SA gives carbon-heavy sectors two years to set carbon budgets

Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa

South Africa has given its key carbon-emitting sectors, including energy and transport, two years, to October 2013, to finalise ‘carbon budgets’ that are calibrated to South Africa’s aspiration to reach a peak in yearly emissions by 2025 and enable the country to begin reducing the production of greenhouse gases (GHG) from 2036 onwards.

The adoption of the carbon budget model reflected government’s acceptance of the relative energy intensity and, thus, carbon intensity of the South African economy and the need to create the space required for industries to make the transition to a more carbon-constrained environment.

Significant emitting sectors and sub-sectors would be required to formulate mitigation and low-carbon development strategies, in which a suite of mitigation programmes should be outlined. These programmes would be monitored.

In fact, also within two years, government would design and publish a draft Climate Change Response Measurement and Evaluation System based on domestic measurement standards, but adapted to any emerging global measuring, reporting and verification requirements.

In officially releasing the National Climate Change Response Policy, which was endorsed by Cabinet on October 12, Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewastressed on Tuesday that the policy had been canvassed broadly across government, the private sector and civil society.

Further, government would actively consult with industry on the development of the carbon budgets to identify an “optimal combination” of mitigation actions at the least cost to, and with the most sustainable development benefits for, the affected sectors and the economy as a whole.

She said the policy sought to strike a balance between South Africa’s socioeconomic imperatives, especially the creation and preservation of jobs, as well as the need to manage the “inevitable climate change impacts” and to make a “fair contribution” to the global effort to stabilise GHG concentrations.

Under South Africa’s ‘peak, plateau, decline’ trajectory country emissions should reach historic highs between 2020 to 2025 in a lower limit range of 398 Megatons (Mt) of carbon dioxide-equivalents (CO2-eq) and an upper limit of 583 Mt in 2020 and 614 Mt by 2025. Emissions should then plateau for up to ten years within that range.

From 2036 onwards, however, emissions should decline in absolute terms to a range with a lower limit of 212 Mt and an upper limit of 428 Mt CO2-eq by 2050.

Department of Environmental Affairs acting deputy director-general Peter Lukey said the adoption of a carbon-budget approach should not be viewed as either a carrot or a stick, but rather as a tool for providing direction and for setting “targets for action”.

Government believes the budget model offers sectors sufficient flexibility to find the least-cost mechanisms for companies to achieve desired emission-reduction outcomes.

The policy was also not overly strident on the need for the introduction of a carbon tax, which was currently being considered by the National Treasury.

Instead, it called for a “mix of economic instruments”, including market-based instruments such as carbon taxes and emissions trading schemes, as well as incentives, complemented by appropriate regulatory policy measures.

Lukey indicated that the policy was entirely aligned with the work being done by the National Treasury on carbon taxes, adding that the National Treasury had, in fact, “written” the section in the policy relating to the possible introduction of a carbon price.

While the carbon budgets were being finalised, the policy proposed the intensification of a number of “flagship” programmes, both new and existing, to support the lowering of the country’s current relative carbon intensity.

These included energy efficiency initiatives, public works programmes such as the Working for Water scheme to reduce the invasion of alien vegetation, the roll-out of renewable energy projects, low-carbon transportation initiatives, waste management schemes and even the demonstration of carbon capture and storage.