South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) a non-governmental organization committed to fighting for an environmentally sustainable and socially just development framework for people residing in South Durban communities and eThekwini (broader Durban municipality).

From its inception in 1995, SDCEA has played an active role in community struggles against maldevelopment projects by both government and industries (especially toxic petrochemicals) which undermine social, economic, and environmental cohesion and upliftment.

 It is SDCEA’s objective to create stronger networks and alliances amongst community members and civil society to achieve its goal. More fundamentally, our goal is to highlight how the environment is inextricably linked to other variables such as health, economics, democracy, gender and racial justice, intergenerational equity, biodiversity and, most importantly, social cohesion. Our concerns about the government’s tabling of the Climate Change Bill are numerous, and we anticipate working with Parliament to address these. 

In conducting its public participation process (PPP) when drafting this bill and indeed in relation to nearly all other climate-related policies and legislation, the government failed to ensure the participation of all interested and affected parties (“I&APs”) and to provide all people with the opportunity to develop the understanding, skills, and capacity necessary to achieve equitable and effective participation.

The impacts of climate change seriously threaten every person’s right enshrined in section 24 of the Constitution to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being. Science shows humans need to lower emissions by 2030 to avoid disastrous global warming and researchers warn that we must phase out fossil fuels entirely soon if we want to keep global warming from rising above 1.5 degrees Celsius. The problem is not only the carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted from South Africa’s coal-fired power plants, mines and carbon-intensive industries (especially smelters), agricultural sector, motor vehicles and other major emitters.

South Africa is amongst the dozen largest CO2 emitting countries worldwide and with a domestic economy reliant on coal resources to generate power and liquid fuels, South Africa ranks among the highest per capita emissions in the developing world. Indeed, among all countries with at least 10 million inhabitants, South Africa ranks third highest (behind Kazakhstan and the Czech Republic) in CO2-equivalent emissions per capita per unit of output, indicating extreme fossil intensity. 

While the world is slowly coming to understand the gruesome realities of the climate crisis, we in South Durban intimately understand the climate change impacts that worsen every year. During the Rain Bombs of October 2017, April 2019 and April-May 2022, we in South Durban were hit harder than any other region of South Africa ever has been. Our losses of life and the damage to our houses and infrastructure were formidable. Moreover, we have come to understand that successive meetings of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – and the annual Conference of the Parties (COP) meetings, fail to deliver adequate agreements and actions that ensure safety. In the absence of an overarching instrument legislating on how the country deals with climate change, policies are created and implemented without a clear, consistent, and at times binding legal framework. Lobbyists are able to push and pull policymakers and gain all manner of favors, time extensions, and exemptions, as we have seen repeatedly in the way the Department of Environment, Forestry, and Fisheries bends over backward to serve the country’s worst polluters. This leads to inconsistencies, loopholes, fluctuating levels of ambition, and most importantly, a lack of enforceability. That is why we insist on far stronger language than this bill currently possesses, so that not just state officials but also environmental activists can have much more power when confronting both climate-related emissions and co-pollutants. We have other suggestions:

  • The legislation must reflect the country’s long-term ambition when responding to the climate crisis. It must provide the necessary legal basis and guidance for action by all stakeholders and should therefore not leave critical objectives and requirements to be negotiated at the policy level.
  • The Climate Change Legislation should prescribe consistency among the various government spheres and departments, and the policy decisions that they make. It must effectively prevent public actors from adopting measures that contradict, and in effect cancel each other out – particularly, energy policies must strictly align with the mitigation target, which many studies and credible modelling show would also allow for meeting our development and social justice objectives.
  • As much as we recognise the rights of each individual “to dignity, life and an environment that is not harmful to their health and well-being, and to have the environment protected”, the Bill should recognise the right of the natural environment to be protected, in and of itself, irrespective of the benefits for human beings.
  • The Climate Change legislation requires a meaningful participatory process, where citizens and interested stakeholders are consulted with the chance to effectively influence the content of the Bill in the public interest. Consultation is not just a platform to make citizens aware of the issues affecting or could influence their way of life. Based on their experiences, citizens are experts in their own right – especially because climate change concerns us all. Meaningful participation will breed a sense of ownership and accountability amongst citizens.
  • Climate change is a cross-cutting issue threatening social, political and economic gains for current and future generations. As such, is not limited to one sector of the economy and/or ecosystem. It requires that actions taken to address climate change are not taken in isolation and restricted to environmental management. From that perspective, the Government must meet the challenge of ensuring effective institutional coordination.

The gender impacts of climate change must be considered when developing and implementing legislation and policies to realise a low-carbon sustainable developmental state. We need to address gender and other inequalities related to environmental sustainability and access to natural resources, including participation and decision-making, as a farsighted and inclusive approach to building resilience in the context of local and intra-household dynamics.

Ensuring intergenerational climate justice must be at the heart of our climate change response and in fact one of the main drivers of an ambitious and immediate shift to a carbon-neutral society. It is important to consider the participation of young people and children as a unique social group that can contribute and be equally represented in national and provincial climate change policy development processes. Certain areas that must be reflected in the bill include:

  • Timeframes and deadlines in the Bill must reflect the urgency of the climate crisis and the need to respond effectively.
  • The Bill must contain the safest and most cautious targets according to the latest and best available science.
  • Penalties, compliance, and enforcement must be strong and provide an effective deterrent against excessive GHG emissions and other activities that are harmful to an effective climate response.
  • The cooperative governance provided for the Bill must be clear, strong, and effective.