Centre for Environmental Rights

Defending South Africans’ Constitutional right to a healthy environment

 

The Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) is a non-profit environmental rights law clinic that helps communities to defend their Constitutional right to a healthy environment. Its attorneys use the law to strengthen the voices of communities affected by environmental injustice, pollution and mining, and to hold companies and the state to account for environmental degradation.

 

The CER advocates and litigates for transparency, accountability and compliance with environmental laws within a growing portfolio of programmes that includes – but is not limited to – its Mining Programme, which promotes environmental compliance, transparency and accountability in SA’s mining sector;  the Pollution and Climate Change Programme, which supports civil society in decisions on pollution, waste and land use;  and its Corporate Accountability Programme, which helps ensure environmental justice and accountability in the business sector.

 

The CER first opened its doors as a two-member strong organisation in 2010. Today it employs a team of twenty predominantly environmental lawyers and its initiatives remain collaborative and long-term by nature. In 2015, CER worked on the following campaigns:

 

  • Fighting for clean energy: Leading various legal challenges – together with its partners groundWork and Earthlife Africa Johannesburg – to discourage investment in new coal-fired power stations; accelerate the retirement of SA’s existing dirty coal infrastructure; and enable a just transition to renewable energy systems for the people of South Africa. Recently, the CER’s actions saw the Minister of Environmental Affairs order the addition of a climate change impact assessment to the original environmental impact assessment for the proposed Thabametsi coal-fired power station in Limpopo. The CER has opposed authorisation for several other proposed stations, and appealed three such environmental authorisations arguing, inter alia, that the authorising of new coal-fired power stations is contrary to the right to a healthy environment and would breach the state’s obligations to mitigate against climate change.

 

  • Defending the right to breathe clean air: CER attorneys worked with community organisations on the Mpumalanga highveld to challenge the poor air quality in that area, particularly the emissions from Eskom’s many coal-fired power stations on the highveld that threaten people’s health and well-being. CER represented a group of NGOs and community organisations which resisted industry’s attempts to secure the relaxation of pollution restrictions applicable to Eskom and other industrial facilities.

 

  • Holding corporates accountable: In September 2015, the CER published Full Disclosure – The Truth About Environmental Compliance in South Africa, an online research report which demonstrated, with evidence, that many listed South African companies which are hailed as leaders for their approach to environmental, social and governance issues, not only frequently commit serious breaches of environmental laws, but also often fail to disclose this – or the risks associated with these breaches – to shareholders. An updated version of Full Disclosure will be published in September 2016.

 

  • Pushing for transparency: Access to information is not only essential for the exercise of environmental rights, but also central to the success of all CER Programmes. Regulated through the Promotion of Access to Information Act, 2000 (Act 2 of 2000) (PAIA), the CER has, since its establishment, advocated for greater transparency in environmental governance and access to understandable information.  In April 2016, the CER welcomed the Department of Environmental Affairs’ decision to make copies of environmental licences available to the public automatically, without requiring the submission of a PAIA request – a step it proclaimed a “victory for environmental rights”. Reassured and encouraged by this development, CER attorneys continue to campaign for automatically available, online public access – not only to environmental licences, including those held by the Department of Water and Sanitation, and the Department of Mineral Resources – but also to reports and data that demonstrate whether companies are complying with the conditions of their environmental licences.

 

  • Challenging mining in protected areas: Instituting legal action on behalf of eight civil society and community-based organisations against the Minister of Mineral Resources following his grant of a coal mining right inside the Mabola Protected Environment, which is not only a protected area, but also a national freshwater ecosystem priority area in the Mpumalanga grasslands. This application is being opposed by the Minister of Mineral Resources, the Department of Mineral Resources and the mining company. The CER awaits answering affidavits from these parties which will set out the basis of such opposition.

 

  • Safeguarding the seabed: 2015 also saw the introduction of CER’s Safeguard our Seabed project, due to concerns over the impact of seabed mining, after the Department of Mineral Resources granted prospecting rights offshore, covering 10% of South Africa’s Exclusive Economic Zone. The prospecting areas overlap critically endangered ecosystems that are not found anywhere else, and key spawning areas for South Africa’s fish stocks that are a major source of food for the country and are the foundation for South Africa’s considerable and renewable fishing industry. Our commercial fishing industry employs around 27 000 people directly. And there are approximately 8 078 small-scale fishers in South Africa – who directly rely on fishing for livelihood and food security.

 

Visit our website at http://cer.org.za/, or our social media platforms at https://www.facebook.com/CentreEnvironmentalRights and https://twitter.com/CentreEnvRights for more about the CER’s work.

 

I am text block. Click edit button to change this text. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.