Energize Global environmental change: A warning for South Africa
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Global environmental change: A warning for South Africa

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Prof. Louis Kotzé, North-West University

Like many other countries in the world, South Africa is not equipped to navigate the growing challenges of climate change and this is unlikely to change if the current trends persist. The country is currently ill-equipped to deal with the existing food and water shortage crises facing the country. Under normal circumstances communities living in Soweto and Ikageng do not have access to drinking water. If government cannot even address this challenge by means of its current service delivery responsibilities, how will it possibly be able to cope as climate change systematically worsens?

South Africa has, in theory, one of the best legal frameworks in the world to regulate actions by the private sector and the government that have negative impacts on the environment, for example Section 24 of the Constitution’s Bill of Rights and an entire panoply of environmental statutes.

However, environmental change is a low priority on the local political agenda although it needs immediate attention. We see fuel prices rising because food prices are rising. Climate change causes crops to fail which causes prices to hike. We have water restrictions. This will only get worse. It is alarming and it is worrying that South Africa does not intervene through the necessary mitigation and adaptation measures to put legislative protocols in place to deal with environmental change. Those most in need will be affected the greatest.

One of the problems is the implementation of our legal framework. There is no political will or capacity to implement a better system. We need better compliance and enforcement. South Africa is staring down the barrel when it comes to climate resilience and the adaptation to climate change. The country is going to have an exceedingly difficult time in adapting to climate change unless it urgently starts implementing its robust policy and legislative framework.

There is increasing pressure to facilitate socio-economic growth, but in that process it often happens that environmental issues are neglected. This results in the infringement of fundamental human rights such as the right to human dignity, the right to life and the right to equality, to name but a few.

But the success of South Africa’s environmental governance effort does not only depend on government. The private sector has a duty to adhere to the laws that protect the environment and while many companies adhere – many do not. Private sector companies have a strong social corporate responsibility component and many of them are ISO 14001 certified. The more voluntary compliance, the less regulation required. They can, however, do a lot better.

When they do step over the line, does the punishment fit the crime?

Not at all. Not even close. How is it possible that a major mining company is penalised with a few million Rand for not having a water license or for pollution? That is how much their stock value could fluctuate in a day. Companies are not hit as hard and as regularly with penalties as they should be.

Send your comments to: energize@ee.co.za



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