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South Africa and Global Climate Change

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 November 2008


Global climate change is now firmly on the international agenda. Although the heady days of the 1992 Earth Summit have been replaced by an atmosphere of greater caution, events in 1995 have nevertheless revealed that climate change is set to be one of the key international issues during the coming decades. Indeed, it is inevitable that global climate change – as both a physical phenomenon and a social institution – will have a tremendous impact on every nation's future.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1996

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1 For a state-of-the-art report on the science of global climate change, see John T. Houghton, Bruce A. Callander, and Shelagh K. Varney (eds.), Climate Change 1992 : the supplementary report to the IPCC scientific assessment (Cambridge, 1992), while the potential impacts are outlined in McG. Tegart, W. J., Sheldon, G. W., and Hellyer, J. H. (eds.), Climate Change 1992 : the supplementary report to the IPCC impacts assessment (Canberra, 1993).Google Scholar

2 The Framework Convention on Climate Change (subsequently referred to as ‘FCCC’) is reprinted in International Legal Materials (Washington, DC), 31, 1992, pp. 849–73.Google Scholar

3 FCCC, Article 4(2) (a). For further details about the international politics of global climate change, see Bodansky, Daniel, ‘The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’, in Yale Journal of International Law (New Haven, CT), 18, 2, Summer 1993, pp. 451558,Google Scholar and Victor, David G. and Salt, Julian E., ‘Managing Climate Change’, in Environment (Washington, DC), 36, 10, 12 1994, pp. 615 and 25–32.Google Scholar

4 Formed in 1988, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is charged with finding out the present state of knowledge (both what is known and unknown) on climate change. For a preview of the expected 1996 findings by this international group of scientists, see IPCC Special Report: summaries for policymakers and other summaries (Geneva, World Meteorological Organisation, and Nairobi, UN Environment Programme, 1994).

5 At present, 151 countries have ratified the FCCC. For more information about the Berlin Conference, see Rowlands, Ian H., ‘The Climate Change Negotiations: Berlin and beyond’, in Journal of Environment and Development (La Jolla, CA), 4, 2, Summer 1995, pp. 145–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

6 South Africa produces 4.8 per cent of the world's coal (103.5 million tonnes oil equivalent), while its share of consumption is 3.4 per cent (73.5 million tonnes oil equivalent) and its reserves are 5.3 per cent of the world's total (55,333 million tonnes). These figures for 1994 are taken from BP Statistical Review of World Energy (London, British Petroleum, 06 1995).Google Scholar

7 In 1994, 92.3 per cent of the electricity produce by Eskom (the country's largest power generator, providing 95.7 per cent of all South African electricity) was thermally-generated. Eskom, , Annual Report, 1994 (Johannesburg, 1995), p. 54.Google Scholar

8 Scholes, R. J. and van der Merwe, M. R., South African Greenhouse Gas Inventory (Pretoria, Forestek, CSIR for the Department of Environment Affairs and Tourism, 03 1995).Google Scholar

9 The Group for Environmental Monitoring, Climate and Africa. National Report, South Africa (Stockholm Environment Institute, 1994).Google Scholar

10 For a more general discussion, see Lipschutz, Ronnie and Conca, Ken (eds.), The State and Social Porwer in Global Environmental Politics (New York, 1993).Google Scholar

11 Climate Network Africa, An Open Letter to African Governments (Nairobi, CNA, 1995), p. 4.Google Scholar See also, Magadza, C. H. C., ‘Climate Change: some likely multiple impacts in Southern Africa’, in Food Policy (Guildford, Surrey), 19, 2, 1994, pp. 165–91Google Scholar, and Hulme, Mike et al., The Impacts of Climate Change on Africa (London and Norwich, 1995), Centre for Social and Economic Research on the Global Environment, Working Paper No. 12.Google Scholar

12 For more general studies of impacts, see, for example, Alcamo, Joseph, Krol, Maarten, and Leemans, Rik, Stabilizing Greenhouse Gases: global and regional consequences (Bilthoven, Rijksinstituut Voor Volksgezondheid En Milieu, 1995),Google Scholar and Strzepek, Kenneth M. and Smith, Joel B. (eds.), As Climate Changes: international impacts and impliations (Cambridge, for the US Environmental Protection Agency, 1995).Google Scholar

13 This discussion is premised upon the assumption that South Africa would be classified as a ‘developing country’, when it ratified the FCCC, because all the so-called ‘developed countries’ in Annex 1 are there by virtue of either their membership in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) or their geographical location (those Eastern European countries that are presently ‘undergoing the process of transition to a market economy’). This, however, does not mean that the status of South Africa as a ‘developing country’ might not be contested at some point in the future.

