic weeds,’ explained Hlongwane. Furthermore, Hlongwane said following the release of the beetles, the dam would be monitored quarterly by the City and the Centre for Biological Control to check the progress and effectiveness of the project.

Full report in The Citizen

Development: Mogale City loses battle with upmarket estate

The upmarket Featherbrooke estate on Johannesburg’s West Rand has won a court round in a protracted fight with the local municipality over a river, a boundary fence and a storm water drain. According to a Daily Dispatch report, this is not the end of the road, as the Mogale City municipality says it plans to appeal a high court judgment in the estate’s favour. It believes the river in question is not its responsibility. Last month, Judge Maletsatsi Mahalelo ruled in favour of the estate, saying the homeowners’ rights had been infringed upon and there was a risk to life and limb, health and security. This after Mogale City failed to convince the high court that it was the developer’s responsibility to ensure an adequate storm water infrastructure was provided when the complex was developed in 2002. ‘There is prospective financial harm with every day that passes. The applicant has no other satisfactory remedy … other than the respondents finding funds internally or externally to try to mitigate the risky condition of the river in question,’ said the judge. She ordered that the municipality immediately and in future do everything necessary to repair and manage the stream beds adjacent to the Featherbrooke security fence. The municipality also needs to update the estate on its work within 30 days of the order on 25 January.

Full Daily Dispatch report (subscription needed)

Agriculture: Small scale farmers oppose Philippi development

Small scale farmers are opposing a massive urban development in the unique Philippi Horticultural Area. The high court had ordered that the environmental authorisation be redone. A public participation process closes 24 February. The PHA (Philippi Horticultural Area) Food and Farming Campaign said the massive Oakland City development could destroy farming on the land and dry up the aquifer. According to a GroundUp report, the Oakland development proposes housing for 15 000 families, schools, and commercial and industrial properties, with 77ha for conservation and wetlands. The Western Cape High Court in February 2020 ordered Anton Bredell, MEC for Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning, to reconsider his decision in March 2017 to grant environmental authorisation to the Oakland development. The PHA Campaign had taken the department, the City of Cape Town and Oakland City Development to court, arguing for the ‘survival of unique and irreplaceable farmlands of the PHA’ that is situated in an ideal farming climate. Rudolf van Jaarsveldt, provincial Environmental Affairs and Development Planning spokesperson, said the public participation process would allow all parties to identify any issues that should be included in the environmental impact report. Jim McLean, representative of Oakland, said the delays caused by the High Court case and the public participation process were 'causing further hardship to the thousands of people who will derive sorely needed accommodation and work from the development'.

Full GroundUp report

General: Logging eco-battle erupts in Baakens Valley

An eco-battle has erupted in the Framesby Gardens section of the Baakens Valley where the community and a timber merchant are at loggerheads. According to a report in The Herald, Framesby Gardens resident Ollie Myburg said last week the community had been left angry and upset by logger Shaun Devine’s activities in their neck of the woods between Flormay and Kabega roads. ‘After we stopped him, at a meeting on site with the metro and our ward councillor both present, we agreed that some trees could come down, and they were carefully marked. But instead he cut down a whole lot of other trees he was not supposed to touch,’ he said. Myburg said when asked to stop, Devine ‘just went lower down the valley off Flormay and Marco and felled about another 13 trees’. ‘We’re aware that these bluegums are alien and cause some problems and that’s why we agreed that some should be harvested. But it should be done in a controlled manner, not just cutting down everything and then taking the most valuable bits and leaving a mess that increases the risk of fire and flood damage,’ said Myburg.

Devine, who owns Adcockvale-based company Siyakapa Charcoal, said he was bewildered and frustrated by the situation. ‘I was awarded a permit by the municipality and was just seven days into my six-month contract when I was stopped by these residents,’ he said. He said the residents had no right to interfere in his work. Baakens Valley Preservation Trust chair Chris Hay said the law was straightforward regarding the removal of bluegums, but the approach taken was important. ‘A timeframe for clearing all the wood as well as other rubbish the contractor may have accumulated must be set down, monitored and enforced,’ he stipulated. The report in The Herald notes that Metro spokesperson Mamela Ndamase confirmed the local authority had issued Devine with a permit but problems had subsequently developed. ‘He contravened an agreement he had to cut certain trees that were marked but he reportedly cut in another area, breaking the agreement. His permit has been retracted due to this,’ said Ndamase.

