Creecy’s budget speech: SA’s environmental status update

South Africa’s new Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, Barabara Creecy took over as Minister on 30 May 2019. She most recently served as Member of the Executive Council responsible for Finance in the Gauteng Provincial Government. She is a leader of the ANC and has served in government in various portfolios since 1994. According to government communications, it was under Creecy’s leadership that the Gauteng Department of Education pioneered a turnaround strategy to improve matric performance in 400 underperforming township schools. In April 2014, the programme was recognised by the United Nations and awarded first prize in the category “Improving Delivery of Public Services”.

She took over the Ministerial portfolio from Nomvula Mokonyane who headed the department for six months after the passing of Minister Edna Molewa in September 2018.

Creecy delivered her department’s budget vote to Parliament in early July 2019. Budget vote speeches are often viewed as a departmental snapshot to gauge where the nation stands on certain fronts. In this case, it is an indication of what is being prioritised at the Department of Environmental Affairs, which has now merged with Forestry and Fisheries, which was separated from the Department of Agriculture in the May 2019 Cabinet reshuffle.

The Climate Change Bill

The second draft of South Africa’s Climate Change Bill is currently being discussed and debated at NEDLAC (the National Economic Development and Labour Council).

This long-awaited Bill was originally scheduled to be presented to Cabinet in June 2019, after being tabled for comment in June 2018. Read more about the Climate Change Bill and what the big deal is here.

Air Quality

“Teamwork and partnerships must also guide how we ensure we comply with our National Ambient Air Quality Standards,” said Creecy.

In a recent strategic meeting, the Department has agreed to review it’s Priority Area Air Quality Management Plans and their implementation. There are citizens in priority areas of the Highveld, Vaal Triangle, and Waterberg who are calling for immediate action. Minister Creecy said she has written to Minister Mantashe (Mineral Resources) and Minister Gordhan (Public Enterprises) to assist to set up a multi-stakeholder implementation partnership at the highest levels of government.

This comes after environmental groups in the Highveld area took the government to the High Court in June over violations of their constitutional right to clean air. 

Sustainable Development Goals

South Africa will submit its first voluntary report on the progress it has made in implementing the SDGs later in July 2019.

Young people marched to Parliament in Cape Town demanding that the government take climate change more seriously. Similar marches were held in Gauteng to the Union Buildings, and these marches were mentioned by Minister Creecy in her speech, as well as by President Cyril Ramaphosa in his State of the Nation Address in May 2019.

Single-use plastic waste

“Our Plastic Bag Regulations and the plastic bag levy are two mechanisms the government has used to influence consumer behaviour and reduce littering. This is clearly not sufficient.”

The DEA says it will be conducting various stakeholder engagements as it is currently “assessing single-use plastic products”.

The power of the consumer is recognised in this chain.

“We want to see consumers challenging their favourite stores, we want to see the retailers challenging their suppliers and we want to see suppliers coming up with real, and sustainable solutions. With the proper coordination and consumer action, voluntary change can be a sustainable and cost-effective solution.”

Waste beneficiation

The department is studying 49 applications for the beneficiation of waste slag from the ferrochrome sector; ash from combustion plants; and recycling of gypsum, paper, and cardboard.

In other attempts to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill, South Africans are also urged to find ways to clean up communities and improve public open spaces. President Ramaphosa’s ‘Good Green Deeds’ programme was mentioned. “Under the banner of the Good Green Deeds Campaign we should unite and massify these campaigns into a national effort to clean up our country,” said Creecy.

Water and wetlands

The control of invasive plants in water catchment areas and wetlands has seen the Working for Water Programme clear and maintain almost 3.5 million hectares of land. Recent research estimates that protection and clearing of river catchments can increase our water supply by as much as one-sixth, at a fraction of the cost of projects such as desalination.

This year work is being intensified in key catchment and wetland areas with 190 wetlands scheduled for repair.

The job creation potential of projects such as these is always lauded, and Creecy said that this year, the DEA’s Environmental Programmes will create 67 953 work opportunities. (*What exactly defines a work ‘opportunity’ is unclear.)

Conservation

A new 140 000 hectare National Park around the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) in the Northern Cape is being finalised.

“This new park will provide a combination of science, nature, education and recreational experiences that will offer new opportunities for employment and empowerment to local communities,” said Creecy.

Twenty new Marine Protected Areas were recently gazetted, and these increase protective refuges to 5.4% of our South Africa’s Exclusive Economic Zone. The intention is that these areas will help to sustain fisheries for long-term food and job security, secure eco-certification for hake fishery, and contribute to the growth of marine ecotourism.

Upholding environmental rights

Creecy acknowledged that effective compliance and enforcement underpins environmental justice and the integrity of the regulatory system. South Africa’s Green Scorpions are the Environmental Management Inspectorate, which comprises 3 000 officials from 18 entities.

Simultaneously, to reduce red tape, the Department is consolidating and streamlining regulatory processes, automating permit and developing other applications to reduce the cost of compliance. The department has embarked on a programme of “Strategic Environmental Assessments” to support the Strategic Integrated projects and government priority projects. These assessments proactively identify development corridors or zones with the least environmental sensitivity to allow for proactive infrastructure planning and streamlined authorisation.

Any comments on these focus areas or progress from the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries? Share your thoughts with us on the Open Source Green Forum.

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