At the end of October 2023, South Africa’s National Assembly voted to pass the Climate Change Bill

Words Bakang Moeng, GBCSA IMAGES Supplied


Recognising that climate change poses a threat to societal health, the environment and the economy, the new legislation – introduced in Parliament in February 2022 by the South African Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, Barbara Creecy – seeks to “reduce emissions in a way that is appropriate to the country’s unique circumstances and development pathway”.

The Climate Change Bill will now be tabled at the National Council of Provinces (NCP) before being presented for presidential assent, after which it is written into law as an Act. At its core, the Bill seeks to shape South Africa’s legal framework to address climate change and to ensure a just transition towards a low-carbon future.

Minister Creecy also stated that the Bill will ensure we reach the country’s Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) greenhouse gas emissions reduction by assigning individual enterprises carbon budgets and facilitating public disclosure of our progress. According to the minister, “The Bill provides impetus for mainstreaming our climate disaster response by placing a legal obligation on every organ of the state to co-ordinate and harmonise policies, plans and programmes to make sure climate change risk and associated vulnerabilities are acted upon by national, provincial and local government.”

The impact on business

On being asked about the implications of the Climate Change Bill for businesses, Nkopodi Mpahlele, an Environment and Energy Policy Co-ordinator with Business Unit South Africa (BUSA) said, “The introduction of the Climate Change Bill is a positive signal that the country is committed towards reducing its emissions as part of collaborative local and international efforts to reduce emissions and respond to climate change. This also encourages companies to comply with new legislative instruments while investing in low-carbon technologies and creating new green jobs. In addition, businesses have started incorporating climate-related risks and opportunities into their business models.”

Nkopodi Mpahlele, Environment and Energy Policy Co-ordinator, Business Unit South Africa (BUSA)

The international community has also been developing its own climate change responses through policies and other mechanisms. The carbon-intensive nature in which South Africa produces most of its exports is increasingly being disadvantaged by various carbon taxes being introduced globally – particularly in the European Union (EU): South African exports to this market make up a significant part of our economy. With the EU’s Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM – a carbon tariff on carbon-intensive products such as cement, iron, steel and aluminium, imported by the EU) having entered its transitional phase in October 2023, it has become vital for South Africa to accelerate its transition to a low-carbon economy. The Climate Change Bill is the key piece of legislation to catalyse this. In line with the Bill, sectoral targets defining desired emission-reduction outcome Sector Emissions Targets (SETs) are to be set for each significant sector and sub-sector of the economy.

Will the Climate Change Bill be the silver bullet that aligns civil society, the private sector and the government’s efforts towards a carbon-neutral future?

A step in the right direction

Will the Climate Change Bill be the silver bullet that aligns civil society, the private sector and the government’s efforts towards a carbon-neutral future? Much work is being done within the climate change space, and those who practise within that space fundamentally understand that it would take collaborative efforts from all spheres of government, civil society and public sectors to reach the ambitious NDC targets we have set for our country. At its core, the Climate Change Bill seeks to bring about coherence and collaboration within different sectors, while ensuring the decarbonisation of our various sectors and simultaneously ensuring that as a developing country, our social and economic development is not compromised in the process. Mphahlele highlighted that “the Bill provides a holistic framework underpinning climate-change response measures. What follows would be the development of regulations, allowing different governmental departments affected by climate change to develop policies and measures in accordance with the principles and objectives of the Climate Change Bill”.

The Bill brings dialogue and engagement between different sectors that have traditionally not engaged with each other.

He also states that what the Climate Change Bill does is to institutionalise our work functions to effectively respond to climate change differently to how we have thus far. The Bill essentially brings dialogue and engagement between different sectors that have traditionally not engaged with each other.
The built environment will certainly be impacted by the Climate Change Bill, and Human Settlement (including buildings) has been identified as one of the sectors considered for Sectoral Emission Targets. As South Africa grapples with the detrimental effects of climate change, with extreme droughts and flooding in different parts of the country, this piece of legislation is a step in the right direction – if implemented correctly, it may be the very push we need to propel us towards a carbon-neutral future in a manner that is just.

The South African national context with regard to climate change

• South Africa is a developing country and aims to develop its economy in order to deal with its triple challenges
(i.e., poverty, unemployment, and inequality).

• Climate Change (CC) poses considerable risks and is a critical constraint to inclusive and sustainable economic growth for South Africa. South Africa’s climate is known to have a high degree of variability at all timescales and is highly susceptible to climate risks.

• The current economy in South Africa is dominated by large-scale, energy-intensive mining and minerals beneficiation industries, as well as a heavy reliance on fossil fuels for electricity generation, along with significant levels of
liquid-fuel consumption. As such, the energy and mining (Energy) and industrial processes and product use (IPPU) sectors are primary contributors to the South African economy, GDP growth and jobs.

• An estimated 93% of South Africa’s electricity produced within the energy sector currently comes from coal combustion that contributes to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This over-reliance on coal presents significant transition and climate risks.

South African Dept of Forestry, Fisheries & the Environment