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31 May 2022

Just Share’s comments on the Climate Change Bill

Just Share has submitted comments on the Climate Change Bill to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (“the Committee”). Our submissions focus on the compliance and enforcement provisions in the Bill, which are wholly inadequate to ensure that South Africa plays its part in limiting global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to as close to 1.5 degrees Celsius as possible.

The Bill contains only one criminal offence – the failure by an emitter allocated a carbon budget (which prescribes the maximum amount of GHG emissions it may emit), to provide the Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (“the Minister”) with a GHG mitigation plan (which sets out how the emitter will comply with that carbon budget). The Bill does not identify a single other violation and contains no other mechanisms to hold emitters accountable.

In other words, once a GHG mitigation plan has been submitted to the Minister, there are no mechanisms for the Minister or her department to hold emitters accountable for failure to comply with it.

There is overwhelming evidence of the enormous scale of the climate crisis and the urgency to take effective steps to limit GHG emissions as quickly as possible. Despite this, and despite the evidence of the devastation already wrought by climate change, the global policy response to climate risk has been weak and inadequate. New fossil fuel projects continue to be authorised, and emissions continue to rise. Unprecedented lobbying activity – by the fossil fuel industry and associated industry associations – to weaken, delay, and oppose climate-related regulation, has played a key role in this global failure to act.

In South Africa, corporate pushback and lobbying by fossil fuel interests have achieved the extension by three years of the first phase of the carbon tax. This first phase is extremely weak, making provision for big emitters to receive between 60% and 95% tax allowances such as rebates or exemptions. The second, more stringent phase of the carbon tax, which was supposed to kick in in 2023, will now not do so until 2026. Given the effectiveness of lobbying against the tax, there is no guarantee that it will not be even further delayed.

The Minister of Finance in the 2022 Budget Speech referenced a higher carbon tax rate on emissions exceeding a company’s carbon budget. However, while this provision appeared in a previous version of the Bill, it is not contained in the current version. No public explanation has been provided for this omission.

It appears that mandatory carbon budgets in terms of the Bill will now also be postponed until 2026. In other words, there will be more than three-and-a-half more years of emissions that will attract barely any carbon tax.

As stated in Just Share’s submissions on the Bill, a company’s failure to comply with its carbon budget or its GHG mitigation plan should attract significant penalties if the Bill is to have any impact at all. Exceeding a carbon budget should also be clearly linked to the requirement to pay additional carbon tax on excess emissions. Violators should be liable to have their authorisations revoked and company directors should face personal liability.

The provisions of the Bill apply to corporate entities, and as the Bill stands, there is little incentive to comply with it. By contrast, material benefits can accrue to a corporate offender which contravenes its provisions. Unless the risks and costs of non-compliance exceed the benefits, the Bill will be toothless.

The current Bill clearly does not go far enough to ensure accountability for those who contribute significantly to and/or exacerbate the impacts of the climate crisis. Just Share calls upon the Committee to introduce meaningful penalties and other compliance and enforcement provisions to ensure that the Bill is effective, and supports and strengthens our constitutional right to an environment not harmful to health and well-being.

IMAGE: Gallo Images / The Times

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