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No More Empty Promises

An open letter to Minister for Environment, Forestries & Fisheries, Barbara Creecy by Y4CA as part of the global youth appeal to world leadership:

A plea for Immediate Climate Action and no more Empty Promises

Youth4ClimateAction wrote to you last year requesting uncommon leadership in declaring a climate emergency for South Africa in order to initiate climate recovery. 

Since then we’ve been heating at twice the global average. Promises of the 34% reduction by 2020 and meeting the 42% BAU emission reduction trajectory (business as usual) by 2025 target, and the transition from coal to renewals by 2030, are hollow and have not materialised: 

  • Southern Africa has been hit with two cyclones (killing over thousand people and over 2.5 million needed in humanitarian assistance), the Eastern Cape is still experiencing a water crisis and fish on the Eastern Cape were killed by an intense upwelling event as an influence of climate change . 
  • South Africa is currently rated as ‘insufficient’ according to the global Climate Action Tracker and its current policies are rated globally as one of the least stringent.
  • The Climate Change bill is yet to be tabled in Parliament and in all likelihood will need to be revisited to ensure confidence in it going forward.
  • The Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) update has missed its 2020 deadline and has not been communicated.
  • The domestic mitigation system is yet to be implemented and your ministry has failed to take effective action to cut emissions.
  • The National Adaptation Strategy (NAS) is yet to be implemented.
  • Government still lacks any credible plans for a Just Transition to reskill coal workers. 
  • As warming accelerates, Operation Phakisa is accelerating offshore oil and gas exploration, a national gas pipeline, impactful gas-to-powerships, all planned to plug in to an ageing electrical infrastructure which is poorly run, consumes bailout capital and is becoming more and more dangerous .Your Ministry promises gas as a ‘transitional’ short-term solution, but in reality, the legacy of extraction and gas infrastructure is massive – about 40 to 50 years of environmental and socioeconomic impacts. 68% of our emissions come from fuel combustion with fugitive emissions from oil and natural gas contributing to 9% and 7 % of the total emissions respectively. 

The youth understand that gas production threatens to derail climate effort – it is neither clean nor climate neutral. We say that gas is part of the problem. Without phasing it out we will not be able to avoid the worst impacts of climate breakdown. 

The gulf between delayed climate adaption and mitigation plans, and the rushed expansion of a fossil gas future speaks of an extractivist bias in your ministry, which is mandated to ensure the preservation and enhancement of the quality of our natural environment, for the good of present and future generations.Minister Creecy, while we acknowledge the mediatory role you strive to play by remaining invested in certain developmental pathways, the climate crisis cannot tolerate bipartisanship. If it has not become apparent, the increasingly acute frustrations of the youth orbit the consequences of “empty promises” riddled governance. The alienation faced by the youth, of which the climate is but one insurmountable burden in addition to the likes to generational, racial and gender impoverishment is now within your ambit to take action. 

We have deep concerns for our immediate future based on the evidence of lack of care around existing and ageing infrastructure. Recently for instance: 

  • The Engen refinery explosion in Durban, injuring local residents.
  • The massive spill of oil into the Umbilo River from a Transnet pipeline in October 2020. There have been several major ongoing incidents of crude oil and raw sewage discharging into the Durban Harbour which have resulted in massive fish kills in the area. Clearly the appropriate steps to prevent any further contaminants flowing into the harbour, have not been taken. Pollutants canal into the precious natural heritage site made of the last remaining mangrove forests in Durban bay, which are never safe while we are locked into dependence on fossil fuels.
  • The ‘Durban River Water Quality Map’ reading for November 2020 released to the public shows critical levels; rivers faced with ecological collapse. The uMbilo river reading, for instance, has a high E-coli count in excess of what the municipality itself considers raw sewerage.

These are all the result of broken promises, so how can we trust government with gas infrastructure going forward, and why should we when our seas are getting hotter?

If you are serious about your ‘leave no one behind’ principle, then talk to the youth. We want to be included in defining our future. We want to be listened to:

  • We demand government retracts its claims that fossil gas is low carbon.
  • We demand full GHG cradle-to grave emissions disclosure by all South African business, agriculture and industry.
  • We demand the full and meaningful participation of youth, women and indigenous (including most vulnerable) communities in the face of climate change.

Our commitment to the pathways of liberation and knowledge have exposed to us the rapid and obscene commercialisation, and even privatisation, of our environmental commons and biodiversity for unsustainable ends. We urge you to consider what is best for the common heritage of humankind and avoid immediate and irreversible harm. Please widen your accountability beyond development frameworks to that which will keep us alive.

We look forward to your response,

Youth4ClimateAction: No More Empty Promises committee

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