We start out with the notion that all development must be socially, economically and environmentally sustainable. And then we weave that aspiration into law, and in particular into the National Environmental Management Act. Or simply called NEMA.
This noble intent remains nothing but words on a page if government departments don’t manage to work together. Also, the men and women who work there, should have at least a working grasp of what “environmentally sustainable” means.
Officials, in various spheres of government, face a thorny problem daily: how to practically DO “integrated decision-making”, using structures which are supposed to “foster the principle of intergovernmental co-ordination and the harmonisation of policies, legislation and actions relating to the environment.”
Who decides what happens in our environment? And what prevents one decision from undoing another.
We have so many pieces of law requiring all sorts of additional approvals or permits for activities which impact on the environment that it is quite possible to have contradicting decisions.
Decision makers are often criticised for the decisions that they make. They are seen to misinterpret the information, ignore information available to them or not consider what is seen to be vital information.
Is it possible that there is an information overload? Or, do officials distrust the information sources? Or do they not know what they don’t know, and therefore they can’t ask for the right information? Is it that they are simply given so much contradictory information that inevitably someone is going to feel let down by their decision?
The development and use of maps has changed a great deal over the last few decades.
In the past, the collection and distribution of geographic information was highly centralised.
The accuracy of maps was rarely questioned – they took so long to make and were very expensive to produce. Maps were not generally created to be a consumer product, but were considered part of the national assets. Maps were predominantly used by the government, for defence, taxes, planning and development.
With the widespread use of computers, came the evolution of mapping software too. The rise of
Environmental Impact Assessment and Management (EIA&M) is not demographically representative and there remains a disproportionate number of Whites in the sector relative to the national population demography profile.
There is not uniform distribution of demographic groups and of gender in EIA&M service providers and civil society organisations across provinces
• There is a greater proportion of Whites in NGO jobs relative to the total, than in other demographic groups.
• Whites are over-represented in all sectors except government
• Asians are under-represented in NGOs , Coloured and Asians are often under-represented in the sectors
Within the professional registration bodies:
• Professional categories are White-dominated but Candidate Categories are dominated by Blacks.
• The highest proportion of Blacks occurred in a low category level Candidate Engineering Technician, indicating skills shortages
• IAIA conference delegates showed whites as over-represented.
• Women are under-represented
• Demographic representation in the private sector is skewed and transformation is slowed; there is a lack of formal policies and/or skills development
• Networking is perceived as a crucial skill for gaining work and recognition
• There is perception of a high staff turnover among HDIs
• INformation is unreliable on graduate output compared to skills scarcity
• Information is unreliable on cultural tension within the work environment
• Soft skills are lacking in education and training programs of applicants
• Report-writing, people and language skills needed for EIA&M
• Little is being done to raise awareness of EIA&M as a career; Secondary schools have very little environmental information
• Need for more entrepreneurial skills; there are few black specialists or HDI-owned Consultancies
• NGOs involved in EIA&M show uneven transformation
Lets begin with a framework.
The generally accepted view sees data as simple facts. Those facts, when interpreted, linked, structured or arranged, become information which is then more meaningful and useful.
Information can be used to make predictions. Information is tested and there must be some consensus about the validity of that information.
The problems with public participation have resulted in many reports and studies. Extracts from some from some of the studies explain the current situation with public particpation, including those communities/people who are excluded.
NEMA also requires that all interested and affected parties (I&APs) be given the skills needed to effectively participate in environmental decisions. Decisions must take into account their interests and values.
Who are Marginalized communities? Who are the people who would not be adequately equipped to enjoy their rights?
Environmental practitioners come from a wide range of backgrounds. Becoming a professional in the field, takes a wide range of requirements, time and dedication.
EAPs are expected to have both depth and breadth of skills in order to fulfil their role, and often competence in this regard comes over time and only with experience.
The Ten Year Review of EIAs and in subsequent sector skills study, identified a range of skills needed. These include critical skills, generic skills and skills development programmes.
Marginalised communities are people who struggle to engage in the public participation processes intended to protect their environmental rights. Often the frustrations and difficulties inherent in these communities are compounded, and rather than assisting them, the public participation process entrenches the difficulties.
Government departments aim to promote a green growth path that is environmentally sustainable, has a low carbon footprint, and is pro-labour creation. To get there, the labour force will require specific skills.
To be effective, environmental impact assessment relies on quality – in the tools, the processes, the laws, the procedures and the people who implement these.
In 2006, the Deputy Director General: Environmental Quality set out of list of problems involving EAPs. This marked the beginning of a consultative process to establish a registration authority.
The two most commonly used tools in
The National Environmental Management Act (NEMA) names more tools.
The main difficulty is that the EIA system is designed to reduce the harm caused by specific projects. That is in contrast with development being ecologically sustainable development while promoting justifiable social and economic development.
The Environmental Impact Assessment and Management Systems relies on information. Yet, there are information gaps, and data is inconsistent, often inaccessible and poorly maintained.
Without rigorous standardisation of data formats and data collection, information will continue to be poorly integrated/shared.There is also inadequate strategic data, which limits the ability of decision makers to discern where protection is needed and how best to secure environmental assets.
The requirement that departments and sphere of government must "play nice" and sort out conflicts among themselves, is at the bottom of many of the environmental problems.
There is much confusion about who should be doing what, when and how.
There is not even consensus on the principles; there is little shared understanding of what Sustainable Development is, and how to ensure that it takes place.
Because of a deep-seated mistrust, officials are given very little room for using their discretion. This often means that all applications are treated the same; a "one size fits all" leaves lots of room for error, over and under management.
The officials are also without adequate resources to do their jobs - sometimes as basic as email access or telephones.
The "solution" of agreements between departments takes time to put in place and the result is often inflexible and time consuming.
Problems with quality assurance, ethics and independence are topics related to the Environmental Assessment Practitioner (EAP) or "Consultant".
From high staff turnover, to insufficient emphasis on the sector skills - here we identify the root of the skills shortage problems.
Public participation is an important - even critical - part of many of the tools for environmental management. So we need to get it right, and do it well.
The Specialist report focused on the responses to a questionnaire they produced, and which lists 17 issues with public participation.
An extension of the problems with public participation is the specific problems of those communities who are marginalised.
NEMA provides for various ways the State can watch for environmental violations and impose penalties.
But Section 48 of NEMA gives any government office immunity from criminal prosecution for violations of environmental laws. This includes state-owned companies, such as Eskom, Johannesburg Water, Portnet, PetroSA, that are involved in many activities affecting the environment.
A range of problems are identified for the monitoring and enforcement of environmental authorisations.
The speciliast study highlighted some of the problems experienced within environmental management when it comes to the monitoring phases, and of course, that important enforcement element.
In no particular order:
• Impacts of activities on the environment are inadequately identified. The potential impacts are required to be identified at the stage of the project when uncertainty is high.
• There is nothing which requires a developer to reassess impacts or to improve on the mitigation/rehabilitation as more is discovered about the impact of the development on the environment.
• And, if the impacts differ from what the application indicated, there is nothing which requires adaption on site or with the environment management.
• Public participation is too limited. In spite of the I&APs and the public having to live with the impacts, there is no continued interaction and input after authorisation.
• Environmental monitoring committees (EMC) are ineffectual because they are poorly attended, authorities have unclear mandates, documentation is not adequately reviewed in preparation, and basically, there is no action taken on when developers do not comply with the conditions in the authorisation, their own management plan or the law.
• There is nothing to compell officials to take action when environmental reporting informs of a problem or transgression.
• This could be because it is not clear who (in government) should be doing what and when.
• Action against a developer/company is clumsy, slow and often not proportional to the kind of transgression - too little, too late!
• The authorisation assumes that nothing will change - the developer will monitor correctly, the development will stay the same, the natural environment will not change. As for climate change.....?!
• Environmental Management Programmes/Plans are inadequate and often what they try to achieve is vague
• Developers/companies and officials seldom think of the Environmental Management Programmes/Plan as the legally enforcement thing that it is.
• Environmental reporting is not enough to allow problems to be identified, and legal action to be taken.
• Developers are not held accountable for a specific desirable outcome.
• Mining activities are treated differently and that creates a different set of problems.
• Effective monitoring and enforcement is difficult because of numbers of activities which actions.
• Not enough people in compliance and enforcement function at provincial and local level know what to do, when or how.
• Authorisations are poorly drafted, unclear and at times having contradictory requirements. This make enforcement almost impossible.
• Permits and licences are part of environmental management, and may need to be included in monitoring and enforcement too.