Many moving events are happening in the build up to the most important conference ever on the future of this planet. Last week parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs devoted one and a half days to holding Climate Hearings. Here was a bumper full hall of colourful people from our rainbow nation – from all sectors and walks of life – pleading with the authorities to very carefully consider the dangerous consequences of climate change to themselves as vulnerable people, their livelihoods, their food sources, water and indeed the country and continent as a whole.
We heard a couple of impassioned presentation, some of which I will quote from below. Altogether 15 civil society groups were selected to present to government. These voices are essential. For once the people spoke with one voice, as sentiments were roughly in sync. Green Times is committed to publishing all the presentations and talks we can lay our hands on. Over the extensive lunch hospitality, the groups aired their concerns as to whether government will indeed take their concerns into consideration. “Are we really being heard?” is what a few wondered.
Sadly, we seemed to be the only press in attendance. Let’s hope others arrived during other sessions. Do we still not understand what is at stake here? How can we give rugby matches such extensive coverage, but when something as important as our ability to feed our children, indeed the survival of humanity as a whole is discussed, it happens in relative seclusion. What will it take?
Droughts and retrenchments go hand in hand
Hameda Deedat spoke on behalf of NAIEDI and COSATU:
“This is a unique opportunity for us to create work AND look after our environment,” she said. “SA is the tenth highest emitter of greenhouse gasses, due to our dependence on dirty coal. Remember that droughts and retrenchments go hand in hand, so the impact on labour is undisputed. We need to engage with the realities on the ground. We are contributing towards the problems for SADC.”
With regards to government’s INDC (Intended Nationally Determined Contribution) document she said: “We are disheartened by the ‘consultative process.’ We believe in our planet. Are these submissions just submissions? We are coming here in good faith. We would like to engage with the ministries to move towards a just transition. We want to be part of the process. Our key concern as labour is that we’re working with a system that is inherently faulty.”
“Our pathway is NOT by creating additional climate change, but by means of a national growth path that benefits all. Mitigation and adaptation can create jobs and improve the lives of lots of workers. Our increases must be capped at 1.5 degrees. The path must be more clearly defined. DEAT must make this accessible to all. We want to lobby for global termination of fossil fuels.”
“Civil society is anti- nuclear, as that is a false solution. Water, health and food security are all impacted by climate change.”
Huge impact on traditional communities
Andrew Pheto spoke on behalf of CONTRALESA, the community of traditional leaders. “Climate change has a huge impact on our traditional communities,” he said. “For the majority of them their survival is threatened, as people are already living beneath the breadline. Appropriate measures are needed to safeguard their future.”
“Our traditional communities are ignorant, with low literacy levels. Biodiversity is in grave danger, which impacts on our most vulnerable people. Smallholders are most vulnerable due to a lack of knowledge”
The drier the land gets, the more veld fires they have to contend with.
“Traditional leadership should be brought into the National Adaptation Plan. Half the country is still under traditional leadership,” he said.
All government’s plans need climate proofing
Liz McDaid spoke on behalf of SAFCEI (Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute). In our country’s INDC there is a condition that we will drop our carbon footprint, if we get financial support from the developed world. “
We should do what’s right no matter what others do,” she said. “We have a history of being a leader. We cannot wait for funding from others. All government’s plans need climate proofing. We are concerned that 2 degrees has slipped in. 1.5 Is already too hot for Africa.”
Bishop Geoff Davies, alias the Green Bishop, now retired, said our government should do what’s right for people and planet.
“We need a revolution of our thinking and our societies. You cannot serve God and Mammon, which is accumulated wealth. We should stand resolutely at Paris and keep all temperature increases to below 1.5 degrees up on pre-industrial temperatures. Already we are 0.8 degrees up. In Africa the escalation is double that of the world. I would hate to see it go up by 4 or 5 degrees!”
He also said we can NOT continue to peak our emissions for the next ten years, as stated in our INDC document. “We have the best solar and wind resources in the world. If we had directed Medupi and Kusile’s money towards renewables, we would not have loadshedding now.”
Revolution for our future well-being
Social equity is crucial. The more equality, the less violence and conflict there will be. This is a revolution for our future wellbeing!
Happy Khambule from Project 90 said that fossil fuel resources are too far away. We need the resources where we need energy. The sun is everywhere, he said. Project 90 is going for a low carbon society. “Fair contribution has lost its weight. Net zero is do-able.”
He complained that government’s INDC document contains “weak and vague language, which is not good enough. We should be firmer and give specific numbers.
Significant systems change needed
The last speaker of the first day was Dr. Andrew Marquard from the UCT Energy Research Centre. They are offering to help government with proper reasoning to assess if what is planned would be a fair or effective solution. “What does research say?”
He said SA chairs the G7 countries, so we speak on behalf of two thirds of the world’s countries. “SA’s INDC if inadequate.”
Their research centre provides evidence for policy makers and have climate trackers which can assess the impacts of all emissions.
“To stop the escalation will require significant systems change. We don’t need to close any electricity stations, we must just not build any more. Else they will either stand unused or we will be made a pariah internationally,” he said. “Stakeholders should be forced to share their emissions – it should all be open and transparent. To get credibility climate change policy must be aligned with all other government policies.”
COP is a good start…
The Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs closed the meeting on a light note, making jokes. He said COP21 is “a good start.” He also said “retreating is not defeat, as one might use that time to gather your strength.” Sadly, though, there IS no time to wait.
“Let’s deal with all issues to divert this catastrophe, he said. “We cannot have discussions once in a while and then think it’s done. We’re in it for the long haul. As long as we stick together.”
I trust that means that the broader knowledge and civil community will be more involved, consulted and indeed trusted on the path towards a fair future.
By Elma Pollard