Friday, July 24, 2009

South Africa’s Endogenous Capacity for Climate Change Adaptation Planning

Unlike the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa, South Africa enjoys a comparative wealth of natural and human resources. With a per capita GDP of around US$10,000, South Africa’s powerhouse economy is the unrivaled leader in this part of the world. Because of this, South Africa has also taken up several leadership positions in international issues, such as acting as a strong proponent and a vocal champion on behalf of the “Africa block” in international climate negotiations.

South Africa, under the leadership of the former Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT) and its Chief Minister, Martinus Van Schalkwyk, was a proactive “bridge-builder” within the G77 and as a steadfast spokesman for the wellbeing of its fellow African nations. South Africa’s strong stance on climate change internationally has also helped to shape its domestic climate policy. In fact, the drivers for domestic climate policy production in South Africa come mostly from the “top”- politicians, negotiators, and researchers promoting the need for climate change mitigation and adaptation. This strong stance taken by the government and other research institutions has led to a strong desire to produce plans and policy documents that address the region’s changing climate (see South Africa’s National Climate Change Response Strategy, Framework for Sustainable Development, and Long-Term Mitigation Scenarios). But in reality, even with immense scientific capacity for information generation and climate scenario building, South Africa lacks the capacity for implementing climate adaptation strategies on the ground.

Much of South Africa’s national climate agenda is based on the stance of the nation’s international climate negotiators. This resonates with the role played by the National Climate Change Committee (NCCC), which on paper is supposed to act as a platform for climate information sharing amongst government and non-governmental actors; but in fact, has evolved into a mechanism for solely disseminating results from international climate negotiations. Therefore, the knowledge-sharing stream has evolved into a unidirectional system, allowing only policy-makers, academic researchers, and similar developmental organizations the privilege to access and synthesize such information. The result is incredible capacity for agenda setting, policy framing, and holistic planning on the part of the government, yet little effort is put into cross-sectoral coordination, cross-disciplinary learning, and information sharing with the broader society as a whole. For example, South Africa’s climate process is broadly led by the current Department of Water and Environmental Affairs (DWEA, the former DEAT) and the Department of Science and Technology (DST), while the departments of forest, minerals and energy, and social development have very weak climate change agendas.

Apart from having good policy-making capacity, South Africa also has a strong scientific research tradition. Scientists have historically played a great role in South Africa’s climate legislation process. The wealth of resources in academic institutions, such as the Climate Systems Analysis Group (CSAG) at the University of Cape Town (UCT), have played a pivotal role in developing regional climate models, weather projections, and other ecological information for integrating into policy-making. The government has also been incredibly receptive to integrating science into their agenda and has often solicited academics for their inputs into particular legislations. A good example of this is the drafting of the National Water Act in 1998, where a piece of legislation was produced according to the best science. This partnership between academics and government has created an environment of “honest brokers” and has dramatically increased South Africa’s capacity for generating scientifically legitimate climate policies.

What South Africa currently lacks is the social capacity for climate change adaptation. Many sectors of society do not think of climate change as a pressing social problem. Although many of climate change’s effects are slowly appearing, such as decreasing groundwater levels, increasing storm intensities, etc., South African society has, so far, been resilient enough to deal with such changes. Other challenges, such as poverty alleviation, social equality, and access to basic infrastructure, continue to dominate the social dialogue. Moreover, much of the general public continues to lack access to adequate education or other information sources. For many, the chronic under-education of the “regular” South African continues to hinder the country’s development capacity. With the end of apartheid, the national government has pushed a strong “pro-Black” agenda in government hiring, without addressing the need for improving education for local communities.

In the absence of a strong understanding and backing for climate change adaptation planning from the broader South African society, much of the government’s policy and plans go unimplemented. For example, the National Water Act of 1998, although a good piece of legislation on paper, went unimplemented after its drafting. The recent push for drafting a National Climate Change Response Policy has increased the exposure of the need for climate change adaptation across South Africa society, but without coordination and input from local communities, this legislation may also go unimplemented in the future. Therefore, it seems that South Africa’s capacity for climate change adaptation excels at some levels, but is lacking at others.

From the outside, South Africa’s climate legislation seems unparalleled, especially considering the amount of policy-making and scientific capacity for drafting national agendas and frameworks. In truth, this capacity has had a positive impact on the nation’s day-to-day operations- some climate-resilient policies have been produced in the past several years. Compared to its neighbors, South Africa’s climate agenda, both on the national and local levels, is not dependent on overseas development aid. South Africa, from within, has immense capacity for climate legislating and adaptation planning, but the larger problem of addressing the need for greater, more equal social development in the face of climate change remains.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Friday, July 17, 2009

Another draft...

Post-apartheid South African society presents many dilemmas. While sitting at a roadside café on Long Street in Cape Town and gazing at the Afrikaans-speaking pedestrians walking by, I thought, for a second, that this must not be Africa. But Cape Town is poignantly different- it represents a speck of solace in the cruel realities of Southern Africa and, at the same time, symbolizes the extreme equity-issues that continue to plague South Africa today. For many South Africans, the government’s vehement push towards democratic and equitable governance has both raised standards of living and equalized employment opportunities; but in reality, much of the population continues to live in poverty, especially amongst historically black townships surrounding major population centers and in more rural areas. The continued lack of social development programs targeted at vulnerable communities and the removal of social/familial safety nets because of increasing death rates from HIV/AIDS only add to the projected stressors resulting from global climate change.

Reports produced by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) consistently rank Sub-Saharan Africa as one of the more vulnerable regions in the world, partly because of the projected environmental changes, but also because of the lack of social, institutional, and governance capacities for dealing with and for addressing these projected changes. My trip to South Africa, therefore, is framed with several missions: first, to understand South Africa’s climate legislation and policy-production process; second, to interview key informants in South Africa’s climate arena; and third, to attempt to evaluate and reflect on South Africa’s climate change adaptation planning process. South Africa, unlike many of its neighbors, has been proactive in generating information and strategies for directing development, such as producing reports on combating health risks, water scarcity, desertification, poverty, and for mitigating the effects of climate change.

South Africa’s current climate legislation focuses mostly on mitigation, especially in the energy sector, but push for articulating a national platform on adaptation is slowly emerging. The controversial new president, Jacob Zuma, who assumed office in May of 2009 has yet to publicly state his platform on climate change, but the public’s expectation is that South Africa’s adaptation planning process would not deviate much from Zuma’s predecessor, Thabo Mbeki. Nevertheless, the South African government has historically only played a coordinating role in bringing together relevant stakeholders and agencies, such as in the forming of the Government Climate Change Committee and the National Climate Change Committee (NCCC), which are intended to serve as major modes of information exchange between the government, think tanks, non-profits, academics, and the civil society. One of the major deficiencies of South Africa’s climate planning process is the lack of information sharing between government agencies and in one of the major political moves early in Zuma’s tenure is the formation of the National Planning Commission (NPC)- its rationale is to coordinate economic and social development projects across different ministries, but it is also conceivable that the NPC will coordinate cross-sectoral climate adaptation related activities.

Recently, South Africa has increasingly realized the importance of the nexus between climate-resiliency and national development, and that neither can be pursued without the other. One’s challenge, then, is to navigate the bureaucratic maze and to determine and prioritize the most relevant developmental activities for addressing climate change. With the completion of the Long-Term Mitigation Scenarios (LTMS) in 2007, which provided a roadmap for reducing South Africa’s emissions and for introducing renewable energy sources into the national energy grid, the country’s attention is gradually being shifted towards generating a national framework for addressing adaptation, especially in relation to South Africa’s Second National Communication to the UNFCCC (slated for release at the end of 2009) and towards the National Climate Change Response Policy (due in 2010).

The national dialogue on climate change adaptation is still in its nascent stages. But with a dedicated and resourceful core group of researchers and advocates, South Africa boasts incredible capacities for both generating climate science and in including this science in policy production on the national level. South Africa’s scientific community is at the forefront of the world and has played an incredibly proactive role in ushering the inclusion of climate-related information into the national-level policy dialogue. On the government side, the traditional leaders for climate action have been the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT), now the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs (DWEA), and the Department of Science and Technology (DST). With capacities from the public, civic, and private sectors, the government was able to commission the National Climate Change Response Strategy (NCCRS), which was completed in 2004 and, although quite vague in substance, the document helped to define a general framework for responding to climate change across all sectors and government agencies. At the same time, the DST was able to put together a 10-Year Innovation Plan for dealing with global change, which lays out a framework for development science and technology in the face of global change, including global climate change. In March of 2009, the South Africa government officially inaugurated the process for creating a National Climate Change Response Policy (NCCRP), which is meant to be a “next-step” to the NCCRS and is supposed to be a comprehensive roadmap for climate response (both mitigation and adaptation). Although the final policy document is not slated for completion until sometime in 2010, this high-profile endorsement by the national government has increased public understanding of climate change issues and has generated support from all sectors of the population.