14 Indeed, it is stipulated in the Climate Change Convention that the delivery of such reports by developing countries is contingent upon the receipt of sufficient funds from Northern countries. FCCC, Article 12(5).

15 South Africa would also have to help support the smooth running of the international secretariat that is overseeing the climate change agreements. The secretariat's proposed budget and the UN's scale of assessment for South Africa (0.3225 per cent) means that the Government might have to pay approximately US$40,000 a year. Given the general plaudits that have greeted the activities of the secretariat to date, this would be relatively good value for money (particularly when compared with some international civil services).

16 See, for example, Joint Implementation as a Measure to Curb Climate Change: Nordic perspectives and priorities (Copenhagen, Nordic Council of Ministers, 02 1995).Google Scholar

17 The review process is scheduled to continue until the end of this decade. Given the fact that no ‘credits’, for reductions of emissions will be forthcoming for developed country Parties during the pilot phase (that is, they will not be able to meet their initial commitments by undertaking action in the developing world), the costs (to them) of pursuing JI with non-Party developing countries might appear to be small, or even negligible. This suggests, therefore, that South African ratification would not necessarily bring any national benefits associated with JI. Still, it is probably the case that developed countries will want to send the ‘right’ signals, and will therefore prefer, all else being equal, only to pursue JI activities with those developing countries that are Parties to the FCCC.

18 This is not, however, meant to suggest that the South African position on climate change would necessarily reflect a ‘new foreign policy’. Still the opportunity would be there. See, for example, Davies, Robert, South African Policy Options in a Changing Global Context (Bellville, Centre for Southern African Studies, 1994), Working Paper No. 40.Google Scholar

19 FCCC, Article 25.

20 FCCC/CP/1995/L.14.

21 Ibid.

22 It is recognised that recent studies in the literature have argued that stricter environmental regulations do not necessarily cause so-called ‘industrial flight’ – namely, the decision by businesses to relocate to countries with lower standards in order to avoid the extra costs associated with compliance. See, for example, Leonard, H. Jeffrey, Pollution and the Struggle for the World Product : multinational corporations, environment, and international comparative advantage (Cambridge, 1988)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, and Sorsa, Piritta, Competitiveness and Environmental Standards (Washington, DC, 1994), World Bank, International Economics Department, Working Paper No. 1249. Nevertheless, it is still the case that a number of countries are concerned about the impact that environmental regulations – greenhouse gas emission restrictions included – could have upon their international competitiveness.Google Scholar

23 Data Resources, Inc., Economic Effects of Using Carbon Taxes to Reduce Carbon Dioxide Emissions in Major OECD Countries (New York, 01 1992).Google Scholar

24 Economist Intelligence Unit, South Africa: country profile, 1994-95 (London, 1995).Google Scholar

25 Tempering this finding, another study concludes that South Africa's ‘vulnerable exports’ (that is, vulnerable to a change in the demand patterns in OECD countries) account for ‘only’ 12.7 per cent of its total merchandise exports, and 2.7 per cent of its GDP. Though of course significant, these figures are lower than all but one (Morocco) of the 18 African countries examined in the study. See Sugg, William O. III and Spradley, Julian Roy Jr, ‘The Economic Vulnerability of Developing Countries to Measures by Developed Countries to Limit Their Emissions of Carbon Dioxide’, Berlin Conference of the Parties, 1995.Google Scholar

26 In theory, ‘industrial flight’ could be countered by the introduction of some kind of ‘ecolabel’: goods entering Annex I countries might have to demonstrate that they were produced in a ‘climate-friendly’ manner or else a tariff, broadly equivalent to the carbon tax in place in the country, would be slapped on them.

