Climate change Green Paper under the spotlight

11th February 2011 By: Saliem Fakir

The 38-page National Climate Change Green Paper was released just before most of South Africa’s negotiating team went to Cancun.

A raft of consultative workshops on the Green Paper are to be held around the country in the next month or so. The interest in the Green Paper is overwhelming. The proposals that will be put forward will have implications for everybody.

There was something of a delay in the release of the paper following the issuing of the National Climate Change Response Paper in early 2010. The original intention was to have the White Paper finalised and the legislation taking effect by the end of 2011. This is now unlikely. There is some urgency with respect to having something solid by the seventeeth Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (COP17).

The most we can expect is a White Paper by the time the COP17 is held in Durban at the end of this year.

The Green Paper says a lot and then says nothing. This is not being harsh, but a Green Paper should at least be more than a discussion paper. It should define the policy options for action, the feasibility of these and the timeline for the implementation of the various options. These would be for both mitigation and adaptation.

The Green Paper covers, broadly, the general impacts of climate change on various sectors of South Africa. It does this fairly well. However, a Green Paper should be far more focused on what is, in most cases, already known in terms of how to proceed from the known to what is doable.

For instance, in adaptation, much of what is known is, perhaps, not granular enough. But we have broad ideas regarding the potential threats, the areas in which they are likely to occur and the constituencies most likely to be affected by climate change and variability.

What we do not know is the extent to which current sector-specific activities by government – through the normal Budget process – are adequate or whether enhanced capability and investment are required to reduce the impacts of climate change more effectively than is currently the case.

What is being done, for instance, with respect to reducing the impact of drought and so on, can be regarded as adaptation activity but, perhaps, with changing weather patterns in areas that will have longer spells of dry periods, more effort is required. In areas where precipitation will increase by an order of magnitude more than is the norm, new dams or other forms of infrastructure will have to be built to accommodate the increased rainfall. No doubt, this entails deeper work but at least the Green Paper should point us in the right direction. This requires good information, planning and budgeting. The operative word is ‘crystallisation’ of the key policy focus areas because the current document gives a ‘laundry list’ of options, which does not really tell us much, besides the obvious. It is important for stakeholders to understand which eggs are going to be put in which baskets, when and by whom.

More importantly, we need to know how the various options are to be funded. The Green Paper suggests the creation of a climate change fund, but the critical issue is not so much a fund but the efficient coordination and allocation of the money because it will come from existing budgets, overseas sources and domestic sources.

Mitigation efforts are going to be a big challenge. The Green Paper is rather silent on the extent to which government’s proposal for conditional targets can be met. How much of this is realistic? How much of it is really dependent on international finance? Is there a chance for domestic sources of finance to be used to fund, for example, large-scale renewables to bring down South Africa’s carbon intensity? How long will it take to mobilise these resources?

It is very clear what the mitigation options are. They have been worked to death through the Long-Term Mitigation Scenarios and other processes. Everybody knows the issue is finance and taking tough decisions because the options require locking certain investments in now so that the low-carbon trajectory can be achieved in time.

Finally, many strands need to be connected: the Integrated Resources Plan 2010, the Green Economy initiative, the carbon tax proposals and the industrial policy action plans. The convergence between climate change, energy and green-economy-led growth is visible but needs to be worked on.

The Green Paper makes a brief excursion into these, but does not really provide a compelling vision with respect to taking the process forward.