The recent announcement by Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan on the 22nd February 2012 in which he confirmed the Government’s intention to implement a Carbon Tax in South Africa has opened the door to many a heated debate about topics that include the viability of implementing this tax, what it will do to industry in this country, what the carbon footprint baseline year is that will be used to calculate the tax, how much the final cost of each tonne of CO2 will be and whether the tax will in fact bear fruit – or ‘add any real value to South Africa’s stated goals of reducing its anticipated carbon footprint by 34% by 2030’.

In these debates all manner of large and small consulting firms and industry mouth pieces or –‘soothsayers’ have given us their interpretation of the Carbon Tax and its negative or positive impacts. If we look at global developments and track the slow, but steady implementation of carbon legislation around the world it becomes clear that it’s not a matter of “if” there will be a carbon tax but rather “when” it will come into force and how onerous it will be on the economy and businesses’ internal resources.

As the debate rages on we were wondering about the positive impacts that this new carbon tax legislation would have on the job market in South Africa for qualified Carbon Footprint Assessors. This new breed of professionals will be needed to assess company carbon emissions baselines and help these companies to meet their legal obligations.  It is as yet unclear how many companies will be asked to be part of the mandatory reporting on greenhouse gas emissions but indications can be taken from countries like the UK and Australia.

The Australian Carbon Tax came into effect on the 1st July 2012 and under this legislation around 300 businesses will pay a fixed price of $AUD23/tonne for carbon emissions until 2015, when the market will set the price.

On the 20th June 2012 the U.K. government confirmed that it will introduce mandatory carbon reporting rules requiring around 1,800 of the countries largest listed companies to report their greenhouse gas emissions annually.

If we use these two examples to guide us then South Africans can expect a significant number of the largest organisations in the country to fall within the mandatory reporting net which was first mentioned in the White Paper on the National Climate Change Response published in 2011. In this document it was said that any company with a carbon footprint of 100,000 tonnes of CO2 or more would be required to report on their emissions. By our estimate this would include anywhere from 200 – 350 companies within South Africa and judging from the aggressive expansion of the UK carbon tax we could expect this to grow substantially.

This leaves us with a dilemma? Are there enough experienced Carbon Footprint Assessors in South Africa to provide the level of service that will be required? The unanimous answer to this question is an emphatic no. Luckily the actual process of conducting a carbon footprint is not a difficult one, so upskilling people within your company to play this role is feasible. That said there is no substitute for experience so it will be important to begin the process of upskilling now so that by the time the mandatory reporting requirements come into effect you have a team of experts who can handle this exercise competently. You also have the option to have your footprint independently verified by an expert firm to ensure it is accurate. Verification would have take place in accordance with international best practice by utilising standards such as the ISO 14064-3:2006 as outlined in ISO 14065:2007 for carbon footprint verification.

In summary it’s clear that Carbon Taxation Legislation is on its way and it’s also clear that South Africa today does not have enough experienced Carbon Footprint Assessors to handle the scope of work that will be required. This gap in the job market presents a fantastic opportunity for upskillers and job seekers who are looking to make a career in this new and exciting service offering. Whether you intend to use this skill as a way to differentiate yourself in your new job or to create your own consultancy it is quite clear that the need for your services are not likely to dry up any time soon.