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DA’s Gareth Morgan’s National Assembly address at the 2012 Budget Vote for the DEA

3 May 2012 at 9:59 am

Read the full transcript of the National Assembly address delivered by the DA’s spokesperson on Water and Environmental Affairs, Gareth Morgan MP, on 2 May 2012 at the 2012 Budget Vote for the Department of Environmental Affairs here.

“Chairperson, Honourable Minister, Honourable Members

This vote occurs less than two months away from the Rio+20 summit, which marks the 20 year anniversary of the Rio Earth Summit, and ten years since the World Summit on Sustainable Development held in Johannesburg in 2002. It also occurs less than six months after COP17 which was successfully hosted in Durban last year.  The world is now taking stock again of its progress towards sustainable development, and so is South Africa.

New to the agenda is the notion of the Green Economy. It is a contested term. In South Africa government’s appears to take the view that the green economy is a subcomponent of the economy. But this is a perversion if one considers a more holistic definition, that being that the economy, the whole economy, is a component of the ecosystem in which it resides. In other words we should consider the whole economy as the Green Economy.

UNEP has developed a definition of a green economy as one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities. UNEP goes on to say that a green economy is one whose growth in income and employment is driven by public and private investments that reduce carbon emissions and pollution, enhance energy and resource efficiency and prevent the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services. This development path should maintain and where necessary rebuild natural capital as a critical economic asset and source of public benefits, especially for poor people whose livelihoods depend strongly on nature.

It is my contention that policy coherence and transversal management across government departments and all spheres of government is critical for meeting sustainable development goals. Sustainable development and the green economy cannot simply be the domain of the Department of Environmental Affairs. It needs to be integrated across government. This Department has the task of ensuring that coherence is attained.

During the last year Cabinet approved the White Paper on Climate Change, the culmination of about six years of consultation. It is a convincing policy document, and is a credit to this Department which drove the process. One only needs to read this document to see how incredibly challenging the transition to a low carbon future will be. At the same time, it is evident that a reading of the White Paper alerts one to policy incoherence in government. For example, reading the White Paper in conjunction with the IRP2 strategy, one sees that the energy sector has already appropriated more than 50% of the carbon space for itself over the next 20 years, something which the White Paper does not envisage as a feasible scenario if we are to achieve the deviation against business as usual emissions of 34% by 2020 and 42% by 2025.

The New Growth Path, which very obviously deals with the green economy as a sub-component of the economy, and the President’s State of the Nation Address lean towards a promotion of extractive industries in support of the export market and the energy sector. The President’s speech focused heavily on the delivering the infrastructure requirements to support extractive industries. This does not necessarily point to contradictions in policy positions, but it does need to be acknowledged that the extractive industries are hugely energy and carbon intensive. Yes, we must mine, but to what extent is the push to mine being factored into the sustainable development framework? And to what extent, and up to what point, can this particular development path be allowed to use high potential soils, biodiversity, water and carbon space?

It comes down to having effective planning instruments, and mechanisms to monitor key environmental indicators, and their subsequent changes. I commend the Minister and her Department for finalising the National Strategy for Sustainable Development and Action Plan last year. This strategy very actively acknowledges the need for a long term planning horizon. But the challenge is in implementation.  The NSSD and the White Paper on Climate Change must not sit alongside other government policies and programmes. It is other government policies and programmes that need to find space within the context set by the NSSD and the White Paper.

Getting the balance right in environmental management is important. Good developments, including infrastructure, that creates jobs and improve livelihoods of our people need relatively quick environmental authorisations. In this regard instruments to improve efficiency and effectiveness of environmental impact assessment systems across the country are required. The Department has correctly identified the need for greater utilisation of Environmental Management Frameworks, particularly for areas facing high development pressures. Ideally these EMFs need to be integrated with the IDPs of municipalities. The ideal situation that we need to achieve is to be able to say to developers, whether they be the private sector or government, that this is where a particular activity is best suited; this is the carrying capacity of a particular area, and this area, for reasons of sensitive biodiversity or threatened water courses, is out of bounds for development. In this regard the Department requires improved GIS systems to identify sensitive environments.

Mining remains the elephant in the room. For too long now the Department of Mineral Resources has regarded its principal legislation, the MPRDA has being able to trump other legislation. One only needs to fly over the pock marked terrain of Mpumalanga to see what poor spatial planning and lack of proper authorisation procedures does to the environment and the people affected. The Department of Mineral Resources has for several years now foisted unwanted mines on many local communities, with little or no meaningful consultation. So often, communities with little access to resources are forced to take on multimillion Rand mining houses. In this regard I pay tribute to the community activists from Piketberg to Mtunzini, and from Chrissiesmeer to Lephalale, who champion good environmental governance when it comes to mining authorisations. I also congratulate the good men and women of the Department of Environmental Affairs who have worked for years to improve coordination mechanisms between the Departments of Mineral Resources, Environmental Affairs and Water Affairs.

