Copyright 2017

Accredited in Public Relations (APR) news

by Johanetta Clark CPRP

THE VULNERABILITY OF OUR ENVIRONMENT

It is official. Climate change has been declared a globally recognised challenge and has a direct influence on the environment and our world as we know it.

These distinct and defining moments in time, unmistakably move public and political will to reflect on, confront and expose the consequences of adversity, risk and threat and then formulate and implement meaningful responses.

To influence the agenda in general, we need to identify what is assumption, what is belief and what is fact.  The responses necessitate identifying priorities towards positive, clear and productive outcomes.

Have you ever taken the Gautrain from Hatfield to Sandton Station and seen the unsightly mountains of plastics and refuse dumped under bushes and encroaching on streams?  First you experience disbelief.  You are shocked at the appearance of these piles, and then embarrassed about the impression this must have on your fellow passengers and sightseers visiting the area.

I am sure you will agree that entrepreneurs in the recycling business as well as small refuse service providers are probably behind these contraventions. Such offenders are immoral.  They have no regard for the impact on and destruction of neighbourhoods in the immediate vicinity of their activities.  Their actions cause the collapse of conditions from the proliferation of vermin and disease.  This example demonstrates to some extent the effect of non-compliance with environmental laws and the disappointing misrepresentation of investment in social responsibility, as is so often claimed.

The current development landscape and government priorities:

J ClarkIt is important to review the state of South Africa’s development landscape by looking at the body of supporting evidence, the statistics and data available in relation to the number of households, the poverty index, and the need for potable water, sanitation, electricity and public opinion on the delivery of basic services.

The 2014 Development Indicators issued by the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation revealed that between 2002 and 2014 the number of households increased from 10.8 million to 15.6 million.  Over the same period, the proportion of households accessing basic services grew from 77% to 86% for electricity, 80% to 86% for water infrastructure and sanitation went up from 62% to 80%.

Poverty trends indicate the percentage of households living in poverty.  The number declined between 2006 and 2011 but is still high.  Out of 100 households, 45 live below the poverty line and cannot meet their basic needs.  Limpopo and the Eastern Cape have the highest percentages of poor households and Gauteng and the Western Cape the lowest.

While referring to potable water, the expectation was that 90% of households would have access to water infrastructure by 2019.  The number of households with no access to water infrastructure, and with infrastructure below RDP standards, is over 2.1 million.
Challenges that have to be managed include municipalities’ under expenditure of water infrastructure budgets. This has contributed to the slow pace of delivery.  Routine maintenance has also been neglected and resulted in disruptions in the supply of water.
On the matter of sanitation, it was anticipated that 90% of households would have access to sanitation facilities by 2019, with no households in formal areas using the bucket system.  This situation has improved but there are still over 3.2 million households that have no access to sanitation.  Major problems include the under-expenditure of infrastructure grants and municipalities’ neglect of routine maintenance.

In the case of electricity, the projection was that 1.4 million additional households would be connected to the grid between 2014 and 2019.  Despite a significant increase, new connections are not keeping pace with the growth in the number of households.  Here too a contributing factor is the municipalities’ under expenditure of infrastructure grants.

RDP service levels, or relevant basic service levels, are defined as a minimum quantity of 25 litres of potable water per person per day, within 200 meters from a household, that is not interrupted for more than seven days in any year.  This is a higher standard than the basic services defined by the Millennium Development Goals, as 20 litres of potable water per person per day, within 1 000 meters of a household.

The Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation’s overview of public opinion on the delivery of basic services reveals that since 2004 there has been a decline in public trust and confidence in local government and an increase in protests due to public opinion on the delivery of basic services.

Complying with legislative requirements:

There is substantial readily accessible evidence on hand to support the Government’s course of action.  Guidelines, frameworks and policies are developed as a reference point to provide credible input at critical points, to encourage interventions and endorse solutions within a reasonable timeframe.

It all started in 2009, when the President announced that South Africa would undertake a range of voluntary national mitigation actions to ensure that the country’s greenhouse gas emission is lower than the usual standards and norms.  South Africa’s National Climate Change Response White Paper of October 2011 acts in response to this challenge by defining two strategic objectives namely, - to effectively manage predicted climate change impacts, and to make a reasonable contribution to the global effort to steady greenhouse gas emission concentrations in the atmosphere in order to keep the global temperature increase well below 2⁰ C.  It is estimated that mitigation actions will result in a 34% deviation below the business-as-usual emissions by 2020, and a 42% deviation by 2025.  With financial and technology support South Africa’s greenhouse gas emission will peak between 2020 and 2025.  It will reach a level of little variation for a decade and decline thereafter.

The South African Water Research, Development and Innovation Roadmap: 2015 – 2025, working together with the National Water Research, Development and Deployment Programme will provide a framework that will focus on at least one breakthrough technology every five years.  The Roadmap will further contribute towards increasing the number of small and medium-sized enterprises operating in the water sector.  Action plans include improving access to alternative sources of water and sanitation for rural communities, developing the performance of supply infrastructure, reducing losses and strengthening governance, planning and water management.

The 10-Year Waste Research Development and Innovation Roadmap for South Africa: 2015 – 2025 responds to the research, development and innovation requirements of the National Waste Management Strategy.  The waste sector has been slow to incorporate alternative waste treatment technologies.  It is disturbing to note that 90% of all waste generated, goes to landfills, in spite of clear policy objectives that refer to prevention, reuse, recycling and recovery.  This refers to municipal solid waste, organic waste, plastic waste, electrical and electronic equipment and tyres.

The South African Risk and Vulnerability Atlas provides a map of up-to-date information to support coordinated planning and strategy development in finding solutions to areas that are sensitive and vulnerable to various risks and disasters.

The National Development Plan is about making meaningful progress by bringing about transformation.  It is necessary to increase employment from 13 million in 2010 to 24 million in 2030.  There is a firm commitment on the part of government to achieve a decent standard of living that includes a clean environment, housing, running water, sanitation and electricity.  South Africa needs to produce sufficient energy at competitive prices to support industry as well as reduce carbon emissions.  Public infrastructure investment through public-private partnerships is also high on the agenda.

These are just some of government’s interventions intended to confirm commitment to sound environmental management and to promote compliance with existing laws.

Environmental Impact Assessment:

An Environmental Impact Assessment should be undertaken before implementing a high-risk project or venture.  This is the process whereby the anticipated effects on the environment are measured by identifying and evaluating the complete scope of the impact.  It is important to consult with all interested parties and identify issues that might need attention before drawing up terms of reference that can serve as a roadmap.  The resulting report can be adopted or rejected, and appeals may be lodged.  It therefore assists to always encourage public participation throughout a project.

Business and industry hiding the truth:

Violations of environmental laws negatively affect the environment and the lives of all South Africans.  The Centre for Environmental Rights, a non-profit organisation, annually conducts a baseline assessment of 20 listed South African companies that appear on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange’s Socially Responsible Investment Index.  It is a group effort as the Centre works in partnership with the Department of Environmental Affairs’ National Environmental Compliance and Enforcement Unit.  Findings include inaccurate disclosure of non-compliance with environmental laws and misrepresentation of compliance to shareholders.  It is notable that South African large institutional investors fail to acknowledge red flags in company reports, and do not ask enough, or the right questions about compliance. The impression was that the compliance monitoring and enforcement system was not effective.

In many instances the concept of environmental performance, is replaced with environmental compliance.

There were a number of pronouncements.  Findings included that planned engagement meetings to discuss “ex post facto” illegal activities, instead became negotiation meetings with authorities.  There was also a view that findings of non-compliance, represented an opinion or interpretation, and should thus be independently verified. However, no regulatory system in the world requires this and it is not legal.  There is also a general unwillingness to accept violations and Regulators are involved in constant delays by challenging every finding of non-compliance.  Some responses received from companies included them being committed to ring-fencing capital expenditure to improve environmental performance.  Responses further included not polluting water, soil and the air, reducing water use, adopting greater energy efficiency, cleaning up toxic spills and legally disposing of hazardous waste to improve compliance.  Environmental compliance however is a legal requirement and not a work in progress with a vague time-line.  There is also the private sector’s position that transparency is dangerous, as the release of non-compliance activities threatens a company’s business-related interests.

It is evident from recent articles published on the Environmental Crime and Justice in South Africa webpage, that the struggle continues.  Here are some examples: “Environmental practitioner convicted for submitting incorrect information”, “Kosi Bay Illegal Developments – Bhanga Nek”, “Environmental Consultant found guilty of contravening EIA regulations”, “Losing Battle in Green Crimes”, “Dumping of Healthcare Waste”, “Green Scorpions target cement manufacturers”, “Officer and Reservist arrested in Abalone Clampdown”, “Anti-poaching force turns tail after beach showdown”.

An Environmental Crimes and Incidents Hotline is available on 0800 205 005 and this tip-off line operates 24 hours a day.

Balancing government outcomes with those of identified interest groups:

We need meaningful and valuable partnerships between government, business and industry to proactively address and respond to challenges.  These relate to service delivery, the provision of supply, and infrastructure requirements in the water and energy sectors, the increase in urbanization, and the complex health sector.  An integrated strategy should be informed by government’s outcomes approach, as a key contributor to strengthening interventions to the direct and indirect alignment of proposed activities as referred to in the table below.

Outcomes

Themes

Key activities

Outcome 2

A long and healthy life for all South Africans

Mortality and life expectancy, HIV and Aids, TB, the effectiveness of health systems

Outcome 3

Intensify the fight against crime and corruption

Addressing all levels of crime, combating corrupt activities

Outcome 6

An efficient, competitive and responsive economic infrastructure

Water, Electricity, ,Roads, Rail, Ports, Aviation, ICT

Outcome 7

Vibrant, equitable, sustainable rural communities contributing towards food security

Access to sufficient nutritious food, affordability of nutritious food

Outcome 8

Build sustainable human settlements and improve the quality of household life

Accelerate delivery of housing opportunities, access to basic services

Outcome 9

Responsive, accountable, effective and efficient local government system

To meet the basic needs of communities, local economic development, clean, responsive and accountable administration

Outcome 10

Protect and enhance our environmental assets and natural resources

Enhanced quality and quantity of water resources, sustainable natural resource management and protected biodiversity.

Outcome 11

Create a better South Africa and a better Africa, a better world

To work with international counterparts towards developing and adopting a legally binding climate change treaty

The way forward:

To demonstrate that everyone needs to protect the environment, the following proposals have to be adopted:

  • Asset managers who are responsible for and have adopted the Code for Responsible Investing in South Africa, should practice good governance principles and find ways to contribute to better corporate governance and greater disclosure of environmental violations.
  • Corporate communication managers should convert their mandates into strategic positioning of interventions that truthfully represent best practices, in a manner that gains support and commitment and benefits reputation management.  They should furthermore prepare a crisis communication response strategy to keep on hand in case of unplanned setbacks and interruptions.
  • Stakeholder managers should set the agenda, consult, introduce and provide environmental intervention strategies and campaigns to profile achievements and limitations on a project-to-project basis.
  • Media liaison managers should make creative use of appropriate communication channels and platforms to raise awareness of and support for environmental campaigns.
  • Risk managers should review risks more frequently and take corrective action to keep operational plans on track without compromising on the quality of the outcome.

Key messages and themes with sub-themes will have to be developed to talk to identified target publics.  It is essential to ensure that all messages and interactions with the specific brand, blend together to tell a complete story.

Proposed hash tags for social media include:  #comply    #+footprint    #gogreengo    #noise    #endangered    #erosion    #rehabilitation    #fauna    #flora    #climatepatterns    #natural    #conservation    #newenergy    #sensitiveveg    #saved    #preserved    #watersense

Incidentally, there is a direct link between good internal communication and the high performance and motivation of staff.  Effective internal communication therefore is vital to the successful implementation of the strategic plan.

Conclusion:

The most important thing about global warming is this - whether humans are responsible for the bulk of climate change is going to be left to the scientists, but it's all of our responsibility to leave this planet in a better shape for the future generations than we found it. Mike Huckabee

The environmental landscape has changed dramatically.  It is in our country’s best interest that we move as a collective, that we weave messaging to address emerging international norms and concepts and preach the need for change.

We need to go above and beyond to promote sustainable development.  It is our responsibility to tell stories about how landscapes are being disturbed and ecosystems destroyed, about pollution and the degradation of the environment through the exploitation of non-renewable natural resources.

We need to debate and encourage dialogue on the protection of endangered species, the recycling and reuse of existing material to reduce our environment footprint and the use of renewable energy from solar, wind, hydro and biofuels.

We need to face the possibility of the end of the world as we know it.  Let us take into account all the possible consequences of our actions and the obstacles we must overcome so that we are not overwhelmed in a global fight for survival.  Let us think ahead, and act to guide the world towards a gentler future.

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