Full report in The Herald (subscription needed)

Local government: Brave judge empowers local community

In an astonishing judgment in the North West High Court in December last year, a judge ordered the imprisonment of the municipal manager of Kgetlengrivier in North West Province for 90 days, suspended on condition that raw sewage spilling into the Elands and Koster rivers be cleared up within 10 days. Writing in a Moneyweb analysis, columnist Ciaran Ryan states that ‘this is a judgment that should have officials in dysfunctional municipalities across the country quaking in their boots’. ‘Justice Gura also ordered that residents association Kgetlengrivier Concerned Citizens be allowed to take control of the area’s sewage works, to be paid for by the local and provincial governments,’ he notes. ‘The municipal manager was further sentenced to imprisonment for 90 days, suspended on condition that he provides clear, potable water to the residents of Koster and Swartruggens in North West within 10 weeks of the ruling,’ explains Ryan. ‘It means potential jail time for the worst offenders, and opens the door for citizens to take control of essential services in their areas’. He quotes Carel van Heerden, the head of Kgetlengrivier Concerned Citizens, who said: ‘Local residents paid R7.5m out of their own pockets, but we got the pumps repaired or replaced, we rented generators to make sure the water could continue pumping in the event of power outages, and we got the water system back in full operation in a matter of weeks.’ ‘The local government will have to pay the residents back their R7.5m – plus their court costs,’ states Ryan. He quotes Van Heerden who went on to say: ‘This is unprecedented in SA. The judge in this case was incredibly brave, and we believe established a precedent for other ratepayers’ associations around the country dealing with corrupt or failing municipal leaders.’ ‘We have the support of the community, regardless of race,’ Ryan quotes Van Heerden as saying. ‘We’ve provided jobs to the local community that were not there before. And we got the job done in weeks that the municipality couldn’t get done in years,’ he stated. Ryan quotes Rim Tyrrell, project manager at the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa), who said: ‘This is an encouraging sign that courts are alert to the problems facing communities and are trying to come up with solutions that ensure services continue uninterrupted – as required by the Constitution.’

Full Moneyweb analysis

Litigation: Shell ruling shakes corporates' 'culture of impunity'

Two Nigerian communities, hard-hit through the devastation of their environment by oil spills, have won a legal victory in the UK Supreme Court that could have wide-reaching effects not only on their own situation, but in similar cases in future. The communities have been trying to sue Royal Dutch Shell for alleged negligence in Nigeria that has led to the severe pollution of their traditional lands, writes Carmel Rickard in her A Matter of Justice column on the Legalbrief site. Overturning a court of appeal decision, the Supreme Court judges held that the Appeal Court was mistaken in finding that a parent company could never incur a duty of care in respect of the activities of a subsidiary, merely because the parent company maintained ‘group-wide policies and guidelines’. Rather, the issue was how far the parent took over or shared management of the dispute activity, with the subsidiary. The most immediate consequence of the judgment is that it will allow the Nigerian claimants to litigate their negligence case in the UK courts. The ruling was welcomed by Amnesty International’s global issues programme director, Mark Dummett, who said: ‘This … could spell the end of a long chapter of impunity for Shell, and for other multinationals who commit human rights abuses overseas. Until now, Shell has managed to avoid cleaning up or paying compensation by maintaining that it is not responsible for the actions of its Nigerian subsidiary – which it owns in full. (This ruling) has shaken the foundations of a business model based on shirking responsibility.’