Some positive news in the development of mining law is that the Constitutional Court recently upheld the verdict of the SCA in the case brought by the City of Cape Town versus Maccsands.  Simply put, where mining is not permitted by a zoning scheme the holder of a mining right cannot start to mine. It is important that municipalities and provinces all around South Africa take note of this verdict. Proper local planning and use of zoning laws should determine where mining is permitted. I have long held the view that the Mining Minister should not be able to override local plans and IDPs. This verdict will have major consequences for shale gas exploration applications which have footprints as large as 30 000 square kilometres, bigger than entire municipalities. We require municipal councils and provincial governments to all become more involved in mining authorisations from now on.

The scourge of rhino poaching is a national tragedy. A species brought back from extinction in the 1970s is now under assault from criminal syndicates. As of the end of April, 199 rhinos had been killed by poachers. At this rate 600 rhinos will be killed this year, up from 448 in 2011, a 34% increase on last year. And the reality is we don’t know what will happen to the rate in the future. If poaching continues to escalate in the manner that it escalated between 2007 and 2011, the overall rhino population will decline. That’s of course if we have a grip on what the actual number of rhinos in our parks are. If we have overestimated the rhino population then the decline may already have begun.

I am not one for throwing around emotive words, but the rhino poaching epidemic reached crisis levels some time ago. When armed individuals, mostly from Mozambique, enter the Kruger National Park, the jewel of our conservation crown, and kill our rhinos, already 119 dead this year and 252 last year, it is an assault on our sovereignty. It is pleasing that there are a high number of arrests, already 122 this year, but as the situation currently stands there will always be more poachers. The value of rhino horn is simply exorbitant, and the rewards of poaching currently outweigh the risks.  Yes there is more than can be done in terms of compliance and enforcement. I do not believe for example that enforcement in the Kruger National Park has truly reached the stage where authorities “own the night”, the period when most poaching occurs. Nor, considering the friendly fire shootings that resulted in the death of a police officer and park ranger on Saturday, are the efforts of the law enforcement agencies sufficiently coordinated.

Of course poaching occurs not only in government parks. Private rhino owners also suffer losses at the hands of poachers. The costs of protecting private rhinos are substantial, so these stakeholders are also relying on support from government agencies in cracking syndicates and catching poachers.

Another aspect that needs to improve is intelligence. Crime Intelligence and Defence Intelligence, along with park authorities, need to improve systems of information gathering and sharing. Arresting and prosecuting syndicate bosses will do more to disrupt poaching than prosecuting the grassroots poacher, as important as the latter is.

Are we winning the war on rhino poaching? The answer is almost certainly no. Have we exploited all available options? The answer is also no. I am not in favour of closing down debate on options to curb rhino poaching, nor do I believe there is a ‘silver bullet’ solution. As far as I am concerned all options must remain on the table. All options must however be subject to rigorous scrutiny, but time is running out for our rhinos and we are desperate for some meaningful successes in the war against poaching. Madam Minister, we look to you for your leadership on this matter.

Notwithstanding the difficulties we face, let me pay tribute to the men and women of South Africa who work tirelessly to protect our rhinos: the park rangers who endure the loneliness of the wilderness, the soldiers who patrol the border and the magistrates who sit in judgement of suspected poachers. But tribute must also go to the ordinary citizens of our country who keep the scourge of poaching firmly within the public discourse, who raise money for charities supporting rhinos, who rehabilitate orphaned rhinos, and who even go as far as appearing in court on behalf of their fellow citizens to ensure suspected poachers get no bail or are convicted with the strongest possible sentences, as in the case with the activists from OSCAP.

In closing, let me make a few general comments. The Department of Environmental Affairs is generally very well run. With regards to financial management it is perhaps the apex performer in the national government, under the careful and thoughtful guidance of DG, Nosipho Ngcaba. Madam Minister, you have been in the post for 18 months and have grasped well the complexities of the Department. I appreciate your leadership during COP17 and in the lead up thereto. I look forward to the same leadership in driving the sustainable development, green economy and climate change strategies going forward. I also thank the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee, Advocate De Lange, for his guidance of the committee.

The challenges of environmental governance are immense. It is tempting to grow our economy at the expense of the environment and our natural capital but that would be unethical and irresponsible. It is far more challenging to grow our economy in a way that sustains and grows natural capital. It is the challenge that will define our future.”