Often, environmental issues are assumed to be “green issues”, only relating to natural resources like animals and plants. In reality, a “triple bottom line” concept must be considered when understanding the environment, i.e. ecological, economic and social aspects. It is only through the interaction of these three aspects that the real environment can be accurately determined and understood.
Ecological aspects include plants, animals, water, air and soil while social issues are related to human interaction, and include issues such as education, traffic, noise impacts, poverty and visual impacts. Economic issues include capital outlay, returns on investments and employment opportunities.
The concept of environmental sustainability strives to draw these three aspects of our environment together to ensure that the needs of future generations can be guaranteed, while ensuring that the environment is safeguarded.
This chapter is included for two reasons:
2. Environmental legislation
South Africa is governed by a number of legislative provisions relating to the environment, and these include both national and international laws.
INTERNATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL CONVENTIONS include:
- The Ramsar Convention – An intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources, with emphasis on ecological, economic and social feasibility.
- Convention on Biological Diversity – Aims to conserve biological diversity and promote the sustainable use of its components with equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the utilization of resources.
- United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification – Requires countries to respond to land degradation and the effects of drought, including the rehabilitation, conservation and sustainable management of land and water resources.
- New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) – Conservation and sustainable use of natural resources is one of the eight themes under this initiative.
- The World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) – Promotion of watershed and water resource protection and restoration to reduce the risk of flooding in drought-vulnerable countries.
Locally, our NATIONAL LEGISLATION pertaining to the environment includes the following:
Under the Constitution of South Africa (108 of 1996), everyone has the right to have the environment protected by legislative or other means to:
- prevent ecological degradation and pollution;
- promote conservation; and
- secure ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources.
The National Environmental Management Act (107 of 1998) (NEMA) is the overarching environmental legislation in South Africa and deals with a number of issues including:
- Sustainable development – taking into account social, economic and environmental factors in all planning and decision making.
- Disturbances of eco-systems and loss of biodiversity must be avoided or mitigated and there must be a “duty of care” to prevent significant pollution and environmental degradation.
- The “Polluter Pays Principle” states that the cost of remedying pollution, environmental degradation and consequent adverse health effects and of preventing, controlling or minimising further pollution, environmental damage or adverse health effects must be paid for by those responsible for harming the environment.
- There are set procedures for the investigation, assessment and communication of any activity requiring environmental authorisation.
Under Section 24 of the NEMA, specific legislation in terms of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Regulations is included.
The National Environmental Management Act: Waste Act (NEMWA; Act 59 of 2008) and its Amendment Act (NEMLAA; 26 of 2014) is South Africa’s promulgated legislation relating to the storage, reuse, recycling, recovery, treatment and disposal of hazardous and general waste, including animal waste. Amongst other things, this has implications for people interested on biogas ventures. NEMLAA increases the liability of company directors for environmental damage.
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