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2016-12-05 | News

SA environmental policy should have climate change focus

CAPE TOWN: The South African government has drawn up some of the most advanced environmental laws and policies on the continent, since its transition to a democratic state in 1994. In a recent overview of these, University of Cape Town (UCT) resource economist Dr Jane Turpie has identified key areas were future research is needed, in order to boost this policy further, with responses to climate change being a key theme.

‘In the context of doing well-rounded research in the area of environmental policy in South Africa, two key areas stand out for me, and both have a climate change focus,’ says Turpie, director of the UCT Environmental Policy Research Unit (EPRU).

The first is the various ways to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that result in climate change. Researchers need to model and experiment with different fiscal mechanisms that could drive energy demand management, such as carbon taxes. There also needs to be more thinking around ways to encourage a reduction in the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, particularly those from industrial and transport.

‘The second broad area that we need to look at, relates to policies that will help us manage the environment in a way that will allow it to be more resilient to climate change, and more adaptable to the changes we are likely to see in future,’ explains Turpie.

This effectively means ramping up the efficiency of measures to deal with a whole range of existing pressures, as well as preparing ourselves to deal with new issues, she says.

The EPRU survey of South Africa’s environmental policies identifies the following key areas as needing more research. These link with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and have a strong climate change focus.

‘Take water, for instance. How we manage both urban and agricultural water needs close scrutiny, since most of our catchments are already critically stressed. We also need to look at how we allocate our water resources between different and competing sectors, and how that impacts both on future development opportunities and the water ‘reserve’ that is set aside to maintain biodiversity and secure the ecosystem services that we obtain from aquatic environments,’ she says.

She further identified areas of solid waste management, land use, biodiversity and ecosystem services, management of alien invasive species, and urban green development as key issues.

The policy overview also links these research recommendations with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), of which South Africa is a signatory.

The paper is an internal document to help guide EPRU’s research priorities for the next few years, explains Turpie.