Even by the standards of the African National Congress (ANC), the 2022 Climate Change Bill is an absurdity.

For starters it subverts the efforts of Sipho Nkosi, announced earlier this year by Cyril Ramaphosa, to ‘cut red tape across government’. It will spawn an industry of ‘climate consultants’ to be financed by taxpayers, ratepayers, and consumers. New cadre-filled, racially preferenced, and well-paid bureaucracies will be set up. And, of course, the environment minister will be given extensive regulatory powers.

The memorandum attached to the bill states that the main object thereof is ‘to enable the development of an effective climate change response and the long-term, just transition to a climate resilient and lower-carbon economy’. The bill itself says that the ‘limits of current knowledge about causes and effects of climate change must be taken into account’. Also, decisions on mitigation and adaptation strategies must be based on the ‘best available science, evidence, and information’.

Although the bill thus pays lip service to the ‘limits’ of current knowledge and the need to base strategies on the ‘best available science’ and ‘evidence’, its preamble makes clear its opinion that ‘anthropogenic climate change represents an urgent threat to human societies and the planet’, inter alia via the ‘increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events’. These, it says, will affect, among other things, ‘human health, access to food and water, biodiversity, habitats and ecosystems, the coast and coastal infrastructure, and human settlements’.     

The minister is accordingly empowered to gazette a ‘national greenhouse strategy’, along with a list of such gases as the minister believes are likely to cause or exacerbate climate change. She must then publish a list of activities which emit one or more of the said gases, after which she must ‘allocate a carbon budget to every person undertaking a listed activity’. She is also empowered to determine emissions targets for ‘sectors and subsectors’ that she chooses to list.  

Carbon budgets

The bill further requires the minister to ‘identify synthetic greenhouse gases which must either be phased out or phased down’. Carbon budgets may be allocated here too. A ‘national greenhouse inventory report’ must be published each year.    

So much for ‘mitigation’, which essentially refers to combating ‘climate change’ via ‘human interventions’ against greenhouse gases via such things as carbon taxes. All this for a country responsible for but 1.3% of global emissions of carbon dioxide.

As for ‘adaptation’, which means anticipating the ‘likely impacts’ of ‘climate change’ and adjusting to ‘potential damage’, the minister is required to publish a ‘national adaptation strategy and plan’. She is further required to determine the dates by which ‘adaptation objectives’ must be incorporated into national planning instruments, policies, and programmes.

Provincial environment executives and metropolitan and district mayors must undertake climate change needs and assessments within a year of the adoption of the national plan.    

Various other ministers must then undertake assessments of their functions’ ‘vulnerabilities to climate change’, following which they must develop and implement sector adaptation strategies and plans. Two dozen ‘functions’ are specified as ‘relevant to the development of sectoral emissions targets’.       

Risks and vulnerabilities                      

The bill also places ‘a legal obligation’ on every organ of state to co-ordinate their various ‘policies, plans, programmes, decisions, and decision-making processes relating to climate change’ so as to ensure that risks and vulnerabilities are taken into consideration.

Existing premier intergovernmental forums will serve as ‘provincial forums on climate change’, these to be charged with co-ordinating ‘climate change actions’ in the relevant province. So also, ‘municipal forums on climate change’ will co-ordinate things at that level and report to the relevant provincial forum.         

Although we now have a bill to make provision for it, there is nothing new about ‘adaptation’. Irrespective of whether ‘extreme weather events’ are caused by ‘carbon emissions’ or occur as natural phenomena, governments around the world have taken steps to protect communities against droughts, floods, wildfires, and other damage. They have been doing so since long before the alarm was raised against greenhouse gases. As countries have got richer, the cost of providing such protection as a proportion of GDP has fallen dramatically. Moreover, according to Bjorn Lomborg, the ‘overall risk of climate-related disaster death has dropped over the last century…by an astonishing 99%.’

Provision of public infrastructure, including adequate and reliable supplies of water, has long been seen as a governmental responsibility. The tragedy of South Africa, to take water as just one example, is that millions of people do not have access to clean water. This has got nothing to do with extreme weather events, and everything with governmental failure.

Lethal consequences

There can be very few people in this country who have not been affected by governmental failure in one form or another, sometimes with lethal consequences.      

What makes this bill a monstrous absurdity is that a government which gets almost none of the basics right at national, provincial, or local level now proposes to put in place a vast new planning structure.

We are going to have forums galore in provinces and towns, national strategies for greenhouse gases, annual greenhouse gas inventory reports, carbon budgets for listed activities and sectors, adaptation strategies and objectives, sector plans, implementation plans, and assessments of needs and ‘vulnerabilities’ wherever you look, all laced with plenty of co-ordination and ‘actions’, not to mention government gazettes full of regulations. All this is to be done in the name of making South Africa’s ‘fair contribution to the global climate response’, while ensuring a ‘just transition’.

‘Listing’ sectors and allocating carbon budgets will no doubt be easy for a government so addicted to regulation and decree. How much capacity exists at any level of government to determine ‘adaptation’ needs is doubtful. And even if realistic ‘adaptation’ plans for the necessary infrastructure can be drawn up, successful ‘implementation’ thereof is beyond the capacity of most levels of government and organs of state.

The absurdity of all this is that the more the ANC fails, the more absurdly grandiose its plans become.     

[Image: https://pixabay.com/photos/power-plant-air-pollution-6698838/]

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John Kane-Berman, a graduate of Wits and Oxford (where he was a Rhodes Scholar), is a former CEO of the IRR. Prior to that he spent ten years in journalism, where he was senior assistant editor of the Financial Mail and South African correspondent for numerous foreign papers. He is the author of several books on South African politics, and has also published his memoirs.