South Africa Shows Good Progress on Environment

oecd epr 2013On the 4th of December, members of the public were invited to attend the presentation on Environmental Performance Review of South Africa at Hiddingh Campus of the University of Cape Town (UCT).

This event was organised by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the Environmental Economics Policy Research Unit (EPRU) of the School of Economics at UCT. Speakers included Simon Upton, Director of the OECD’s Environment Directorate, Jeffrey Manuel Deputy Director of Biodiversity Planning Policy Advice at the South African National Biodiversity Institute, Rick Menell, Chairman and Senior Advisor at the Credit Suisse Securities Johannesburg,  and Saliem Fakir, Head of the Living Planet Unit at the World Wide Fund for Nature South Africa).

In its first Environmental Performance Review of South Africa, the OECD praises the progress made with environmental reforms. It also urges Africa’s biggest economy to keep focusing on green growth to help it shift towards a low-carbon model that will improve the well-being of all South Africans and preserve its rich natural habitat.

Upton’s presentation focused on providing a background of the OECD and he pointed out the main findings of the report “Remarkable progress has been made, and yet much remains to be done,” Upton said. “As it works to bolster economic growth and raise income levels, one of the key challenges South Africa faces is to integrate biodiversity considerations into its mining, energy, transport and coastal management policies.”

 Manuel‘s talk focused on managing landscapes in an integrated manner, Menell reflected s on South Africa’s strides and challenges in many environmental matters, whilst Fakir contextualised the findings of the report against implementation experiences of the past 20 years. 

South Africa ranks among the world’s top 17 countries for biodiversity. Yet unchecked mining, mineral processing, energy production and urban development during the years of apartheid has left a quarter of its river ecosystems critically endangered, depleted water resources and damaged the country’s natural habitat and biodiversity.

 Though significant progress has been made on improving water quality and sanitation, environmental factors such as poor sanitary conditions and air pollution from poorly vented indoor stoves fuelled by coal, wood or paraffin are a key cause of disease and even death among young children, helping hold down life expectancy in the country to just 51 years.

The OECD review presents 36 recommendations that include reducing explicit and implicit subsidies for coal and electricity consumption, examining how environment-related taxes could provide an alternative, doing more to integrate biodiversity into economic development and quickly implementing a proposed carbon tax. The review also calls for substantial infrastructure investments to improve access to, and quality of, environmental services such as water, sanitation and waste management.

“We need an outside mirror to reflect ourselves against and therefore this OECD Review is of value” said Menell.

This is one in a series of OECD reviews of South Africa’s policies and another step in the deepening co-operation between the 34-member economic policy forum and South Africa.

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