In anticipation of next week’s Cabinet announcement, law clinic the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) has requested that President Cyril Ramaphosa make environmental governance a priority and appoint committed Ministers to lead institutional reform.
The CER has written to Ramaphosa with recommendations for the Presidency to create a Climate Change portfolio and a new Department of Energy and Climate, and has also advised that the Department of Water and Sanitation not merge with another department.
“[The CER is] asking him to give priority to the urgent need to improve environmental governance in South Africa by appointing Ministers and Deputy Ministers who are strong, forward thinking leaders, committed to reforming environmental and water governance, and addressing the global threat of climate change,” the organisation said in a statement.
With climate change severely threatening the planet, the CER wants the new Cabinet to prioritise climate considerations across all spheres of government and to be proactive in dealing with the threat, which the CER says the government has done very little to address, thus far.
The proposal of a Climate Change portfolio within the Presidency will help government respond better to climate change, the CER believes.
The alternative of a new Department of Energy and Climate will also demonstrate to South Africans that the ruling African National Congress and Cabinet recognise the threat that climate change poses and show that energy decisions will be linked to South Africa’s future in a changed climate.
The CER says, currently, the Department of Energy’s decisions have widespread consequences for the country’s ability to ensure a just transition from fossil fuels to clean energy.
“[The CER] calls for the Minister to be someone with a clear vision for a just transition away from fossil fuels to clean, cheap, renewable energy for South Africa, and the courage to stand up to the vested interests that are holding us back and throttling our ability to improve the quality of life of everyone in South Africa, including the most vulnerable in our society,” said the law clinic.
It also strongly pledged its stance against merging the Department of Water and Sanitation with another portfolio and instead wanted the new Minister to rebuild and reform the department, which the CER said displayed regulatory dysfunction and corruption.
“CER warns of the paralysis and delay caused by poorly implemented mergers, and the need for a strong Minister to fill the extraordinarily high number of vacancies at the DWS and appoint a competent senior management group as soon as possible,” the organisation urged.
While the CER was not opposed to a merger between the departments of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, it advised that an “uncompromised” Minister was needed as the department was crucial for climate resilience.
It also called for a Mineral Resources Minister that could guarantee regulatory certainty alongside effective and committed regulation.
“Crucially, the new Minister of Mineral Resources has to account for and respond to the extraordinary frustrations and anger of both mining-affected communities across the country about the way in which their lives, homes and livelihoods have been shattered by effectively unregulated mining, and communities who have in mind a different development path, and are holding out, at great risk and cost, against that same devastation they see in other parts of South Africa,” the CER said.
It also cautioned the new Minister to be weary of international mining companies that use black economic empowerment to further the coal mining industry, which the CER believes is “dying” and called on government to ensure that these companies are not absolved from the “devastation” they inflicted on the national and social environment, from which they have profited.