Coal producers, government in cross-hairs of climate activists
Economy / 23 September 2019, 09:46am / Siphelele Dludla
JOHANNESBURG - South African coal companies and others with carbon emissions were in the cross-hairs of climate change activists on Friday, who called on the government to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Thousands of activists from various organisations across South Africa in solidarity with global activists took to the streets demanding decisive action as part of the Global Climate Strike in response to the worsening climate crisis.
In Joburg, activists delivered a list of demands to the Gauteng legislature, the headquarters of coal mining companies and the South African delegation to the UN Climate Action Summit.
They called on South Africa to step up its ambition on climate change and commit to action in line with its fair share of keeping warming of 1.5°C, a target of the Paris Climate Agreement.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on global warming makes an economic case for climate change.
It highlights the high vulnerability of developing countries to climate change effects, high resultant costs of adaptation, and unprecedented transitions required in the development process.
South Africa is the world’s 14th largest emitter of greenhouse gases and is heavily reliant on fossil fuels. The country emits nearly 500million tons of carbon dioxide each year.
The country’s carbon dioxide emissions are principally due to a heavy reliance on coal.
Three-quarters of these emissions come from Eskom’s coal-fired power plants and Sasol’s coal-to-liquid fuel plant at Secunda.
In June, two environmental groups sued the government to force it to take action against some of the world’s worst pollution, which was allegedly the result of emissions from Eskom and Sasol plants.
GroundWork, an environmental justice organisation, said in a statement that it and the Vukani Environmental Justice Movement in Action had on Friday served papers at the high court in Pretoria.
Greenpeace’s analysis of satellite data last year showed that Mpumalanga was one of the world’s largest nitrogen dioxide air pollution hot spots across six continents.
Earthlife Africa programme and education officer Thabo Sibeko said on Friday that they demanded immediate action be taken by moving away from fossil fuels and transitioning to a low carbon-intensive economy.
Greenpeace Africa’s climate and energy campaigner, Bukelwa Nzimande, said South Africa was in the midst of a climate emergency and urgent action was needed in response.
“South Africa’s biggest emitters continue to pump deadly amounts of greenhouse gases in the air, while our leaders are totally inert on the issue,” Nzimande said.
“This lack of recognition of the scale of the climate crisis shows a clear disregard for the future of young South Africans. Minister of Environment Forestry and Fisheries Barbara Creecy must declare a climate emergency now and then act accordingly.”
Department of Environment spokesperson Albi Modise could not be reached for comment on Friday, as he was at a summit in Kimberley.
The government has introduced the first phase of the carbon tax, running from June 1 to December 31, 2022, for direct emitters or companies that own assets burning fuel.
The Minerals Council South Africa said that the country was likely to achieve its Paris Agreement commitments without implementing the carbon tax, saying the country has shifted away from carbon-intensive industries towards less carbon-intensive sectors such as financial services and retail.
The council’s spokesperson, Alan Fine, said the South African mining industry had realised that the country would be moving to cleaner energy.
Fine said new power stations were twice as clean as the old ones, and the closure of old power stations would reduce emissions.
“We recognise the signs of climate change, and the industry does many things to mitigate its impact on the environment as far as greenhouse gas emissions are concerned,” he said.
However, Fine said the council was opposed to the carbon tax in its current form, as it would be disastrous for the industry.
He said it cost the mining industry more than R5.5billion in carbon taxes annually, which would have ripple socio-economic effects.
“The carbon tax won’t have any effect on climate change.
“Since 2008, electricity prices have gone up by 523percent, so companies have minimised their electricity consumption,” Fine said.
“What the carbon tax will do is that the mines that are not profitable will shut down, and this will affect employment, as well as the gross domestic product.”