Climate Justice is a Political Issue

When the drafters of our Constitution located environmental rights within the context of the Bill of Rights, they evidenced not only foresight, but also an unwavering commitment to recognizing the rights of future generations.

South Africa is one of the few countries around the globe where environmental rights are constitutionally protected – thanks to the policy instruments put in place  by the African National Congress (ANC).

In characterizing the National Democratic Society, the amended Strategy and Tactics document of the ANC, as adopted by the 53rd National Conference in Mangaung, defines a developmental state as one defined by, inter alia “sustainable utilization of natural endowments and the protection and regeneration of the environment as an inheritance of current and future generations.”

This is because, we as a progressive organization, recognize that this country’s rich endowment of natural resources and mineral deposits, if used responsibly, can serve the current and the future generations in creating a more diverse and inclusive economy, at the same time addressing job creation, poverty eradication and inequality elimination as well as advancing radical socio-economic transformation.

The ANC is by its very nature a party wherein environmental rights and environmental justice have long been recognized as cornerstones for building an inclusive, sustainable society and future.

Further to this, sustainable development for the benefit of the country and all who live in it: is a constitutionally protected principle.

Climate change threatens to severely undermine the development gains made by our young democracy in the past twenty years. Developing countries such as ours are at greater risk because of resource extraction, reliance on fossil fuels and the vulnerability of indigent communities.

To this end, policy instruments put in place by the ANC government address developmental challenges in a sustainable manner; meaning that in every development, the three pillars of sustainable development are being considered, namely, the people (social aspects), the economy (prosperity) and environmental (ecology) factors.

The ANC has in all its National Conference resolutions, repeatedly underscored the call for the country to contribute towards the global shift to a low-carbon development path. As a result, we have in place a National Climate Change Response Policy that charts the course for actions that are both developmental and transformational.

Through our Green Economy strategy we continue to work towards promoting equitable, inclusive, sustained and environmentally sound economic growth and social development: to the benefit of all.

To ensure that our country’s food, water, energy security and infrastructure are not negatively impacted by climate change we have developed Long Term Adaptation Scenarios to inform adaptation planning and implementation.

Our priority focus areas are communities that are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, particularly the indigent, the rural dwellers, and women.

Furthermore, as outlined in the Integrated Resource Plan, by 2030 we aim to have decreased our fossil energy demand significantly, and creating alternative renewables through new technological innovation, good behavioral practices and a public commitment to more efficient, sustainable and equitable energy use.

However, because South Africa is a developing country the ANC  has opted to be guided by the overarching principle of sustainability, and of a ‘Just Transition.” We will thus over a reasonable time continue to argue for our development space without being pressured to faster emission reduction and/or faster transit into all other environmental transformation regimes.

As we noted in the 2012 Economic Transformation Policy Discussion Document, in the light of our carbon-intensive economy and export sectors, “South Africa remains particularly vulnerable to climate change response measures taken by developed economies under the banner of mitigation commitments.”

Such response measures, as the policy document notes, “could have serious economic and social consequences for the SA economy and population.”

This week South Africa participated in a high-level event on climate change at UN, where we advanced our country’s position on how we can mobilize political momentum on ambitious mitigation, adaptation and importantly, means of implementation in addressing climate change.

The consideration of this topic by the UN comes at an opportune moment when the international community is pursuing another milestone in global climate Agreement-to be concluded in Paris later this year.

South Africa reaffirmed our position; namely a commitment to reaching an Agreement in Paris that is fair, rule-based, binding and applicable to all, and ensures that collectively we can limit temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century.

We once again committed Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) by the set dateline of beginning October 2015. We are currently engaged in an intensive public consultation process to finalize these INDCs, which will cover mitigation, adaptation and means of implementation.

We will continue to forcefully argue that the increasing adaptation burden should be a global responsibility and not be shouldered by  the developing countries alone.

The reality is that less mitigation means more adaptation. We strongly believe as we will continue to argue, that adaptation is a global responsibility that must be treated with the same priority as mitigation. This is the basis of the Africa Group’s proposal for the Paris agreement to outline a global adaptation goal, which is reciprocally linked to the mitigation goal and be linked to the Long term goal.

As the Group of 77 plus China, we help be that Principles of the Convection must still apply, in particular the principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities and respective Capabilities (CBDR).

It is a fact that though climate change is a global problem, its effects are not being evenly felt.  Countries such as ours will bear the brunt, especially in Africa where 95 per cent of agriculture is rainfall dependent.

At issue, fundamentally, is the matter of how developing countries’ contributions to the global effort to combat climate change will be supported, and whether the obligation to provide this support should be legally binding on developed countries.

In light of the fact that the developed expects more commitments from developing countries, despite their ongoing poverty and developmental challenges, it is concerning to note that there are currently no indications of the scale of support to be provided for post-2020 action from developing countries. This has the potential to undermine confidence in the Paris process. As a minimum, developed countries should communicate their support undertakings for the period 2020 to 2030, even if only at indicative levels at this stage.

Provision can then be made in the Paris agreement for a process to communicate more concrete support provisions in line with donor country budget appropriation processes.

As developing countries we are seeking an equitable regime that reinforces multilateralism and offers hope, confidence and trust for those vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

At the Paris conference we have within our grasp the will to set the development of a fair, ambitious, rules-based and legally binding multilateral global climate change system that supports the transition to lower carbon and climate resilient economies.

Cde Edna Molewa is a member of the ANC NEC and Minister of Environmental Affairs

Posted in Phambili
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