UK ruling against Shell Oil

A Matter of Justice

Pollution: Nigerian villagers to sue Shell in English courts

The UK Supreme Court last week allowed a group of 42 500 Nigerian farmers and fishermen to sue Royal Dutch Shell (RDS) in English courts after years of oil spills in the Niger Delta contaminated land and groundwater. According to a News24 report, senior judges said UK-domiciled Shell, one of the world's biggest energy companies, has a common law duty of care, in the latest case to test whether multinationals can be held to account for the acts of overseas subsidiaries. The ruling comes almost two years after a seminal ruling by the Supreme Court in a case involving mining company Vedanta. The judgment allowed nearly 2 000 Zambian villagers to sue Vedanta in England for alleged pollution in Africa. That move was seen as a victory for rural communities seeking to hold parent companies accountable for environmental disasters. Vedanta ultimately settled out of court in January. Nigeria's Ogale and Bille communities allege their lives and health have suffered because repeated oil spills have contaminated the land, swamps, groundwater and waterways and that there has been no adequate cleaning or remediation. Represented by law firm Leigh Day, they argued that Shell owed them a duty of care because it either had significant control of, and was responsible for, its subsidiary SPDC. Shell countered that the court had no jurisdiction to try the claims.

The ruling is the second judgment against Shell this year regarding claims against its Nigerian operations. In a landmark Dutch ruling two weeks ago, an Appeals Court held Shell responsible for multiple oil pipeline leaks in the Niger Delta and ordered it to pay unspecified damages to farmers, in a victory for environmentalists, the News24 report states. Leigh Day said the amount of compensation sought would be quantified as the case enters the trial stage.

See Analysis 

Full News24 report

Mining: Hwange residents in standoff with Chinese drillers

Villagers in Dinde area, Hwange are locked in stand-off with Chinese investors over the foreigners' proposed coal exploration operations. According to a report on the allAfrica site, the villagers want the operation stopped, arguing the Chinese investors are in breach of Zimbabwe's environmental and customary laws. They also accuse the investors of failing to produce any documents granting them permission to work in the area. The Chinese investors operating as Beifer Investments, moved to Dinde to start the work two weeks ago in Ward 13 of Hwange Rural District, Matabeleland North. However, villagers fear that, should the project continue, they will be forced to relocate while others will be exposed to air and water pollution of Nyantuwe River which provides drinking water for humans and livestock. They also fear loss of livelihoods, grazing land for their livestock, and cultural heritage sites such as graveyards for the Nekatambe chieftainship, as well as the contamination of ritual sites. According to the Dinde Residents Association, from February 2019 to December 2019, a team of Chinese investors toured the village without consulting or engaging locals, and later began drilling there, with support from the police and government.

Full report on the allAfrica site

Waste: Polythene bags make a comeback in Kenya

In 2017, Kenya won praise globally when it banned polythene bags to maintain a healthy environment. However, according to a report in The Nation, four years down the line, the outlawed commodity has made a big comeback. While the thin nylon bag is in use openly in markets and homes, some vendors have also short-circuited the system by embracing the use of cling film, which has equally devastating effects. In Nairobi markets and neighbourhood food outlets, the polythene bags have taken over from the non-woven bags that were introduced as an alternative. The polythene bag is not only popular among small scale traders, but it is also a favourite among city dwellers who use it to refrigerate food. The city, it appears, is yet to make the 100% transition from the use of plastic bags, regardless of the fines, or alternatives offered by the government. But Environment Cabinet Secretary Keriako Tobiko, while admitting that the single-use plastic bag remains a menace, blames neighbouring countries. National Emergency Management Agency Director-General Mamo B Mamo confirmed that since the ban, the authority has apprehended five manufacturers in Syokimau, Machakos County. ‘We also noticed that the plastic bags have made a comeback and we have already sent officials to all 47 counties for a crackdown. We have teamed up with other agencies, including the police and they will be targeting market places. The challenge we have is behaviour change, also by manufacturers,’ said Mamo.

