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First climate change court victory in SA

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Earthlife Africa Johannesburg (ELA) has won South Africa’s first climate change court case.

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Members of Earthlife Africa sing and chant outside the high court in Pretoria.
 File picture: Thobile Mathonsi

The North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria on Wednesday ordered that the Department of Environmental Affairs had to first consider a full and final climate impact report, along with public comment on the issue, before the construction of the Thabametsi coal-fired power station in Limpopo could go ahead.

Judge John Murphy reviewed and set aside Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa’s decision to grant the environmental authorisation for the power station, until she considered the full climate impact assessment report, along with a paleontological impact report.

The reports mainly deal with climate change impacts once the coal-fired power station is in operation.

ELA argued that the minister granted her authorisation without proper prior consideration of the climate change impacts on the environment. It was said that the station would cause greenhouse gasses to be released in an ecologically vulnerable area for 40 years while it is in operation.

It was also argued that the authorisation was given without properly researching the climate change impacts for the area and the country as a whole.

ELA earlier appealed the decision by the minister to grant the authorisation, without considering additional facts regarding the climate change impact on the environment. She, however, turned down their appeal.

But Judge Murphy on Wednesday said she must reconsider the appeal, while having a look at the final climate change impact assessment.

Judge Murphy said he is mindful that reconsidering the appeal could slow things down, but added that the process can proceed with speed to the advantage of all parties.

He said the issues were restricted to consideration of whether environmental authorisation should be granted in light of the potential climate change impacts.

The issues at stake concerns the proposed 1200MW coal-fired power station outside Lephalale, which will be in operation until at least 2061.

In February 2015, the Environmental Affairs granted Thabametsi an environmental authorisation regarding the building of the power station. At the time of this decision, the climate change impact of the power station had not yet been investigated or considered in any detail.

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