Good to have pollution prevention plans to reduce GHGs as priority pollutants – but much room for improvement

Environment Minister Edna Molewa has declared greenhouse gases (GHGs) as priority pollutants and published regulations for pollution prevention plans (PPPs). While it is encouraging to see a system for mitigation (reducing GHG emissions) starting to be encoded in a law, including regulations, the detailed content leave much room from improvement.

Identifying GHG as priority pollutants to be controlled, and requiring the reporting and implementation of mitigation measures, are essential elements of climate change policy. So to start with the good news, it is positive to see regulations, and having all six ‘Kyoto gases’ (CO2 , CH4 , N20, PFCs, HFCs and SF6 ) formally recognized as pollutants. That is one better than then US President Bush, who seemed to struggle to understand GHGs as pollution – but that is not a very high standard.  More seriously, it is helpful to have 5-year cycles of domestic mitigation measures requiring, monitoring methodologies having to be spelled out, and explicit mention of fossil fuels.

However, the devil is in the details. The regulations still do not clearly provide for facility-level reporting. ERC has considered this issue carefully, and significant parts of our research focus on climate change mitigation. Our considered opinion is that the information which will flow from a system based on company-level reporting will not provide a sufficient basis for either the development of national climate policy, nor for meeting South Africa’s reporting obligations under the UNFCCC, and especially for the reporting regime which is being developed as part of the enhanced transparency framework under the Paris Agreement. Nor will such a system support the effective implementation of a carbon tax, or the regulation of emissions by large emitters. The PPP regulations need to be read with the GHG reporting regulations [1], which also need to be clearer to provide for facility-level reporting. It is therefore critical that regulations be revised. For this to happen, the climate change legal framework must be crystal-clear on this point – reporting must include facilities.

Further detailed and published data is needed for a robust mitigation system.  The PPP regulations require only total GHGs – not only should tehse be disaggregated by process, activity (in current regs) and facility (see above), but additional information on methodologies used to calculate, energy data, and a number of detailed elements are important. Without clear information, the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) officials will have to simply rely on what companies tell them. Technical guidelines can help, but the requirement to provide transparent, accurate, complete, comparable, and consistent (TACCC) data urgently needs a clear legal basis. We signed up to the TACCC principles as part of the Paris Agreement, and so need to give them effect in our domestic system.

Self-verification of data is insufficient. A system where the person who has submitted inaccurate information is themselves asked to look again lacks rigour. What is needed is independent third-party verification – for PPP and GHG reporting regulations.

Regulations should provide that all information be published (in the public interest), unless the data provider applies to have it kept confidential, and the reasons given are found to be valid. Instead, the default in the Regulations is that information is confidential, with exceptions made to that rule. This is the wrong way around, in my view. Even if the legal effect may be the same, the approach should be to put information in the public domain.

The Regulations provide for penalties – R 10 million or 10 years in jail. R 10m will be a ‘slap on the wrist’ for large emitters. Eskom emits over 200 Mt CO2–eq per year,  and a carbon tax of R48 on that volume would be amount to R 9600 million. In other words, a R10 m fine would be 0.1% of its tax liability, if all emissions were taxed at that rate. If a 200 Mt emitter got 95% exemption and paid an effective tax rate of R6 per ton on 200 Mt, the maximum penalty would still be less than 1% of tax. Another simple example would be for smaller emitters, say those at the threshold of 0.1 Mt CO2–eq per year. With a R 6 tax rate, the fine is about double the tax payable on total emissions, at higher rates many multiples. With a flat maximum penalty, the system thus penalises small emitters. Surely this is not the intention? When the task is to reduce emissions by everyone, but most importantly at scale.

The Regulations and Declaration need to be strengthened, in some specific ways as outlined above. I would argue that is generally good practice to provide for improvements of the regulatory over time. Mitigation will evolve over time, and science tells us that more action is needed (in each IPCC report). So the  Regulations and Declaration should be revised from time to time. The Legal Framework needs to be much clearer. Once greater clarity of the legal basis is established, that would be a good moment to make a first round of improvements.

 

BACKGROUND AND FURTHER DETAILS

The GHG declaration [2]and PPP regulations [3] are now formally published in the Government Gazette (see http://www.gpwonline.co.za/Gazettes/Gazettes/40996_21-7_NationalGovernment.pdf,   pp. 65—9 and 81-7 respectively). Both are published by the Minister of Environmental Affairs in terms of the National Environmental Management: Air Quality Act (Act 39 of 2004 as amended up to 2014) or ‘NEMAQA’).

ERC has commented on earlier drafts (see see here) as have others like the Centre for Environmental Rights (here). As the Regulations are now final, these are of academic interest – perhaps for readers interested in further detail.

One small matter that should be fixed immediately, is consistency in the two schedules of processes. The Schedule for the Declaration should be made consistent with one in the PPP Regulations.

REFERENCES 

  1. DEA (Department of Environmental Affairs) National Greenhouse Gas Emission Reporting Regulations, Goverment Gazette No. 40762, Notice 275 of 2017, dated 3 April 2017, Pretoria Published, 2017) http://www.gov.za/sites/www.gov.za/files/40762_gen275.pdf
  2. DEA (Department of Environmental Affairs) Declaration of greenhouse gases as priority air pollutants.Government Gazette 40996 no.712, in terms of National Environmental Management Act: Air Qualit Act (no. 39 of 2004). pp 65-69, Pretoria Published, 2017) http://www.gpwonline.co.za/Gazettes/Gazettes/40996_21-7_NationalGovernment.pdf
  3. DEA (Department of Environmental Affairs) National Pollution Prevention Plans Regulations. Government Gazette 40996 no.712, in terms of National Environmental Management Act: Air Quality Act (no. 39 of 2004). pp 81-87, Pretoria Published, 2017) http://www.gpwonline.co.za/Gazettes/Gazettes/40996_21-7_NationalGovernment.pdf