Full report in The Nation

Pollution: Sub-Saharan air quality improving – study

Air quality in Africa's fast-growing Sub-Saharan region has been improving over the past 15 years, reversing the typical trend of soaring pollution that accompanies rapid development, according to a study by scientists at Cardiff University in the UK. According to a report on the allAfrica site, purposely-set bush fires in the northern Sub-Saharan African region, a major cause of air pollution, have declined by nearly 5%, according to the study. Scientists tracked nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution between 2005 and 2017, and estimated that fewer vegetation fires are due to socio-economic development. ‘Higher levels of economic productivity are associated with lower NO2 concentrations, suggesting that socioeconomic development in this region is resulting in net improvements to air quality,’ according to the study, which looked at satellite data. Fossil fuel combustion has nearly doubled on the African continent since 2000, according to the study, but bush burning, or biomass burning, has lowered, making a major difference to air quality. ‘Our results suggest that countries in Africa's northern biomass-burning region are following a different pathway during the fire season, resulting in potential air quality benefits,’ according to the study. Air pollution in SA dropped to almost by half across the country during the country's six-week lockdown at the end of March last year, according to South African and British scientists at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. The team, led by Rebecca Garland, said that the better air quality was due to lack of traffic jams, the shutdown of heavy industry, and lower emissions from coal-fired power stations.

Full report on the allAfrica site

Climate Change: Activists must move into government – UN official

A generation of young activists eager to set the agenda on global warming and clean energy should seek government jobs as a way to get lagging climate and energy goals back on track, a top UN energy official said last week. A Thomsons Reuters report quotes Damilola Ogunbiyi, co-chair of UN Energy and CEO of Sustainable Energy for All (SEforAll), who told an online youth summit on achieving universal clean energy access: ‘We can't keep doing things from outside.’ With the world falling behind on goals to bring clean, affordable energy to billions more people by 2030, ‘changing the minds of leaders has to happen inside and outside government’, said Ogunbiyi, a former Nigerian rural electrification director. Amina J Mohammed, UN Deputy Secretary-General, said nearly 790m people around the world still lack access to any source of electricity, and 2.8bn continue to risk their health by cooking with dirty fuels. ‘Most governments continue to build a polluting economy. This is unacceptable,’ said Mohammed, a former Nigerian Environment Minister. 

Full Thomsons Reuters report

Conservation: Nigeria tackles wetland degradation

The Nigerian federal government has said there is urgent need to ease pressure on the nation's wetlands from human activities because estimates show that these rare ecosystems are disappearing three times faster than forests. According to THISDAY, this dire situation was presented at a webinar to commemorate this year's World Wetlands Day (WWD), held recently by the Nigeria Conservation Foundation (NCF) in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Environment. The Niger-Delta is the largest wetland in Africa and the third largest mangrove forest in the world, according to the Minister of State for Environment, Chief Sharon Ikeazor. She added that Nigeria has 11 wetlands of international importance (Ramsar Sites), comprising a total area of about 1 076 728ha. NCF Director-General Dr Muhtari Aminu-Kano, in his presentation titled ‘Inseparable: Water, Wetlands and Life’, proposed interventions such as awareness creation, habitat restoration, and livelihood improvement to halt further degradation of wetlands and help in their recovery.

Full THISDAY report

Pollution: Fossil fuels killing millions annually – study

Efforts to slow the process of global warming focus on the future harms of continuing to burn fossil fuel, but new research released last week shows that deadly consequences from pollution are killing larger numbers of people right now than had been assumed. According to a News24 report, fossil fuels are alone responsible for more than 8m premature deaths annually, according to research by a team of US and UK scientists published in Environmental Research. That's double the previous high-end estimate of fine-particle pollution mortality, and three times the combined number killed by HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria in 2018. Even though air quality has improved in many countries, particularly wealthier ones, the findings suggest that even at lower concentrations pollution caused by fossil fuels is deadlier than previously understood. In the US, for instance, the researchers found that 350 000 premature deaths per year are attributable to fine-particulate pollution generated by fossil-fuel combustion, up from previous estimates of roughly 100 000 to 150 000. This means even successful pollution-fighters have more work to do—particularly in poor and historically disadvantaged areas, where pollution is even more concentrated. The results underscore a fact absent from much public debate and discussion about climate change. While the fight to stop greenhouse gas pollution by curtailing fossil fuel use is framed in terms of how it would improve the future, it’s also true that fossil fuels are killing millions of people right now.

