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Minister Molewa’s speaking notes at National Assembly debate on the ratification of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change

01 November 2016


Honourable Speaker / Deputy Speaker / House Chairperson;
Honourable Members of Parliament;
Ladies and Gentlemen

Good Afternoon

First of all, we would like to thank Parliament for having processed the Paris Agreement Ratification instrument on Climate Change in such record time.  In particular we thank the Portfolio Committee and Select Committee under the able leadership of the Honourables Mapulana and Sefako.

Today we have an historical decision to make which will contribute further to South Africa’s leadership role in ensuring that the effects of climate change are addressed.

As we speak to these issues today, scientific reports indicate that this year, 2016, at the South Pole Observatory in the Antarctica, carbon dioxide levels surpassed 400 parts per million (ppm).  Scientists confirm that it is the first time it has passed that level in 4 million years!  Yes, you heard me correctly, 4 million years!

This 400 parts per million (ppm) threshold was crossed last year in the northern hemisphere because that is where most carbon pollution occurs.  The most remote continent on earth, the Antarctic, has now caught up with its more populated counterparts and crossed this tipping point, reminding us that human activities in their current form are continuing to reshape our planet in profound ways. Sea levels are rising, global temperature increase is already reaching more than 1 degree Celsius, and at some parts, oceans are more acidic than they have been for millions of years.

Honourable Members here, at the southern tip of the African continent, for more than a year, our country has been experiencing the severe effects of drought conditions catalyzed by the worst El Nino event in decades. The rising sea temperatures in the Pacific Ocean that resulted in increased temperatures and reduced rainfall in many parts of the world, was exacerbated by rising global temperatures associated with climate change. Our scientists and weather forecasters warn that this is what can be expected in the decades to come, if ambitious global action is not taken urgently to reduce the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

It is clear that the only choice for humanity is to take ambitious and practical action through reducing greenhouse gas emissions, preparing for extreme events, and adapting to the impacts of climate change.  We need to adjust our ecological, social, and economic systems and change the way of doing business, so that we can transition to a lower carbon and climate resilient society in a manner that also grows our economy, creates employment, and eradicates poverty.

When we met in Durban three years ago, under South Africa’s leadership, world leaders took bold decisions to significantly advance the global effort to address the global climate change challenge.  We set a new long-term pathway for the development of a fair, ambitious and legally binding future multilateral and rules-based global climate change system that ensures the fair participation of all countries.

On the 12th December 2015, the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change unanimously adopted the Paris Agreement and a package of supporting decisions covering climate action in the pre and post 2020 periods.

This marked the successful conclusion of a four-year negotiation process under the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action by establishing, for the first time, a fair common legal platform for climate action that is applicable to all countries.

South Africa played a leading role at COP 21 in Paris, as the Chair of the Group of 77 plus China, a group of 134 developing countries that are worst affected by climate change. We were also a leading negotiator for the Africa Group as well as being a member of the Brazil, South Africa, India and China (BASIC) group.

As an African and developing country, South Africa had to balance developmental and environmental imperatives. At the same time, South Africa negotiated for an ambitious and legally binding outcome that would strengthen the multilateral rule of law and provide certainty and predictability for developing countries in a world with a changing climate.

The adoption of the Paris Agreement has been hailed as a turning point in the efforts of the international community to address climate change. There is now a shared vision to keep the global temperature this century to well below 2 degrees centigrade and to drive efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels.

The global markets have been given a strong signal that the transition towards a low carbon economy is underway and that carbon markets and other market- based solutions will be utilized to assist in this transition.

Of critical importance to developing countries, particularly in Africa, is the enhanced importance accorded to adaptation to climate change through the establishment of a Global Goal on Adaptation and to addressing the Loss and Damage associated with its impacts.

On the 22nd April 2016, South Africa signed the Paris Agreement, joining 175 world leaders on this historic day at the United Nations in New York.

Legally, the Agreement will enter into force 30 days after at least 55 countries, accounting for 55 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, deposit their instruments of ratification.

With unprecedented speed, the double threshold was reached on 5 October this year and the Paris Agreement will enter into force this Friday, on 4 November 2016.

This means that first session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement (CMA1) will take place in Marrakech in conjunction with the 22nd Conference of the Parties of the Convention, and the 12th Meeting of the Parties of the Kyoto Protocol.

Fellow Members,

South Africa has a constitutionally prescribed process to follow (section 231 (2) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996) to ratify international agreements that involve legal commitments.

All the necessary work has been concluded to ensure that South Africa is able to ratify the Paris Agreement.

On the 20th October 2016 Cabinet announced its approval for the historic treaty to be submitted to Parliament for ratification.

On the 27th October the NCOP gave its approval for the ratification of the Agreement.

Once the National Assembly has ratified today, as I hope we will do, our instrument of ratification will be deposited with the United Nations Secretary-General in New York.

Our aim is to deposit our instrument of ratification with the UN Secretary-General before the 22nd Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change starts in Marrakesh, Morocco, on 7 November 2016.

By this morning, 86 Parties had deposited their instruments of ratification with the UN Secretary-General.

Honourable Members, let us as South Africa add to this growing number as a demonstration of our commitment to action to combatting climate change, and to ensuring that the world that we bequeath to our children’s children is a world that is climate safe and climate resilient.

I thank you.