Unabriged budget address: Minister of Environmental Affairs

788

Speech on the Department of Environmental Affairs 2010/11 financial year budget vote delivered by Minister BP Sonjica, National Assembly, Parliament

16 April 2010
“Working together we can do more for our environment”

Honourable Speaker, Deputy Speaker

Honourable Members of Parliament

Honourable chairpersons and CEOs of public entities

Honourable heads of various NGOs and CBOs

Distinguished guests

Ladies and gentlemen

Introduction

Honourable Speaker, allow me to dedicate this year’s budget vote speech to our first democratically elected president, Tata Nelson Mandela, who twenty years ago walked out of the Victor Verster Prison after spending 27 years of incarceration fighting for the freedom of our people, harbouring no trace of bitterness or animosity to those who had placed him behind bars. His exemplary stature taught us to be selfless and dedicated in pursuit of the betterment of the lives of our people. Through the policies and programme of our department we will ensure that we give credence to Tata’s vision to “make tomorrow better than today”.

When the gates of Victor Verster flung open, he took those memorable first steps that symbolised the many steps we were to take in our quest to move our country to a new era of sustainable development that benefits all our people irrespective of their race, creed or station in life. The emergence of Tata Nelson Mandela out of incarceration further symbolised the emergence of a paradigm where as a nation we recognised that development should benefits us today, whilst at the same time we should not deprive future generation’s access to the same resources and natural assets.

Honourable members, the 2007 State of the Environment Report is quite revealing in reminding us of the damage we continue to inflict on our environment. It highlights the deteriorating condition of the South African environment and a right to a healthy environment as articulated in the Constitution. Although we recognise the role of other government departments, we respond directly to outcome 10 which demands of us to “Protect and enhance our environmental assets and natural resources”.

The financing and resourcing of the environmental sector in particular in provinces and municipalities is not high up on the agenda. We are working closely with the National Treasury to explore fiscal instruments like emission tax as pronounced by the Minister of Finance and the current plastic bag levy in pursuance of generating significant revenue for the sector.

South Africa joins other nations of the world in observing 2010 as the International Year of Biodiversity (IYB). This is an opportunity to heighten awareness on biodiversity which we will consistently carry out in partnership with our partners in the sector, the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) and the South African National Parks (SANParks). This is the celebration of life on earth and the recognition of the links between biodiversity, ecosystem services and human well being.

Rural development

As part of our strategic focus and in response to the broad-government inclination towards rural development, we will ensure that the integrity of ecosystems on which rural economies are based is enhanced and protected.

Working together to speed up economic growth and transform the economy, to create decent work and sustainable livelihoods

Honourable members, we have set aside R400 million for the eco-towns programme that we are rolling out to 10 municipalities. The project Buyisela is an initiative led by our department in partnership with Indalo Yethu and the Department of Water Affairs. This initiative aims to create ten eco-towns modelled on sustainability as a legacy project which will serve as a framework or blueprint for other towns to follow. Buyisela means giving back or restoring, which in essence captures the thrust of cleaning and greening efforts which go beyond just lawns and trees, but also creates bio-recreational spaces for our people to enjoy their neighbourhoods whilst also protecting and enhancing the quality of the open spaces which could have been a breeding ground for criminal activities.

In the midst of the world economic meltdown, the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) called for a Global Green New Deal (GGND) according to which governments are encouraged to support economic transformation to a greener economy. It should promote sustainable and inclusive growth to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and reduce carbon dependency and ecosystem degradation.

In responding to this international context, we will work towards the development of a National Green Economy Strategy; hence we will be hosting a Green Economy Summit during the first quarter of this year which will be used to define key elements of this strategy, gain valuable insight on key areas of focus and issues requiring attention in the short, medium and long term.

Working together we need to act now to mitigate the effects and adapt to the impact of climate change.

Honourable members, climate change pose an enormous threat to economic growth, sustainable development and our ability to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). By 2080, about 70 million people and up to 30 percent of Africa’s coastal infrastructure could face the risk of coastal flooding because of sea level rise and an increase in storm intensity and frequency over the oceans.

Climate change threatens Africa’s food security with some parts of the continent expected to experience a reduction in agricultural yields of more than 50 percent by 2050. The oceans, covering 70 percent of the earth, plays an important role in the climate change debate, particularly the role it plays in providing moisture for rain. The western parts of South Africa are projected to become drier, with some key agricultural sectors expected to be impacted quite severely, resulting in accelerated loss of biodiversity, particularly the fynbos as well as chronic water shortages as we have seen in the past two seasons in the Southern Cape.

In addition, the north-eastern parts of the country are expected to get wetter with a highly energised climate, risks of flooding and damage to property from tornadoes.

Responding to these challenges we will release a National Climate Change Policy and White Paper which should be concluded by the end of 2010. The policy will further build on a broad understanding of what can be done by all stakeholders’ government, business, labour, civil society and individual citizens to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

More needs to be done to prepare our communities and arm them with information to demystify the climate change debate and secure their informed understanding of human activities that contribute to climate change. We will use our public participation engagements to spread the message of climate change.

This year marks 150 years since the South African Weather Services (SAWS) was established. In celebrating this achievement, the theme “150 years of service to South Africans” has been chosen to showcase the wealth of climate data and information we have as a country and which informs policy and strategies in climate change adaptation measures.

Working together to conserve and protect our oceans and coasts

The Integrated Coastal Management Act came into operation in December last year. We regard this as a significant milestone representing our first legislative instrument towards a holistic and integrated approach to the conservation and management of the South African coastline.