Full News24 report

Climate Change: Cumbria to reconsider coal mine approval

Cumbria County Council says it will reconsider the planning application for a controversial coal mine in the light of ‘new information’ from the UK’s independent climate advisers. A report in The Independent notes that leading scientists, activists and politicians have vocally opposed plans for a new mine near Whitehaven, which were first given the green light by councillors in 2019. It would be the UK’s first deep coal mine in 30 years. The government has faced intense criticism in recent weeks after taking the decision not to ‘call in’ the plans for review despite concerns that the mine could harm the country’s efforts to rapidly cut its greenhouse gas emissions. In defence of its decision not to intervene, the government has repeatedly described Cumbria's planned coal mine as a ‘local issue’ – a term that has been met with derision by environmental campaigners and scientists. Last week, leading climate scientist James Hansen wrote to Boris Johnson urging him to intervene in plans for the mine, which would produce coking coal for use in steel production. More than 80 eco and humanitarian groups, including Save the Children, also wrote to the government opposing the decision. And in a letter published in early February, Lord Deben, chair of the Climate Change Committee (CCC), said the decision not to call in the proposals for further scrutiny gave a ‘negative impression of the UK’s climate priorities’. A spokesperson for the county confirmed that it would reconsider the planning application in the light of ‘new information’ from the CCC.

Full report in The Independent

Development: Inuit hunters blockade remote Canadian mine

A group of Inuit hunters have braved nearly a week of freezing temperatures to blockade a remote iron mine in northern Canada, in protest over an expansion plan they say will harm local wildlife. According to a report in The Guardian, the blockade, which has prompted solidarity rallies in other Nunavut communities, has also exposed growing tensions between large Inuit organisations with the power to approve development permits – and residents of the small communities where the impact of such projects is felt. Since 5 February, seven hunters have created a makeshift barrier of snowmobiles and sleds to block the airstrip and service road of the Mary River ore mine, halting operations. Temperatures in recent days have dipped to the low -30°C. At issue are controversial plans drawn up by the mine’s operator Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation to double output. To bring 12m tons of iron ore to market, the mine has said it needed to build a railway to a port near the community of Pond Inlet. But hunters have pushed back over fears that the expansion could threaten the populations of caribou and narwhal – two key sources of food – if approved. ‘Baffinland is making money and we are given very little money and we know that money will not bring back wildlife,’ Tom Naqitarvik said in an Inuktitut language video posted to Facebook. Under the landmark 1993 Nunavut Agreement, which established a number of key rights for Inuit on their lands, Baffinland is required to negotiate a benefit agreement with the Inuit groups that represent residents of the territory.

Full report in The Guardian

Pollution: Eilat oil pipeline threatens unique Red Sea corals

Israeli environmentalists are warning that a UAE-Israeli oil pipeline deal threatens unique Red Sea coral reefs and could lead to ‘the next ecological disaster’. A report in The Citizen notes that the agreement to bring Emirati crude oil by tanker to a pipeline in the Red Sea port of Eilat was signed after Israel normalised ties with the Gulf Arab nation late last year. With experts warning of possible leaks and spills at the ageing Eilat port, and the Israeli Environmental Protection Ministry demanding ‘urgent’ talks on the deal, activists mobilised last week. They held a protest in a parking lot overlooking Eilat’s oil jetty against what they see as a disaster waiting to happen, chanting that profits will be made ‘at the expense of corals’. Nadav Shashar, head of marine biology and biotechnology at Eilat’s Interuniversity Institute for Marine Science, one of 230 experts who petitioned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu against the deal, argued that with the increase of shipments, ‘the result will be a constant leak of oil pollution’. Shashar said the goal was not to close down pipeline but to ‘limit the extent of its use to something that can be handled’.

