South Africa has ratified the Paris Agreement on climate change. In doing so, it has joined the growing momentum to take climate action.
87 countries had ratified already, exceeding the requirement of 55 Parties – and on 5 October, the second ‘trigger’ of representing 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions was also met. Thirty days after these two triggers were met, the Agreement formally ‘enters into force’ – on 4 November 2016. SA snuck in with its instrument of ratification three days before, with another four countries also ratifying (see status of ratification, so total now at 92).
Domestic ratification is required, so that South Africa’s domestic legal system supports what has been internationally negotiated. Under section 231 of our Constitution, international agreements are negotiated and signed by the Executive (231.1), but an international agreement binds the Republic only after it has been approved by resolution in both the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces (231.2). The SA delegation had been involved in negotiating the Agreement, chairing the G77&China during the Paris conference in December 2015. Cabinet considered the treaty, and Environment Minister Edna Molewa then signed for the SA government at a ceremony in New York on 22 April 2016 (see image). Approval by both houses of Parliament is required for SA to join international agreements. Officials from the Department of Environmental Affairs presented the Agreement, and the National Council of Provinces approved it on 27 October, the National Assembly on 1 November. SA’s instrument of ratification was signed by the Foreign Minister and deposited with the UN Secretary General on the same day. In plain language, SA has formally joined the climate treaty.
The first session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement (CMA1) will take place in Marrakech from 7-18 November. The hard work of implementing the Paris Agreement will begin, though CMA1 may meet pro forma; many of the detailed rules need to be developed
For SA, implementing its national determined contribution (NDC). Having joined the global momentum globally, we must act locally.
Prior to Paris, most countries had submitted Intended nationally determined contributions. On joining, the “intended” falls away. Various aspects of the Paris Agreement make the national determined contribution (NDC) are legally binding treaty obligations. Parties “shall” submit NDCs every five years, and pursue domestic mitigation measures to achieve their objectives. There is also mandatory review, requiring information to track progress in implementing and achieving their NDC. In other words, our NDC is now much more than an intention.
For SA, that will mean changing our energy development path. Since most of our greenhouse gas emissions are from energy supply and demand, making a just transition to a low-carbon economy and society is required. We will have to re-double our efforts to use energy more efficiently, move to electricity from renewable energy combined with gas, and move to an industrial structure that is more carbon-efficient.