There is recognition of the challenge regarding the management of oceans spaces in our adjacent ocean areas. The threats of climate change, including severity and frequency of storms, droughts and other extreme weather events, can only be appreciated when we understand the physical processes that occur in our adjacent ocean areas. This therefore warrants a comprehensive ocean strategy.

Marine Protected Areas continue to be a significant conservation tool for the protection of marine biodiversity. Historically they have been associated with dispossession and exclusion of vulnerable communities from access to natural resources. The department will continue in its efforts to optimise effectiveness of Marine Protected Areas both offshore and inshore.

Estuaries, the interface of river and sea water, represents important water bodies crucial for our ecosystem functioning. Of the 200 estuaries found along the South African coast, 25 percent are in a degraded state. This degradation is due to inappropriate developments along the banks and in the catchment areas. The department will focus its attention proactively on these degraded systems and will prioritise developing management plans that will seek to improve functioning of estuaries in associated hinterlands.

Building a better Africa and a better world

Honourable members, in May this year, we will be repatriating species of black rhino which is not indigenous to our country to Tanzania. About two decades ago eight individuals of this rhino species Diceros bicornis michaeli was imported to our country and kept at Addo Elephant National Park. I am happy to announce that, following a request by the Tanzanian Wildlife Authorities, we will be donating 32 of these animals to our Tanzanian counterparts since the species has become almost extinct in its original habitat. This is one of those fairy tale ending stories where an alien species has become a gene pool to restock depleted ranges.

Honourable members, through our leadership as president of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN), we were able to transform the ministerial forum into the key voice of Africa on the environment. This was also evident through the role played by AMCEN in crafting and galvanising Africa’s common negotiation position on climate change which was taken to the United Nations Framework on Climate Change Conference of Parties 15 (UNFCC CoP15).

Furthermore under our presidency we have initiated a process for outlining a Comprehensive Implementation Framework on Climate Change for Africa, which unpacks the climate change mitigation and adaptation initiatives to be embarked on within Africa.

In the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region our efforts are geared towards a SADC protocol on environment which seeks to support the development and implementation of environmental policies and legal frameworks, in areas like biodiversity and conservation focusing on Transfrontier Conservation Areas (TFCAs), environmental planning (among others, Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process alignment across our borders), climate change, air quality, pollution and waste management, ocean management, environmental education and capacity building as well as regional meteorological initiatives.

At the recent Climate Change talks in Copenhagen, South Africa committed to reduce its emission by 34 percent by 2020 and 42 percent by 2025, depending on the availability of financial and technical support. South Africa will host the Climate Change Conference of Parties at the end of 2011. As the Conference of Parties (COP) President after Mexico, we will be directly involved in the attempts to advance the process towards an international climate deal. This is an opportunity for South Africa to make its mark in advancing and positioning itself within the agenda of developing nations and in preparation for the Conference of Parties to be held in Mexico in 2010.

That we will be hosting this big international meeting is a significant milestone for South Africa, especially in light of the critical stage of the climate change talks.

Fighting crime

Last year we highlighted that environmental crimes were a source of great concern, requiring urgent intervention especially given that it is often committed by organised crime syndicates with international connections. To address these crimes adequately, enforcement and compliance capacity needs to be increased. However, this will only be effective if we were to bring the criminal justice system into the equation.

South Africa has been under tremendous pressure in the past two years with the rising number of rhino horns being poached in public and private protected areas. The department is establishing an interim national wildlife reaction unit specifically to complement the work of the Environmental Management Inspectors commonly referred to as the Green Scorpions, aimed at responding to address broader environmental crimes and wildlife smuggling activities in South Africa. We need to appreciate that this matter has huge implications not just for us as South Africa, but also for the region.

Our Green Scorpions have also been hard at work to ensure that anyone who flouts our environmental laws is brought to book as indicated by the recent raids following illegal dumping of medical waste in the Free State. With a total of 4 661 environmental cases reported nationally from 1 April 2008 to 31 March 2009, we have a compelling case for the establishment of environmental courts.

Last year I made a commitment to pursue the re-opening of environmental courts. Honourable members, I am happy to announce that I have engaged the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development regarding the re-opening of time slots dedicated to the processing of environmental crimes in our existing courts. Our launch site will be the Johannesburg

Regional Court in Gauteng on 20 May 2010. Other pilot sites will include Durban Regional Court in KwaZulu-Natal, Nelspruit Regional Court in Mpumalanga and the Hermanus District Court in the Western Cape. Further roll out to other provinces will be considered on an annual basis.

Overtime we have trained over 300 prosecutors and over 200 magistrates on environmental crimes in preparation for this reopening and we have also distributed Prosecutor Manuals on Environment Crimes to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).

Balancing the impact of development on the environment effectively

At the core of advancing the environmental sector programmes a number of frameworks and tools have been developed. I am pleased to inform the House that I plan to publish the new Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) regulations to come into effect in July 2010. The last financial year saw steady progress towards the development and implementation of an environmental assessment system that is effective in enhancing environmental quality whilst efficient in terms of both time frames associated with decision making and maximising value for money.

This signifies a quantum leap for us in that apart from aligning the 2006 Regulations with the new and improved act, the 2010 EIA Regulations seeks to streamline the EIA process and enable integration with other processes such as water use licences, emission to air licences and mining related approvals. It will also introduce an approach where sensitive ecosystems are treated with more care than those areas that are not under threat this will be achieved through the introduction of a Listing Notice dedicated to activities planned for sensitive areas.

Honourable Speaker, let me end by reminding the House that 2010 is the year of action as pronounced by the president in his State of the Nation Address. This budget speech is indicative of our commitment and dedication to service delivery in synch with the mandate given to us by the electorate.

I thank you

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Issued by: Department of Environmental Affairs
16 April 2010

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