Full report in The Citizen

General: Search for survivors after deadly Himalayan flood

Indian rescue workers battled through tons of rock and mud last week searching for survivors in a choked Himalayan tunnel after a deadly flood – apparently triggered by a glacial burst – smashed through two mountain dam projects. According to an EWN report, more than 170 people were still missing, two days after a wall of water and debris hurtled down a valley in the northern state of Uttarakhand, destroying bridges and roads, hitting two hydroelectric power plants and killing 31. The disaster has been blamed on rapidly melting glaciers in the Himalayan region caused by global warming. Building activity for dams and dredging riverbeds for sand and the clearing of trees for new roads – some to beef up defence on the Chinese border – are other factors. Most of those missing were employees at two of the many hydro plants being built around Uttarakhand, home to soaring Himalayan peaks and the sources of the Ganges river. Hundreds of rescue workers were involved in the operation across the state, using helicopters equipped with surface-penetrating high-definition cameras, as well as sniffer dogs. Building projects crisscross highly-seismic Uttarakhand state despite warnings from scientists about the impact on its ecologically fragile hills and valleys.

Full EWN report


Despite the risks, China has plans to build the world's biggest hydroelectric dam in the foothills of the Himalayas, where the ancient Yarlung civilisation established the first Tibetan Empire. According to an Al Jazeera report, in November last year, China’s state-owned media shared plans for a 60GW mega-dam on the Yarlung Tsangpo river in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR). Now with the aim of achieving carbon neutrality by 2060, Beijing has redoubled its efforts on its hydropower projects in Tibet, even though the dams have drawn criticism from Tibetan rights groups and environmentalists. The Yarlung Tsangpo plunges 2 700m through what is known as the Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon, forming a gorge more than twice the depth of the Grand Canyon in the US. The precipitous fall makes it particularly conducive to collecting hydroelectric power but experts have warned the record-breaking dam is likely to have political and environmental consequences. According to the state-backed Global Times newspaper, the Yarlung Tsangpo dam will be built in Medog County, which has a population of 14 000 people. After leaving China, the Yarlung Tsangpo flows into Bangladesh and the Indian states of Arunachal Pradesh and Assam, where the river is referred to as the Brahmaputra. With the proposed mega-dam sited just 30km from the Indian border, Tempa Gyaltsen Zamlha, the head of Environment and Development at the Tibetan Policy Institute, believes the CCP will 'definitely try to use it as a political tool'.

Full Al Jazeera report

Pollution: CFC emissions back in decline, study reports

Emissions of an illegal ozone-killing chemical are back in decline following a surge in recent years, new data suggests. According to a report in The Independent, the substance, trichlorofluoromethane or CFC-11, was banned across the world in 2010 as part of the Montreal Protocol, an international treaty aimed at phasing out chemicals harmful to the ozone layer, which protects people and wildlife from UV radiation. Global concentrations of CFC-11 – once widely used for making insulating foams for furniture and buildings – began to decline following the international agreement. However, in 2018, scientists discovered that the decline in atmospheric CFC-11 levels started to slow after 2013, suggesting an increase in the emissions of the substance from an unknown source, likely in East Asia. Further investigation by environmental groups and scientists pinned around half of the surge in emissions to factories in eastern China. In response to the findings, Chinese authorities promised to crackdown on the illegal production of CFC-11. The new study, published in the journal Nature, estimates that global emissions of CFC-11 decreased by around 18 000 metric tons per year from 2018 to 2019.

Full report in The Independent


Energy: Solar power flares in India

The share of solar energy in India's power generation could equal coal-fired output by 2040, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said last week, driven by falling renewable tariffs and a government push to increase green energy use. A Cape Times report quotes the IEA, which said in its India Energy Outlook 2021 released last week: ‘Solar power is set for explosive growth in India, matching coal's share in the Indian power generation mix within two decades.’ Coal dominates India's electricity sector, accounting for more than 70% of overall generation with only about 4% produced through solar. India was on track to exceed its commitments as a part of the 2015 Paris agreement, the IEA said. ‘This dramatic turnaround is driven by India's policy ambitions, notably the target to reach 450GW of renewable capacity by 2030, and the extraordinary cost competitiveness of solar,’ the agency said. India has the potential to become a world leader in battery storage, the IEA said, adding the country could add 140-200GW capacity of battery by 2040. Still, India's emissions of carbon dioxide could rise as much as 50% by 2040, the largest of any country, enough to offset entirely the projected fall in emissions in Europe over the same period. India needs to expand pollution policies and sharply reduce coal fired generation to reduce its power sector's emissions, the IEA said, adding current regulations were inadequate and utilities rarely deployed pollution cutting technology.

