The right to a safe and protected environment and the commitment to a sustainable future are enshrined in the South African Constitution. While many communities in South Africa are increasingly feeling the effects of climate change, civil society engagement in environmental governance remains limited.
Many South Africans believe that Parliament is the institution where important social and environmental justice issues should be heard, and yet how many of us know who our parliamentary representatives are and how to engage with them?
This observation led Food and Trees for Africa (FTFA), the African Climate Reality Project (ACRP), the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) and the Ekurhuleni Environmental Organisation (EEO) to launch Environmental Governance – a project which is co-funded by the European Union.
The Environmental Governance project aims to foster more bottom-up, participatory decision-making processes on environmental issues, and encourage citizens to seek effective representation from the legislative institutions, using them to improve service delivery by the government.
“It’s about improving participation of the public and decision-making in South Africa, especially on environmental issues, and trying to make the decisions that are being made more responsive and in line with what the people want,” says Project Manager, Noelle Garcin, representing FTFA and ACRP. “People have not engaged with the legislatures enough, and we see now that the government has not been held accountable and is unresponsive to the public demand for better governance and better decision-making in a number of sectors.”
“It’s to get the public involved, the ones that want to come out and challenge government on issues regarding environmental governance. This is the ideal platform to get them involved and connected, as much as skilling them in a way that they can represent and carry themselves independent of SDCEA – and it’s a skill that will be left in the hands of communities that they can learn from and pass on from generation to generation,” says Shanice Gomes, Project Officer representing SDCEA.
The project will be targeting the legislatures in four provinces (Gauteng, Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal, and Western Cape) and national Parliament, with a focus on the committees and units dealing with environmental issues and public participation. Our other target groups are local civil society organisations active in the environmental sector, and local media.
“One procedure we are looking at is we want to engage both the legislature and community leaders in terms of how we will work together, and promote much broader communication,” says Sandile Nombeni, Project Officer representing EEO, “The project will give better living conditions for communities with much more efficient public participation, and at the same time we want our legislatures to be active and engaging with our communities in a very meaningful way.”
Sustainability, climate change, gender equality, women’s empowerment, and youth engagement are crosscutting principles underpinning the project’s strategy.
“Particularly in relation to youth there is a need for increased knowledge and awareness on the legislature, and better engagement and dialogue between civil society organisations that are specific in terms of their focus on youth and women,” says Thuli Montana, Project Officer representing SAIIA.
“We are going to work on two fronts. On one side we want to empower organisations, preferably local organisations, grassroots, to understand and know how to engage and push their agenda with the legislatures. On the other side we will also try to engage with the legislatures and encourage them to improve their public participation processes. We want more openness, more communication on what they are doing and making sure that they understand their mandate from that perspective,” says Garcin.
In many South African provinces it is problematic that legislatures are not accustomed to being approached by the public. The Environmental Governance project aims to change that by building positive relationships with those institutions.
“We will also be running campaigns to advocate for a number of issues that we have identified that relate to environmental problems or climate change – and that will take us to 2020,” says Garcin.
The project started in January 2018 and will take place over a period of 30 months. The official launch event took place in Cape Town on 20 February as part of a wider initiative supported by the European Union, which will see several organisations foster citizen activism across South Africa for increased accountability and good governance.
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For more information contact:
Nicole Rodel – Communications Officer
African Climate Reality Project
About the implementing organisations:
The African Climate Reality Project (ACRP) is the African chapter of former Vice President Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project and is hosted on the continent by Food & Trees for Africa. Gore has trained close to 600 African Climate Leaders in Africa, from government, NGOs, youth, media and scientists across the continent. ACRP’s aim is to spread awareness and action and mobilise communities from Algeria to Zimbabwe to find solutions to climate change. Through the work of Climate Leaders across the continent, the movement urges people to take climate action now and communicates the urgent need for countries to act on their commitments under the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. ACRP is building support through media campaigns and various events. For more information go to www.climatereality.co.za
Food & Trees for Africa (FTFA) is a leading Section 21 Social Enterprise that addresses the issues of food security and environmental sustainability as fundamental human rights essential to our prosperity. The organisation emphasises education and skills training, which it integrates with sensitive mentorship and phased support. After 27 years of experience in South African social development, FTFA understands what it takes to achieve real, long-term sustainability and want to make a positive difference to the lives of all South Africans. For more information go to www.trees.co.za
The South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA) is an independent, non-government think-tank whose purpose is to encourage wider and more informed awareness of the importance of international affairs. It is both a centre for African and global research excellence and a home for stimulating public debate. SAIIA seeks to provide input into policy development and promote balanced dialogue and debate on issues crucial to Africa’s advancement and engagement in a dynamic global context. Through our Youth@SAIIA programmes the Institute seeks to give young Africans the opportunity to engage with the major issues that confront them, whilst empowering them with skills to become the continents future leaders, who can engage in policy-making as they work towards a Southern Africa that is sustainable, democratic, inclusive and well-governed. Youth@SAIIA currently reaches over 6000 South African learners, students and educators. Additionally, through our networks we connect to over 200 African organizations in 30 different countries. For more information go to www.saiia.org.za/youth
The South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) is a non-governmental coalition of 17 community and environmental organisations. SDCEA was launched in 1995 to unite members in a common struggle for a healthy living environment and environmentally sustainable and socially just development in south Durban. SDCEA has been both unique and tenacious in challenging both government and industry to address the inequities of pollution and environmental injustice in the area. SDCEA has achieved a reduction in key local pollutants, the closing of hazardous waste sites and secured fishing rights for subsistence fishers. SDCEA takes education awareness, information sharing and capacity building in various forms to enable independent community monitoring and research into pollution, health and social issues. SDCEA arrives at positions through democratic debate and aims to deepen participation in that debate through its capacity building activities, to ensure that arguments are well grounded in both science and community experience. For more information go to www.sdcea.co.za
Ekurhuleni Environmental Organisation (EEO) seeks to build capacity in communities so that they can hold government accountable in all spheres. The organisation aims to create a broad platform for engagement between provincial legislatures and communities, especially on environmental monitoring, implementation of sustainable green projects and community participation – and most importantly community ownership of communication platforms.