Report notes SA's progress in environmental reforms

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Pretoria – South Africa has made progress in reducing the carbon, energy and material intensities of its economy and in managing its natural asset base, including water, biodiversity and mineral resources.

This is according to a country review compiled by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The environmental performance review, which was released in Pretoria on Tuesday, noted that South Africa has made progress in the transition to a low-carbon, energy- and resource-efficient economy, managing the natural asset base as well as improving the environmental quality of life.

“There have been solid efforts to mainstream environment into South Africa’s economic policy and promote greening of the economy,” said the report, which also commends South Africa for its environmental engagement with the rest of Africa and like-minded countries.

The report noted that in the last 20 years of democracy, South Africa has made impressive strides to catch up with - and in some cases surpass - the developed world’s environmental standards.

However, it also said that the country’s economy remains highly carbon-intensive, many of its rivers and lakes are polluted and indoor coal and paraffin stoves harm air quality for millions.

Simon Upton, Director of the OECD’s Environment Directorate said progress has been remarkable, and yet much remains to be done.

Challenges SA faces

“As it works to bolster economic growth and raise income levels, one of the key challenges South Africa faces is to integrate biodiversity considerations into its mining, energy, transport and coastal management policies.”

The report also noted that while South Africa ranks among the world’s top 17 countries for biodiversity, unchecked mining, mineral processing, energy production and urban development during apartheid had left a quarter of river ecosystems critically endangered, depleted water resources and damaged the country’s natural habitat and biodiversity.

Also, South Africa is also one of the world’s top 20 emitters of greenhouse gases, due largely to its extensive use of coal.

Report provides independent perspective

Speaking at the launch of the report, Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa, explained that the objective of the review was to provide an independent perspective of South Africa’s performance in the environmental sector, from an economic angle.

It also provided a view on what is working or not and whether improvements can be made.

She said with the report, the country received an invaluable resource in terms of access to global best practice, peer learning and technical expertise from the lessons, experiences and strides that developed countries have made in their efforts to transition towards a Green Economy. 

“We are therefore provided with an opportunity to benchmark for planning and prioritising our development plans… We find the report to be balanced and accurate in its reflection on South Africa’s environmental performance.”

The report is divided into chapters, namely Policy-Making Environment, Towards Green Growth, International Cooperation, Biodiversity and Economics of Ecosystems management and Multi-Level Environmental Governance.

Report provides recommendations

The report provides various recommendations for the country, including reducing explicit and implicit subsidies for coal and electricity consumption, examining how environment-related taxes could provide an alternative, doing more to integrate biodiversity into economic development and quickly implementing a proposed carbon tax.

The review also calls for substantial infrastructure investments to improve access to, and quality of, environmental services such as water, sanitation and waste management.

“These recommendations are extremely useful. Some of them reinforce existing efforts to improve our system; some are being followed up for implementation as we speak; while others warrant further research.

“In general, the challenges identified in this Performance Review for South Africa, call for increasing our efficiencies and capacities, particularly in respect of environmental monitoring and compliance, in all three spheres of government,” said Molewa.

Capacity building, training

She said her department would, in building capacity to address compliance and monitoring, provide a programme for training environmental inspectors, which are critically needed to efficiently and effectively implement environmental laws and remedial or sanction measures in case of non-compliance. 

“We have formulated the Green Economy Strategy, with eight pillars of focus. We have also established a National Green Fund to catalyse large scale investment in the green economy and provide innovative financing for this transition.”

Molewa added that the department had recently, through the Groen Sebenza programme, witnessed the creation of 800 green jobs.

“It is through climate change adaptation initiatives such as these and others such as Working-For-Water, Working-For-Wetlands, and Working-On-Fire, that begin to accelerate the transition to a sustainable development and the Green Economy while also making a contribution to creating the 11 million jobs as envisaged in the National Development Plan,” added the minister. –

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