Acting DDG: Climate Change and Air Quality, Mr Tlou Ramaru delivers speech at 12th National Annual Governance Lekgotla on behalf of Deputy Minister Thomson

02 October 2017, Cedarwoods Hotel, Woodmead, Johannesburg

 

Honourable Makhubela, Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs Chief Whip,
Councillor Nico de Jager, Johannesburg Metro’s MMC: Environment and Infrastructure Services,
Ms Limpho Makotoko, our COO,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today we mark the 12th National Annual Governance Lekgotla. This is an event the government has been holding faithfully since 2005, with provinces alternating to host the event annually. This gathering has been proven to be an outstanding platform and an opportunity for government officials to strengthen their regulatory tools in order to improve the quality of air in the country. The interest and attendance to the Lekgotla has strengthen from year to year to more than 350 officials from National, Provincial and Municipalities attending the last event.

This is also the opportunity for us as government to take assess how we have provided services for the protection of human health through the regulatory tools we have established. It is also an opportunity to evaluate what we might need to further strengthen as government towards continuous improvement of the air quality services to our people.  

Several “on-the-ground” air quality interventions are taking place, across the country. Eight of the nine provinces have in place air quality management plans that provide a roadmaps with provincial strategies towards improving ambient air quality.

In addition, 8 of the 9 metros across the country have in place the management plans to improve air quality in the cities. These plans will continue play important roles in integrated developments that link air quality to all other municipalities’ development goals.

But how do we measure the improvement in air quality or the effectiveness of our strategies? We know that as government, we have invested in the commissioning of over 130 air quality monitoring stations across the country. Admittedly, some of these station are struggling to operate and provide the much needed information on the status of air quality to the public. In addition, managing these stations requires dedicated financial and technical resources. Having recognised these challenges, the department is initiating an intervention program, working with provinces and municipalities in managing 43 selected monitoring stations across the country in a centralised approach for the next five years. 

This approach will ensure that we improve the quality of our monitoring networks, and transfer the much needed technical skills to officials responsible on the ground. I encourage you all to work together as government, and ensure that such an intervention will achieve vision of improving the quality air quality monitoring across the country. 

On the information management front, there have also been some very important developments and more are in the pipeline. Firstly, I am made aware that the air quality fraternity is making strides in making use of new information technology systems to manage those industries that have atmospheric emission licenses. This approach is taking care of all industry’s Air Quality legal obligations from cradle to grave via an integrated online system. I have to commend the authorities for this approach as it is improving service delivery and transparency.

In addition, the system is providing for the first time, a clearer understanding of how much air emissions are being released into our environment. Going forward, I recommend that we as government use this information in air quality planning, so that we can truly measure the effectiveness of our interventions. This is the “objectives-oriented” or “outcomes-based” approach to air quality governance that the National Framework prescribes to.

Another exciting element of information management is the second generation South African Air Quality Information System (the SAAQIS). I see in the program of this event that the SAAQIS will be launched on Wednesday. I have been made aware that at the core of the SAAQIS is the reporting of ambient monitoring data in REAL TIME. This means that, where there is ambient monitoring conducted, the public is now able to access the status of ambient air quality, and make informed decisions on their daily activities. 

The LIVE data will assist people, so that they take necessary precaution measures and avoid high air pollution concentration areas especially for those individuals who suffer from respiratory illnesses. I commend the department and the South African Weather Service for achieving this milestone.

However, I must point out that the power and utility of the ambient air quality component of the SAAQIS is largely dependant on all government-owned monitoring stations functioning and supplying data to the system. I therefore encourage national and provincial departments to continue providing support to all municipalities and ensure that ALL government owned stations will be reporting to SAAQIS.

In moving forward with technology, SAAQIS also has smart phone application. We have developed this application as we know that many of us are using these devices more now than ever. This is an exciting component of SAAQIS that will take ambient monitoring information to the broader public, empower our people, and raise awareness in our communities (especially our youth, as they love these gargets).

When we consider how we are performing as government nationally, I have noted the trends of the National Air Quality Indicator. Although things are definitely improving in certain areas, other areas still need far more attention, in particular our three priority areas. I am eagerly looking forward to the day when I can stand up in front of any audience and say – “South Africa’s air quality is definitely getting better” – with confidence and pride. Furthermore, I am hoping that this day is not a long way off.

Notwithstanding these important initiatives, it is not the department’s work that is the focus of our Lekgotla, it is the work of the all three spheres of government. I believe that it is this focus and teamwork that has delivered, and will continue to deliver, positive air quality and air quality governance results. I also believe that it is this event – the Annual Air Quality Governance Lekgotla – that will maintain this focus and build this team.

With these few words, I would like to formally open this 12th Annual Air Quality Governance Lekgotla and I wish you fruitful and productive discussions.