In collaboration with the Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria and the Centre for Applied Legal Studies, Wits University Natural Justice will host a two-day conference to empower young activists and students with knowledge and tools to influence climate justice in South Africa.

Date: 17 – 18 November 2022
Venue: Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria

Natural Justice intends to host a conference to discuss:

  1. The ongoing environmental concerns existing in South Africa.
  2. South Africa’s international obligations pertaining to climate change. COP27 and why we should pay attention.
  3. South Africa’s policy environment and how it does or doesn’t facilitate a just transition.
  4. Bills and policies concerning environmental sustainability and climate change in South Africa, including the Upstream Petroleum Resource Development Bill, the Climate Change Bill, the Carbon Tax Act, and the Draft White Paper of Conservation and Sustainable Use of South Africa’s Biodiversity 2022.
  5. The legislative process of South Africa as it pertains to public participation and representation, and how citizens can get involved.
  6. Any upcoming opportunities or areas of priority focus primed for participation from youth.
  7. Areas of expertise that partner environmental practitioners are willing and available to provide to communities (Presentations by different attorneys in the network sharing their particular areas of expertise and areas of work, as well as sharing lessons learned from engaging in environmental and climate justice lawyering to date).

Expected Outcomes

  1. Established directions in which youth can access policies and bills concerning environmental law in South Africa.
  2. Structured resources informing youth about public participation in the legislative process.
  3. Established tools/resources that can be utilized to advance community resilience within areas of environmental and climate-related injustices.
  4. Establish a communications portal through which information sharing, and local and regional updates regarding the latest environmental and climate injustices.

Coordination and arrangements

The conference will be hosted in person, in collaboration with the Centre for Human Rights, the University of Pretoria, Faculty of Law, Hatfield Campus.


The effects of climate change have a significant growing impact in Southern Africa. It is hitting the most vulnerable the hardest. The recurrent impacts of climate change are contributing to food insecurity and displacing populations. Increasingly, water resources are becoming scarce due to rainfall variability and droughts. Climate change acts as a risk multiplier for development, making the root causes of existing challenges much worse.

Inequality is at the heart of climate change. Vulnerable groups such as women, youth and indigenous communities bear the largest impacts of climate change. Their vulnerability is largely determined by their influence over the design, development and implementation of policies that could help them to adapt and cope. Evidence indicates a vicious circle: the groups most likely to participate in policy-making processes are higher up the socio-economic scale and less vulnerable to climate impacts, whereas those who most need to articulate their interests and rights have the least power, agency and opportunities to do so. This is partly because of a lack of formal processes which would enable their involvement, but equally important are less visible issues: lack of knowledge about or confidence in political processes; low education levels; norms and beliefs about roles of women and youth; and political capture (undue influence) by political and corporate elites that use their power protect their interests.  Africa is home to some of the world’s largest youth populations, who will live longest with a changing climate and the resulting weather events, conflicts, violence and stress. Yet, national climate change policies and laws often lack focus on the youth, perpetuating their exclusion.

South Africa continues to drive a fossil fuel agenda, despite its international commitments and most recent Nationally Determined Contributions. Globally, the degradation of land and forest resources threatens the livelihoods of the millions of people who depend on them. Every year, some 12 million hectares of land are degraded while 7.6 million hectares of forest are converted to other uses or lost through natural causes. The oceans, and those who have ocean-based livelihoods, are also facing increased risks with an accelerating drive for the exploitation of offshore oil and gas reserves.

On one hand, the introduction of the Climate Change Bill[1] and the implementation of the Carbon Tax Act 15 of 2019 aim to set South Africa towards a low-carbon, climate-resilient, and ecologically sustainable society[2]. They also help South Africa to achieve its commitments under the Paris Agreement and the goals set during the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in November 2021. On the other hand, the recent Upstream Petroleum Resource Development Bill[3], as well as policy directives from the ANC, manifests the country’s intention to prioritize petroleum extraction, and gas development, at the expense of environmental conservation. It is yet to be seen and determined how South Africa will prioritize these conflicting agendas and whether a coherent and comprehensive legislative framework can be achieved.

Problem Statement

Government’s lack of initiatives on the environmental agenda

Governments are failing to respond with the required level of urgency and are not enforcing the agreements or laws that they have committed to. For most governments, climate change is not yet a policy priority. Partly this is because other crises demand attention: corruption, debt, political instability, violence and unrest, gender inequality, unemployment, and more recently COVID-19. Climate change is seen as a topic that can be dealt with later. African governments also lack understanding of how climate change is disproportionately affecting citizens who already face many challenges and injustices such as women, youth and local communities, such as indigenous communities and urban poor. Instead of involving these groups in policy-making to ensure their fundamental rights are met, governments are approaching climate change primarily as a technical problem, prioritizing discussion with experts and scientists. Most governments also still prioritize economic growth over bold climate action and continue investment in fossil fuels and large-scale agriculture, leading to the violation of peoples’ rights and the destruction of the environment.

Lack of citizen participation

The South African Constitutional Democracy requires public administration to foster a representative and participatory democracy[4] on the basis of informed and empowered citizenship. Sections 59, 72, and 118 of the Constitution expand public participation and the legislature’s representativity functions. The provisions require a high level of openness, public access and public involvement in the legislatures. The process calling for public comments on a proposed bill is a legislatively protected process for implementing South Africa’s commitment to achieving participatory democracy[5]. However, to meaningfully exercise this constitutional right, the law in South Africa asks for responsive citizenship from its people.

Action Plan

Youth are powerful agents of change. They possess knowledge and skills to contribute to climate change adaptation and mitigation and play a crucial role in opposing drivers of climate change (such as large-scale agriculture and fossil fuels). However, they are often excluded from decision-making processes that could help reduce their vulnerability, or their engagement is only tokenistic or pseudo-participatory. Unsustainable development projects and resource extraction are key drivers of deforestation in Africa and jeopardize climate policies.

In light of the above backgrounds, Natural Justice intends to initiate a vibrant and informed youth movement in South Africa, by building solidarity with the youth. In collaboration with the Centre for Human Rights (University of Pretoria) and the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (Wits University) Natural Justice will host a two-day conference to empower young activists and students with knowledge and tools to influence climate justice in South Africa. 

[1] B9-2022, introduced by the Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment on 18/FEB/2022.

[2] See a helpful summary of the Climate Change Bill available at https://www.fasken.com/en/knowledge/2022/06/9-key-aspects-of-south-africas-much-anticipated-climate-change-bill (accessed 10 October 2022).

[3] B13-2021, introduced by the Minister of Mineral Resources & Energy on 01/JUL/2021.

[4] Doctors for Life International v The Speaker of the National Assembly and Others CCT 12/05 2006. (DfL) Paras 116 and 121.­

[5] Section 286 of the 9th Edition of the Rules of the National Assembly.

For more information please contact:

Jacqueline Rukanda
Programme Manager, Affirming, Natural Justice

Dr. Elvis Fokala
Program Manager, Children’s Rights Unit
Centre for Human Rights


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