Full Cape Times report (subscription needed)


Energy: EU urged to create more EV charging points

The EU should set binding targets for one m i l l i o n public charging points for electric vehicles by 2024, and three m i l l i o n by 2029, to give consumers the confidence to switch to the new technology, the region's car lobby said last week. According to a TimesLIVE report, in a joint letter with consumer and sustainable transport groups, the European Automobile Manufacturers' Association (ACEA) told Brussels that firm targets would also help carmakers and power grid operators plan ahead. ‘The EU Commission quickly needs to take action and set binding targets for the ramp-up of charging infrastructure in the member states,’ said ACEA president Oliver Zipse, who is also CEO of German carmaker BMW. ‘Otherwise, even the current reduction targets in fighting climate change are at risk,’ he said. Electric vehicle (EV) sales have recently gained momentum as those of combustion engine cars fell during lockdowns in the coronavirus crisis. Carmakers are launching new EV models to meet tougher EU emissions rules and several governments have introduced EV subsidies as part of pandemic recovery programmes. However, the rollout of public charging stations, to complement workplace and home charging, has been slow and there are multiple tariffs and payment methods.

Full TimesLIVE report

General: Protesters occupy London tunnel network

A tunnel network in central London has been occupied by environmental protesters opposing plans by a local authority to cut down urban trees to make way for social housing. According to a report in The Independent, police and bailiffs are trying to evict activists from the site near a busy roundabout on Highbury Corner, home to six mature trees. The climate activists have been living on the site for almost four months to try to save the trees, which are due to be felled in favour of a six-storey block of flats. Protesters from the Highbury Corner Protection Camp said bailiffs had discovered their tunnel entrance – but said the authorities had not been able to remove activists still hidden in the tunnel network. It is not known how many people remain underground, but the group said they were well-stocked with food and other supplies. Campaigners have argued that the tree haven stands in an area of major traffic congestion and air pollution in the most densely populated London borough. Diarmaid Ward, the executive member for housing and development at Islington Council, said the new development would result in 25 ‘desperately needed’ new council homes. He said the project will deliver 63 new trees and 100m² of communal garden space for residents.

Full report in The Independent

General: Lawyer who leaked Heathrow ruling in contempt

Proceedings have been brought against an environmental lawyer who leaked the Supreme Court’s decision about Heathrow’s third runway a day before judgment was due to be delivered. A Law Gazette report notes that the Solicitor-General has instigated contempt of court proceedings against Tim Crosland, a barrister and director of eco-charity Plan B Earth, following a referral from the Supreme Court. Crosland represented Plan B Earth in Heathrow’s appeal and said he leaked the judgment as an act of ‘civil disobedience’. The draft judgment had been circulated on a confidential basis when Crosland issued a statement to the news wire Press Association disclosing the Supreme Court’s decision. Contempt of court is punishable by up to two years in prison, and/or a fine. Solicitor General Michael Ellis QC MP said: ‘After careful consideration, I have concluded that in order that the rule of law be upheld, contempt of court proceedings should be brought against Tim Crosland.

Full Law Gazette report

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Enviro Briefs

* The Mpumalanga Government needs at least R425m to repair damage caused by heavy rains that ravaged parts of the province in the past few weeks. This was revealed by Premier Refilwe Mtsweni-Tsipane last week after visiting some of the affected areas to assess damage to roads, bridges and houses. ‘We have since estimated the damage to cost R425m. We are still waiting for the national government to also do their assessment. The province will try by all means to intervene where possible,’ said Mtsweni-Tsipane.

– SowetanLIVE


* Mpumalanga police have launched a manhunt after several animals, including impalas and a spotted genet kept in a game reserve, were killed two weeks ago. Mpumalanga SAPS spokesperson Brigadier Leonard Hlathi said on 7 February ‘police received information of illegal poaching in Mthethomusha Game Reserve, which borders the Kruger National Park. They discovered nine carcasses of four different animal species including three impalas, four inyala, one rock jumper and one spotted genet’.

