The increase in environmental incidents in the last year resulted in devastating impacts on the environment bringing into question the environmental compliance profile of the sources of these problems.
These require a cohesive and complex government intervention to effectively address them.
“It is against this background that an ideal opportunity exists to extend the government response to innovative and effective strategies to address activities causing harm to the environment,” says the Deputy Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, Ms. Makhotso Sotyu. “This includes looking at designing an “all of government enforcement model” informed by lessons learnt from past experiences which considers resources available within all government institutions to simultaneously deal with different, but mutually beneficial end points”.
Thus, the importance of the 9th Environmental Compliance and Enforcement Lekgotla being held in Gauteng from 14 to 17 November 2022 under the theme Facing uncharted waters: new challenges and solutions for the Green Scorpions.
This year represents a significant milestone for environmental compliance and enforcement in South Africa. It marks seventeen years since an amendment to National Environmental Management Act created the Environmental Management Inspectorate, commonly known as the Green Scorpions, in our statute books. This legislative development pulled together existing efforts in the green, brown and blue subsectors into a single, cohesive and effective compliance and enforcement framework.
Referring to the World Economic Forum’s 2022 Global Risks Report, the Deputy Minister pointed out that over a 10-year horizon, the health of the planet dominates concerns and that environmental risks are perceived to be the five most critical long-term threats, with “climate action failure”, “extreme weather”, and “biodiversity loss” ranking as the top three most severe risks. Their projected effects are extensive, and include intensified rates of involuntary migration, natural resource crises, pollution harms to health, geopolitical resource contestation, social security collapse and livelihood and debt crises.
South Africa has, over the past two years, already begun to feel the devastating impacts of these risks. For example, heavy downpours in KwaZulu-Natal over only a two-day period in April 2022 caused South Africa’s worst and most deadly natural disaster to date: a flash flood so rare and devastating it has a one in 300-year probability of recurring. The dire situation in this province was exacerbated by the extensive environmental damage caused by the hazardous chemical spill resulting from social unrest at the UPL facility as well as widespread pollution resulting from non-functional waste-water treatment infrastructure.
In addition to the apparent adverse health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has also had significant impacts on the state of the environment, with a decrease in certain types of environmental non-compliances, balanced by a significant increase in others, including unlawful land occupation in and around protected areas/state forests.
Despite these challenges, the Green Scorpions are still expected to give effect to Section 24 of the Constitution by protecting the environment in a manner that it is not detrimental to the health and well-being of the country’s citizens. This will require a level of adaptability from the Inspectorate to meet these unexpected challenges and still execute its Constitutional imperative.
The findings of the 2021/22 National Environmental Compliance & Enforcement Report (NECER) provide a contrast between increases in compliance and enforcement activities while there has also been a decrease in the number of Green Scorpions working countrywide.
Operating at national, provincial and local levels, the Green Scorpions execute compliance and enforcement activities in responses to non-compliances in the brown, green and blue environmental sub-sectors. The Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment seeks to coordinate and support the efforts of all spheres of government involved in environmental compliance and enforcement; and facilitate collaboration with other regulatory authorities and key stakeholders. Brown issues relate to air, waste and pollution, EIA, emergency situations, incidents, and developments. Blue issues are linked to the management and protection of the coastal environment and; the Green issues are those related to the protection and sustainable utilization of biodiversity, biosecurity and the management of protected areas.
The report, released at the Lekgotla, shows a decrease of more than five percent in the number of national and provincial Environmental Management Inspectors (EMIs) from 3 158 in the 2020/21 financial year to 2995 in the year under review. This is largely attributed to natural attrition, and steps are being taken to, not only to fill vacant positions, but also to increase the number of Green Scorpions across the country.
Criminal investigation of environmental crimes has increased by 7.6% in the year under review, with 952 criminal dockets registered. A total of 1 091 admission of guilt fines to the value of R408 730.00 were paid – an increase of 6.6% -- while 838 people were arrested. There was an increase of 262.5% in the number of convictions for environmental crimes, showing a hike from 16 to 58 in the past financial year. Six plea agreements were entered into and 129 warning letters were issued. The total Rand amount of Section 24G administrative fines related to the commencement of an unlawful activity decreased to R11 274 319 from R18 154 666 in the previous year.
In 2021/22, 4 171 facilities were inspected as part of the compliance monitoring function of the Green Scorpions. Of the 4 171 inspections, 2 918 were to check compliance with environmental authorisations and/or permits, strategic and routine inspections, and 1 253 were reactive probes triggered by complaints. A total of 1 123 inspections related to Section 30 incidents, including toxic spills and illegal dumping.
For the brown sub-sector, the unlawful commencement of environmental impact assessment listed activities continues to be the most common non-compliance, while in the green sub-sector, illegal hunting and illegal entry into protected areas continues to be the predominant environmental crimes.
There has been a fluctuation in the reporting of certain types of incidents, with a significant increase in reports on poaching (mostly related to abalone) from three (3) in 2020/21 to 297 in 2021/22 with the opening up of the Environmental Crime Hotline to marine-related incidents. This was followed by a significant increase in air pollution complaints to 297 as compared to 115 complaints in the previous year.
The number of complaints and incidents referred to the various spheres of government remained relatively stable, with those falling within the mandate of DFFE totalling 502 in 2021/22. There was a slight decrease in provincial-related complaints from 359 to 312 year-on-year.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Republic Of South Africa: Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment.