Barbara Creecy. Picture: PUXLEY MAKGATHO
Barbara Creecy. Picture: PUXLEY MAKGATHO

Minister of environment, forestry & fisheries Barbara Creecy has ordered her department to disclose the greenhouse gas (GHG) data of SA’s largest polluters.

Creecy upheld an appeal lodged by the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), a group of activist lawyers, against her department’s refusal to disclose crucial GHG emission data and emissions-reduction plans for 16 heavy polluters. These include Eskom, Sasol, ArcelorMittal, PPC, Exxaro, South32, Glencore, Seriti Resources, Sappi and Anglo American.

Nicole Loser, an attorney at the CER, said the decision sends a strong signal that big, polluting corporates cannot hide behind the government when it comes to GHG emissions data.

“Data on companies’ anticipated GHG emissions are invaluable to enable the public to properly assess emission-reduction strategies of polluting companies and to inform the public and shareholders not only of the climate risks to which these companies are exposed, but the risks they pose for the whole planet,” she said.

The CER filed an access to information request to the department in February 2019. The department redacted some information when it provided the CER with records of the companies’ annual GHG emissions, their plans to reduce these over the next five years, and audit reports demonstrating what progress had been made against these plans.

In December last year, the CER filed an appeal to the minister, as is provided for in the Promotion of Access to Information Act, calling for the disclosure of the information blacked out in the reports.

In her decision, dated April 5, Creecy upheld the CER’s appeal, finding that the department’s reasons to refuse the information were inadequate. She said she was satisfied that public interest outweighed any harm the release of the information might cause and ordered the department to make the redacted information available to the CER within seven days from the end of the Covid-19 lockdown.

“The climate crisis adversely impacts all people, particularly vulnerable communities, young people and those with compromised health conditions," said Loser. "The public needs to know how companies plan to reduce their GHG emissions to hold them accountable when they fail to do so.”

As indicated in the minister’s decision, only four of the 16 companies made submissions on the CER’s appeal. Sasol and Sappi had no objection to the redacted information being disclosed, whereas Eskom and Seriti objected to the disclosure of the GHG emission data.

In a written response Eskom, by far SA’s largest GHG emitter, said the first pollution prevention plans required in regulation only extend from July 2017 to December 2020 and therefore it cannot be correct that the records requested pertain to planned emissions reductions over the next five years.

“The requested records contain numerous pieces of data on greenhouse gas emissions, only one of which is a ‘forecast’ of greenhouse gas emissions for 2018, 2019 and 2020. Eskom’s objection related only to these ‘forecast’ numbers, not the rest of the data, as they are considered to be out of date and therefore the objection related to the integrity of the data,” the utility said.

“The guidance provided by the department was to insert the greenhouse gas emissions forecast that was developed during the voluntary carbon budget process concluded in 2015 and based on economic growth and electricity sales forecasts from 2014/2015.”

Eskom said it has disclosed its GHG emissions in its annual reports since 1990, long before any legislative requirement to do so, while its most recent annual report also contains details of its strategy, achievements and challenges in reducing its emissions.

Seriti said it had noted the minister’s decision and will supply the information.

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