– IoL


* Abalone with an expected street value of R900 000 and abalone drying equipment valued at around R60 000 was found in a Stellenbosch house when law enforcement officers responded to a fire caused by a gas bottle explosion last week. Colonel Andrè Traut said two men, aged 23 and 26, were arrested for the illegal possession of abalone, and the police are hunting for a Chinese man in whose name the property was leased.

– TimesLIVE


* An unsuspecting traditional healer was recently arrested in a foiled bid to sell python skin valued at $2 000 to Zimbabwe Parks Authority (ZimParks) rangers, who posed as potential buyers. Matirikisi Dzomba of Gweshe 2 village in Siakobvu was last week arraigned before Chinhoyi magistrate Tendai Banda facing charges of contravening part of the Parks and Wildlife Act, related to the ‘possession of a python skin without a permit’. Dzomba pleaded guilty and was remanded in custody to 26 March 2021 when the regional court, which has jurisdiction over such matters, is expected to hand down sentence.

– allAfrica


* State-owned power utility Namibian Power Corporation (NamPower) has launched a request for information to developers or technology providers for the proposed development of the 50MW Luderitz wind power project. The corporation points out that this is not the beginning of a bidding process, nor a prequalification exercise. The utility hopes to award a contract by March 2022.

– Engineering News

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Laptops 'eavesdrop' on forests

A laptop transmitting 24-hour live sound is one of 27 ‘Guardian’ sensors eavesdropping on forests in Indonesia's West Sumatra province, to listen out for chainsaws as a way to tackle illegal logging in the region. Over the next five or six years, Topher White hopes to install tens of thousands of these audio sensors in forests around the world. ‘We’re basically building a nervous system for the natural world,’ he said. White got the idea to use sound in environmental protection 10 years ago, while volunteering at a conservation project for gibbons monkeys in Borneo. With a background in engineering, White spent nearly a year building an audio detection sensor using an old mobile phone, solar panels and a microphone, then returned to Indonesia to test the system. Today, White’s non-profit, Rainforest Connection, is recording sounds to protect nature in a dozen countries, with funding from some of the world’s largest technology companies, including Google and Huawei. If the system hears a chainsaw, it sends an alert via an app to community patrols, who can check on the ground for logging.

– Cape Argus (subscription needed)


Artificial nests for penguins

To help the Boulders Penguin Colony within the Table Mountain National Park, conservationists recently embarked on a new nest development project, with rangers removing and replacing 58 artificial nest boxes to improve breeding conditions for the African penguin species. SANParks said these new nesting hides are essential for colonies that are greatly exposed to predation and various environmental factors. ‘Replacing lost habitat with artificial nesting structures is considered to be a useful conservation intervention given the decline of the species,’ SANParks said. Cape Research Centre marine biologist Alison Kock said the nest boxes provide safety from predators and limit exposure to adverse weather conditions, including extreme heat and heavy rain leading to floods. The latest design is made of a geotextile fabric that is both non-toxic and environmentally friendly. This prototype is based on measurements of naturally dug burrows made of guano.

– Cape Times (subscription needed)


Sawfish facing extinction

They are the most extraordinary of fish, resembling ‘hedge trimmers with fins’. The sawfish, which is a kind of ray, is also among the most endangered of the fish living in the oceans. Once found along the coastlines of 90 countries, the animals are now presumed extinct in more than half of these, according to a new study. They are vanishing due to habitat loss and entanglement in fishing nets, experts have said. Their ‘saws’, which evolved to sense and attack prey, have now become a liability, making them prone to being caught up in fishing gear. ‘Through the plight of sawfish, we are documenting the first cases of a wide-ranging marine fish being driven to local extinction by overfishing,’ said Professor Nick Dulvy of Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada. Of the five species of sawfish, three are critically endangered, while two are listed as endangered, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species. The US and Australia appear to be the last strongholds for the species, regarded as ‘lifeboat nations,’ where sawfish are better protected.

– BBC News


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