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Climate litigation by civil society results in new guideline on climate change impact assessments

The draft guideline signals an important move towards considering climate change in environmental decision-making. However, government is urged to broaden and strengthen the scope of the guideline.

29 July 2021 - Civil society groups have welcomed a proposed new guideline for assessing climate impacts of new developments. The publication of this guideline is one of the outcomes of precedent-setting climate litigation by civil society groups challenging new climate damaging developments. The guideline is a step in the right direction to avoid further emissions in line with South Africa’s commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement, loss of life due to climate change and also to prepare for the risks posed by climate change to new developments.

The Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), on behalf of environmental justice groups groundWork and Earthlife Africa, have submitted a written response to the draft National Guideline for the Consideration of Climate Change Implications in Applications for Environmental Authorisations, Atmospheric Licences and Waste Management Licences. The CER, groundWork and Earthlife form part of the Life After Coal Campaign.

The comments urge government to rely on science and the law to provide a firm benchmark against which greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions should be reduced.

Given the far-reaching nature of the climate crisis and its impacts, government is also urged to publish similar guidelines for the consideration of climate change impacts for a much broader array of licences and decision-making processes – particularly water use licences.

The draft guidelines now make clear that a mere cursory calculation of a project’s GHG emissions – as has historically been seen in climate assessments in EIAs - is not adequate. It requires a far more detailed assessment of not only direct emissions but also indirect and cumulative emissions, as well as potential adaptation measures that may be required, and an assessment of the ways in which a project might be impacted by climate change,” notes Brandon Abdinor, climate advocacy lawyer at the CER.

Areas in which the guideline must be improved include:

The guidelines will bring welcome clarity to the critical importance of giving consideration to current and future climate impacts in government decision-making.

Examples of important precedents set by civil society litigation on climate impacts include:

 

Life After Coal/Impilo Ngaphandle Kwamalahle is a joint campaign by Earthlife Africa JohannesburggroundWork, and the Centre for Environmental Rights that aims to discourage the development of new coal-fired power stations and mines; reduce emissions from existing coal infrastructure and encourage a coal phase-out; and enable a just transition to sustainable energy systems for the people.