Also impressive is the momentum for climate legislation coming from many other levels of society. Municipalities such as Cape Town and Durban have already drafted climate response and adaptation strategies while provincial governments, such as those of Western Cape and Limpopo, have successfully drafted frameworks for climate-resilient development. These provincial and municipal initiatives have attempted to create climate response strategies that are tailored to local circumstances. Belynda Petrie, CEO of OneWorld Sustainable Investments in Cape Town and who helped draft Western Cape’s Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan, remarked at the incredible research and institutional capacities for synthesizing climate information across all sectors in South Africa. Petrie also commented on the potential for integrating adaptation planning and sustainable development particularly at the municipal and provincial level: the South African Constitution stipulates that local governments draft Integrated Development Plans (IDP), which are, generally, meant to promote equitable development and facilitate the coordination of activities within municipalities, while Local Economic Development Plans (LED) are analogous processes at the provincial level. The IDP and LED processes are, then, ideal platforms for integrating adaptation without creating additional bureaucratic layers or need for drafting additional adaptation plans. This potential for integrating development and adaptation also exists on the national level, where the government recently released the National Framework for Sustainable Development (NFSD), which was aimed at articulating a roadmap for sustainable development across South Africa, including the imperative for adequately responding to climate change, but adaptation was only mentioned in passing.

My interviews with people involved in South Africa’s adaptation planning process have commented that the most worrying trend is that even in a relatively technologically and industrially advanced country like South Africa, the majority of the populace remains incredibly vulnerable to climate change. Although South Africa has advanced information-generating and climate-projecting capacities, the nation continues to face climate-resilient development dilemmas. Since the end of Apartheid in 1994, South Africa’s only developmental concerns were in reducing poverty and for eradicating racial inequality. But at the same time, the proliferation of democratic governance has also failed to increase the overall resilience of poorer communities. With many policy implementation barriers, such as corruption, resource limitations, and the lack of capacity among smaller local governments, South Africa has, so far, been unable to reconcile the need for both adaptation and development in its articulation of national priorities and planning processes.

Still, the general sentiment amongst stakeholders involved in climate legislating and adaptation planning in South Africa are hopeful. Although South Africa is still trying to figure out the most effective institutional architecture and the “way forward” for articulating a national-level climate response strategy, the need for adaptation, on all levels of society, are apparent. Although much work has been done already, South Africa is still in the designing and trial-and-error stages for integrating adaptation and development. The new Zuma administration, with all the controversy surrounding its election, has yet to voice a strong climate change platform; but the true leadership in South Africa’s adaptation planning process rests within DWEA, DST, the various academic institutions, NGOs, and the civil society across the nation, and all of them understand that climate-resiliency should be a national development imperative.

Even in a rich city like Cape Town, the effects of climate change are already visible. (I can personally attest to these effects because my lounging in a street-side café on Long Street is a direct result of unseasonably strong thunderstorms that have been lashing at the Cape Coast for days.) For South Africa and its young democracy, the challenge is to balance the need for equitable social development and for increasing climate resiliency across all sectors of society in an institutionally efficient and resourceful manner. As the economic powerhouse of Southern Africa, the lessons-learned and experiences of South Africa in terms of its climate response and adaptation planning process, even under its unique historical developmental circumstances, may have a strong bearing on the future prospects of adaptation planning in the rest of the region.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

South Africa’s Climate-Resilient Development Dilemma

----- THIS ARTICLE IS A DRAFT -----

South African society presents many dilemmas. While I was sitting at a roadside café on Long Street in Cape Town and gazing at the Afrikaans-speaking pedestrians walking by, I thought, for a second, that this must not be Africa. But Cape Town is poignantly different; it represents a speck of solace in the cruel realities of Southern Africa and, at the same time, symbolizes the extreme equity-issues that continue to plague post-Apartheid South Africa.

Reports produced by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) consistently rank Sub-Saharan Africa as one of the more vulnerable regions in the world, partly because of the projected environmental changes, but also because of the lack of social, institutional, and governance capacities for dealing with and in addressing these projected changes. My trip to South Africa, therefore, is framed with several missions: first, to understand South Africa’s climate legislation and policy-production process; second, to interview key informants in South Africa’s climate arena; and third, to attempt to evaluate and reflect on South Africa’s climate change adaptation planning process. South Africa, unlike many of its neighbors, has been proactive in generating information and strategies for directing development. In the past 15 years, South Africa has successfully commissioned reports in combating health risks, water scarcity, desertification, poverty, and for mitigating the effects of Climate Change.