27 FCCC, Article 3(5).

28 For more about the relationship between trade and environment/sustainable development, see, for example, Esty, Daniel C., Greening the GATT: trade, environment and the future (Washington, DC, Institute for International Economics, 1994).Google Scholar

29 In particular, the Basel Convention (hazardous wastes), the Montreal Protocol (ozone layer depletion), and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

30 Development assistance may well also be affected by the negotiations among the OECD countries. Again, it might take the form that assistance becomes conditional upon certain ‘green activities’, those being particularly climate-friendly. See, for example, Davies, S., ‘Green Conditionality and Food Security: winners and losers from the greening of aid’, in Journal of International Development (Chichester), 4, 2, 04 1992, pp. 151–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

31 FCCC/CP/1995/L.1.

32 For a rudimentary examination of the ‘vulnerability’ of OECD countries, on the basis of both economic and biophysical criteria, see Rowlands, Ian H., ‘Explaining National Climate Policies’, in Global Environmental Change (Oxford), 5, 2, 06 1995, pp. 235–49.Google Scholar

33 FCCC, Preamble, para. 19.

34 The FCCC also accepts in Ibid. para. 20, that ‘countries, particularly developing countries, whose economies are particularly dependent on fossil fuel production, use and exportation’ have ‘special difficulties’. Although this was drafted with OPEC countries in mind, it is still the case that much of South Africa's commercial economic activity derives from fossil fuels – see the comments on coal (fn. 6) and electricity (fn. 7) above. Consequently, South Africa could conceivably be deemed ‘vulnerable’ on this measure as well.

35 Author's calculations from World Resources Institute, World Resources, 1994–95 (Oxford, 1994).Google Scholar

36 Ibid.

37 Author's calculations from Petroleum Economist, Energy Map of Africa (London, 1994).Google Scholar

38 The ways in which the national communications from developing countries – the first of which are due in March 1997 – are structured and used could be particularly significant (for measures of vulnerability may be taken from these reports). The COP is considering this. In Berlin, it ‘decided that the Parties should begin outlining what the contents should be for the first communications from developing countries, which will be due starting in early 1997. Another decision outlines the methodologies for reporting and measuring emissions and other guidelines needed to ensure the comparability of national communications.’ ‘“Berlin Mandate” Opens Way for Post-2000 Commitments’ , in Climate Change Bulletin (Geneva), 7, 2nd Quarter, 1995, pp. 12. Moreover, the way in which those infamous words ‘incremental costs’ is defined will also be vital.Google Scholar

39 For general information about the GEF, see, for example, Gupta, Joyetta, ‘The Global Environment Facility in its North-South Context’, in Environmental Politics (London), 4, 1, Spring 1995. PP. 1943.Google Scholar

40 A/AC.237/L.23/Add.1.

41 In addition, South Africa could conceivably be labelled an ‘economy in transition’, the ramifications of which should also be investigated.

42 Article 5(1), Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, reprinted in International Legal Materials, 26, 1989, pp. 1541–61.Google Scholar

43 FCCC, Article 4(2)(a).

44 A/AC.237/L.23, Article 3.

45 FCCC/CP/1995/L.14.

46 A calculation based upon ‘all sources and sinks’ has not been undertaken here, solely because of the unavailability of data. Given that other countries have greater opportunities for the preservation and enhancement of sinks (that is, forests and other vegetation), it would not appear to be in South Africa's interest to support this approach. However, this conclusion would be dramatically changed were a country to be allowed to include its territorial ocean waters as a part of its inventory of sinks – a notion that deserves further consideration.

47 For related discussions, see Grubb, Michael, ‘Seeking Fair Weather: ethics and the international debate on climate change’, in International Affairs (London), 71, 3, 07 1995, pp. 463–96Google Scholar, and Rose, Adam, ‘Equity Considerations of Tradeable Carbon Emission Entitlements’, in UN Conference on Trade and Development, Combating Global Warming: study on a global system of tradeable carbon emission entitlements (Geneva, 1992), pp. 5583.Google Scholar

48 One final point. It would seem that, regardless of one's position on the ratification debate, all might be able to agree that climate change should be kept in mind at this particular stage of South Africa's development – that is, during a time when a great many choices are being made, and activities being undertaken, in the context of the Government's Reconstruction and Development Plan. A range of experiences have revealed that it is much easier to get development plans ‘right’ the first time, than to attempt to ‘retro-fit’ things later. Consequently, a ‘no regrets’strategy (that is, a strategy which, when presented with two alternatives that have the same consequences for national development aspirations, selects the one that is more ‘climate-friendly’) might garner wide support. For a relevant discussion, see Scholes, R. J. and van der Merwe, M. R., Greenhouse Gas Adaptation Strategy for South Africa: a scoping study (Pretoria, Forestek, CSIR for the Department of Environment Affairs and Tourism, 03 1995).Google Scholar

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