Open Letter / Press Release – Extinction Rebellion Cape Town
Nqweba Dam / Image courtesy of Leanne Manas / Permission for publication has been granted


Dear Honourable Barbara Creecy,

Minister for the Environment, Forestry and Fisheries,

This week you will be participating in COP25, the UN summit on climate change, to listen and speak for South Africa, its needs and responsibility in our dramatically changing world of anthropogenic climate change.

With this letter we would like to remind you of the dire environmental realities in South Africa, which require nothing less than wholehearted actions from our leaders. At a time when our global environment is at risk of collapse, you, our Minister for the Environment, together with your international counterparts, hold the most pivotal role and responsibility.

This is the time for you to act.

We need you to tell the truth and declare a climate emergency in South Africa now.

South Africa’s environment, our communities’ health and livelihood are under threat. We are witnessing the worst droughts, floods and storms our region has seen in a hundred years. Certain areas in the Karoo are disaster zones. Despairing communities are praying to God to save them because no one else seems to care and government does nothing to assist.

“… in the Western Cape, the Eastern Cape, the Northern Cape and in the Limpopo area, a disaster declaration should have been done more than a year ago,” said Willem Symington of Agri Northern Cape in The Daily Maverick (1).

In South Africa, 37.44% of rural communities are affected by the drought, the 2019/2020 Drought Report by AgriSA states (2). This not only affects the livelihood of the communities, it also poses a major threat to food security as produces suffer substantial yield losses. The impact on our economy and job security is dramatic. The Western Cape fresh produce export volume decreased by 25%. In Northern Cape and Free State 27,000 agriculture jobs were lost in one year.

Is the South African government acting appropriately? Apparently not.

A recent report from the Select Committee on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Water and Sanitation raises urgent concerns over the lack of an adaptation strategy to tackle the drought in South Africa (3).

“We have long heard that South Africa is a water-scarce country and scientists have predicted frequent droughts as a result of a warming planet. What we need is foresight if we are to ensure security of water provision in the country,” said Mr China Dodovu, the Chairperson of the committee.

Indeed, research of the African Climate and Development Initiative (ACDI) at UCT underlines how the frequency of drought, such as the one which almost led to a disaster in the City of Cape Town last year, has changed over time because of human influence on climate. Such a drought can now be expected once every 15 years – rather than every 50 years as previously assumed. (4)

Climate change impacts, and will continue to impact, the poor hardest. It “heightens the pre-existing vulnerabilities of women, fishing communities, rural subsistence farmers and those living in informal settlements.” (5)

The above failure of the South African government to implement adequate adaptation measures to protect its most vulnerable citizens from the effects of climate change is only echoed by the government’s negligence regarding the mitigation of our home-made contribution to global climate change.

South Africa is the world’s 14th largest emitter of carbon dioxide. The current commitment of South Africa to reduce GHG emissions has been internationally benchmarked as “highly insufficient” (6). If all governments in the world will do as little as we do, global warming will result in a temperature increase between 3 and 4 degrees, with the consequence of immeasurable catastrophe with unprecedented human suffering. The IPCC ‘s latest report estimates an ultimatum of a little more than a decade to take massive action to reach the Paris climate goals.

Yet South Africa’s leaders don’t give climate change the necessary urgency. On the contrary: More plans for fossil fuel investments and new coal fired power stations are on the table. Even you, honourable Minister, seem to be ducking behind the inconsistent and flawed argument that GHG mitigation conflicts with economic growth. In fact, expensive and unsustainable polluters like coal, oil and gas have become more expensive than renewables, irrespective of the external costs. The correlation between climate change and negative economic growth should become obvious when reviewing the reports referenced above.

In a recent stakeholder meeting in October in preparation for COP25, you highlighted the need for educational measures to achieve increased public awareness around the biggest issue of our time. We agree wholeheartedly and conclude that such measures need to start with you personally.

We demand that you, Comrade Barbara Creecy, take a stance for your sector and the people of South Africa suffering from climate change and publicly declare a climate emergency in South Africa.

This will be calling it what it is and hopefully change the societal and political discourse needed for urgent actions to follow.


For more information and interview opportunities, please contact:

Michael Wolf (press coordination)
Cell: 082-6990902


  1. The Government must admit the truth by declaring a climate & ecological emergency, reverse all policies inconsistent with addressing climate change, and work alongside the media to communicate this to their citizens.
  2. The Government must enact legally binding policy measures to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025.
  3. The Government must establish a national Citizen’s Assembly to oversee the changes, as part of creating a democracy fit for purpose.