Recently, South Africa has increasingly realized the importance of the nexus between climate-resiliency and national development, and that neither can be pursued without the other. One’s challenge, then, is to navigate the bureaucratic maze and to determine and prioritize the most relevant developmental activities for addressing climate change. South Africa has been pursuing a rigorous climate change mitigation strategy, which culminated in publication of the Long-Term Mitigation Scenarios (LTMS) in 2007. Stef Raubenheimer at SouthSouthNorth (a multinational NGO based in Cape Town) and one of the co-authors of the LTMS remarked at the unique and impressive institutional backing he and his team had received from the South African government in the LTMS production process. Because South Africa is relatively resource-rich compared to its neighbors, the government was able to commission and supply US$6 million for the completion of the LTMS project. With the possible creation of a Long-Term Adaptation Scenarios (LTAS) document in works, this unique capacity for funding climate-related projects is unrivalled in the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Although the LTMS successfully outlines the climate mitigation steps for South Africa, several problems threaten to derail its implementation. Although South Africa acknowledges that its coal-based economy is responsible for the vast majority of its carbon emissions, the fact that South Africa’s energy economy is monopolized by Eskom (the nation’s sole energy producer) results in a scenario where no incentives are placed to promote alternative, renewable energy sources- a tragedy for a nation that enjoys almost continuous sunlight exposure throughout the year. The meager amount of renewable energy in South Africa is provided by the numerous aging dams that dot the landscape (many of which were commissioned by the powerful Department of Water Affairs during Apartheid) and provides less than 5% of energy to the national grid. South Africa, with a population of just 48 million, ranks as one of the smaller emerging economies of the world. Without a wholehearted international paradigm shift towards renewable energy generation, South Africa see’s no immediate imperative for developing its own renewable energy sector.

The national dialogue on climate change adaptation has only started to proliferate in the past couple years. But with a dedicated and resourceful core group of researchers and advocates, South Africa is well on its way in producing a national strategy for climate change adaptation. South Africa’s scientific community is at the forefront of the world and has played an incredibly proactive role in ushering the inclusion of climate-related information into the national-level policy dialogue. The South African government coordinates such activities through its own National Climate Change Committee (NCCC), which was housed in the former Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (now the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs). The NCCC, together with the various research institutions across South Africa, have successfully created a series of climate projections that shed light on the possible climate effects the region would experience in the future. Equipped with this information, the government commissioned the National Climate Change Response Strategy (completed in 2004) and in March 2009, the South Africa government officially inaugurated the process for creating a National Climate Change Response Policy. Although the final policy document is not slated for completion until sometime in 2010, this high-profile endorsement by the national government has increased public understanding of climate change issues and has generated support from all sectors of the population.

Also impressive is the momentum for climate legislation coming from many other levels of society. Municipalities such as Cape Town and Durban have already drafted climate response and adaptation strategies while provincial governments, such as those of Western Cape and Limpopo, have successfully drafted frameworks for climate-resilient development. Belynda Petrie, CEO of OneWorld Sustainable Investments in Cape Town and who helped draft Western Cape’s Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan, remarked at the incredible research and institutional capacity for synthesizing climate information across all sectors in South Africa. But, according to many, the most worrying trend is that even in a relatively technologically and industrially advanced country like South Africa, the majority of the populace remains incredibly vulnerable to climate change- the need for climate-resilient development has simply not yet reached the lower rungs of society.

Although South Africa has advanced information-generating and climate-projecting capacities, the nation continues to face climate-resilient development dilemmas. Since the end of Apartheid in 1994, South Africa’s only developmental concerns were in reducing poverty and for eradicating racial inequality. These narrow national imperatives have often resulted in the creation of controversial national policies that some have argued to be contributing to mal-adaptation. But at the same time, the proliferation of democratic governance has also failed to increase the resilience of poorer communities. With many inherent policy implementation barriers, South Africa has, so far, been unable to reconcile the need for both adaptation and development in its articulation of national priorities and planning processes.

With Jacob Zuma’s new administration slowly coming to be, many are eager to see the details of his environmental and climate change platform. Although early in Zuma’s tenure, he has already created a National Planning Commission. Although the particular goals of this institution is unknown at this point, the hope is that the Planning Commission will begin to synchronize all national-level developmental efforts and to instill national imperatives (which climate change mitigation and adaptation are amongst them) in the implementation of such efforts. The results of this, then, are to be seen.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Robben Island



Mandela Day '09

In anticipation of Nelson Mandela's 91st birthday, I ventured out to Robben Island yesterday. The sea was pretty rough- a sentiment various people have conveyed to me prior to my departure. To them, winter in the Cape equals strong winds and high waves. To be honest, the half-an-hour catamaran ride out to the island wasn't that bad- I've been on rougher seas (think Da Nang or Quicksilver/Bali).

Robben Island was where the apartheid government used to keep their political prisoners, much like Alcatraz. The island itself isn't that special, other than the crazy wildlife and views back towards the mainland. The main attractions on the island were the various prison buildings, where people like Mandela or Sisulu were held on the basis of attempting to topple the apartheid government. I think this island holds a special place in South African history, not only because it symbolized the struggle against injustice, but also because much of what we see in the South African constitution today was drafted by the prisoners during that time. I'll post some pictures of Robben Island soon.