Global environmental change: A warning for South Africa and the world

Issued by
North West, Apr 8, 2016

South Africa, like all other countries in the world, is not equipped to navigate the growing challenges of climate change.

This is according to Prof Louis Kotz'e, environmental law expert at the Faculty of Law from the Potchefstroom Campus of the North-West University.

"The country is currently ill-equipped to deal with the existing food and water shortage crises facing the country. Under normal circumstances, communities living in Soweto and Ikageng do not have access to drinking water. If government cannot even address this challenge by means of its current service delivery responsibilities, how will it possibly be able to cope as climate change systematically worsens?" Kotz'e asks.

According to him, South Africa has, in theory, one of the best legal frameworks in the world to regulate actions from the private sector and the government that have negative impacts on the environment, ie, through Section 24 of the Constitution's Bill of Rights and an entire panoply of environmental statutes.

However: "Environmental change as a priority is low on the local political agenda, although it needs immediate attention. We see fuel prices rising because food prices are rising. Climate change causes crops to fail, which causes prices to hike. We have water restrictions. This will only get worse. It is alarming and it is worrying that South Africa does not intervene through the necessary mitigation and adaptation measures to put legislative protocols in place to deal with environmental change. Those most in need will be affected the most.

"One of the problems is the implementation of our legal framework. There just isn't the political will and capacity to implement this excellent system. We need better compliance and enforcement. Concerning climate resilience and the adaptation to climate change, SA is staring down the barrel. The country is going to have an exceedingly difficult time in adapting to climate change unless it urgently starts implementing its robust policy and legislative framework," says Kotz'e.

There is increasing pressure to facilitate socio-economic growth, but in that process it often happens that environmental issues are neglected. This results in the infringement of fundamental human rights such as the right to human dignity, the right to life and the right to equality, to name but a few.

But, the success of South Africa's environmental governance effort does not only depend on government, Kotz'e explains. The private sector has a duty to adhere to the laws that protect the environment, and many of them do but many of them don't. They have a strong social corporate responsibility component and many of them are ISO 14001 certified. The more voluntary compliance, the less regulation required. They can, however, do a lot better.

When they do step over the line, does the punishment fit the crime?

"Not at all. Not even close. How is it possible that a major mining company is penalised with a few million rands for not having a water licence or for pollution? That is how much their stock value could fluctuate in a day. Companies aren't hit as hard and as regularly with penalties as they should be," says Kotz'e.

This is but one of the topics that will be discussed during the New Frontiers in Global Environmental Constitutionalism symposium that will be held from 12 to 14 April at the Potchefstroom Campus.

The symposium will be hosted by the Faculty of Law, North-West University, Potchefstroom Campus; Widener University, Delaware Law School, United States; and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, Professor John Knox. A total of 60 global experts on human rights and the environment will critically examine whether and the extent to which constitutional and other rights-based approaches, including international and regional human rights, promote environmental protection.

As part of advancing the work of the United Nations Special Rapporteur, the symposium is the first of its kind in South Africa and it has two principal objectives: a) to examine good practices in the implementation of rights-based approaches to environmental protection; and b) to provide a high-level platform for engaging the global conversation about comparative environmental rights-based approaches among policy-makers and governments, practitioners, non-governmental organisations, civil society, scholars, educators, and post-graduate students.

The symposium is made possible by the generous financial support of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation ( Further information can be found at

Expert name: Professor Louis Kotz'e Telephone number: 018 299 1956 E-mail address: [email protected] Expert link: