Climate Change Act will usher in a new era in co-ordinated climate action

Blessing Manale is the Head of Communications, Presidential Climate Commission.

Blessing Manale is the Head of Communications, Presidential Climate Commission.

Published Mar 6, 2024


By Blessing Manale

At the end of October last year, the National Assembly swiftly passed the Climate Change Bill and referred it to the National Council of Provinces for concurrence, paving the way for its race against time for passage into law during this electoral term.

The bill is South Africa’s first comprehensive legislation to encourage the development of an effective climate change response and states as its purpose: “To enable the development of an effective climate change response and a long-term, just transition to a low-carbon and climate-resilient economy and society for South Africa in the context of sustainable development.”

We must domesticate international law through local action.

We are entering a new phase of climate action – and the Climate Change Bill, once promulgated, “will foster institutional coherence and enhance climate change adaptation governance across the spheres, national and sub-national layers of government in South Africa”.

Undoubtedly, successful climate action will require the alignment of major socio-economic, environmental and governance policies with South Africa’s Nationally Determined Contributions, at the heart of our climate response being the lives and livelihoods of people, protected, supported, and empowered.

Fragmented, contrasting policies and government positions have created policy uncertainty, including around the just transition, thus making it difficult to align functions and structures or to support it.

South Africa is not alone in this: literature suggests that across all countries, the political and regulatory environment is often an unaddressed key barrier.

Some of these policy implementation concerns are addressed in the Climate Change Bill.

The bill calls for, “Every organ of state that exercises a power or performs a function that is affected by climate change, or is entrusted with powers and duties aimed at the achievement, promotion and protection of a sustainable environment, must review and if necessary revise, amend, co-ordinate and harmonise their policies and measures, programmes and decisions in order to – (a) ensure that the risks of climate change impacts and associated vulnerabilities are taken into consideration.”

The government must respond collectively as one.

The climate change crisis is not only an ecological crisis, but spans across sectors and presents an often-unpredictable socio-economic landscape.

While few state departments and other government agencies have just transition outcomes explicitly outlined in their annual performance plans, recent engagements between the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation and other state entities have attempted to remedy that by engaging on just transition work steams in future planning.

Some of the early wins are the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment’s (DFFE) support for sectoral departments and other government entities to understand and address climate-related risks by providing climate risk projections and recommending evidence-based adaptation strategies.

However, the DFFE is limited to driving and co-ordinating actions; it lacks the authority to ensure sufficient investments or mandate action by departments and other spheres of government.

At a local government level, with all efforts put in by the South African Local Government Association and other local government coalitions for climate action, limited political will and the absence of a clear mandate are among the encountered barriers to climate action.

Building climate resilience as additional to their responsibilities rather than their core mandate hinders the appetite for the development of municipal climate change plans and strategies.

In the context of attending to climate change and the just transition, local government is responsible for local economic development, implementing adaptation activities, providing infrastructure and basic services, and land-use planning and management.

Adapting public services, including housing and roads, to better withstand climate impacts is an important way to build the climate resilience of households and communities that often lack the required resources to do so independently.

As we close the curtain on the sixth democratic parliament, posterity has bequeathed us groundbreaking legislation in the form of the Climate Change Bill, soon to be an act of Parliament – the first climate change legislation in South Africa 30 years since freedom and democracy.

But this can only be realised if we all support the bill as the National Council of Provinces by supporting and participating in the public hearings, which kick off in Mpumalanga this weekend, and ensure that the bill makes it through ahead of the May general elections.

Blessing Manale is the Head of Communications, Presidential Climate Commission.