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International Energy Agency hints at plan to help SA develop domestic energy policy

Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA). Photo: Xinhua/He Canling

Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA). Photo: Xinhua/He Canling

Published Jan 20, 2022

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THE INTERNATIONAL Energy Agency (IEA) has hinted that it would be working with the South African government to develop a domestic energy policy to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2050.

IEA executive director Fatih Birol yesterday said an overwhelming number of countries in the international community had been making inquiries about the organisation’s global net zero carbon emissions roadmap.

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“Many governments across the world, from India to Chile, from Indonesia to South Africa, many European countries are asking us to make this roadmap domestic for them,” Birol said. “We are working with those countries to prepare their domestic roadmap.”

Birol was speaking at the session about navigating the energy transition at Day 3 of the virtual World Economic Forum (WEF) Davos Agenda 2022.

The IEA is spearheading the campaign to bring global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions to net zero by 2050 and give the world an even chance of limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5 °C.

However, Birol said that they were very mindful of how difficult this ambitious target will be for countries who were still heavily reliant on “dirty” energy sources.

For one, China’s coal production reached record levels last year to safeguard the country’s energy supplies through the winter gas crisis as its power stations struggled to meet demand for electricity.

“To go from 80 percent of energy coming from fossil fuels to net-zero emissions by 2050 requires a Herculean effort. It is very, very difficult, but it is not impossible,” Birol said.

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“We have two choices: either we continue to use unabated fossil fuel – coal, oil and gas – and leave with climate change much more frequent and extreme weather events, or we change the way we produce and consume energy.”

At the 26th Congress of Parties (COP26) in November, South Africa secured a R131 billion pledge over the next three to five years to reduce its coal reliance. As South Africa is not participating in this week’s virtual WEF meeting, thus it proved challenging getting an official response from it.

However, energy minister Gwede Mantashe last week said that South Africa’s approach to energy transition was consistent with the COP26 on the phase-down of unabated coal power and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.

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“We will continue to pursue an energy mix to ensure security of energy and supply, cognisant of our international commitments to respond to climate change,” he said.

“We will continue to invest in clean energy technologies toward net zero emissions.”

Mantashe also slammed countries who could not sign to the elimination of coal and fossil fuels because of issues pertaining to political economies of certain of their constituencies.

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“This is an unfair and unbalanced global environment, where the small and poor nations are permanently encircled. The interests of the rich, powerful, and big nations take precedence,” he said.

“We must insist that industrialised countries, as big polluters, must take greater responsibility. This includes meeting the commitments they repeatedly make to the poor who bear the brunt of their, often irresponsible, actions.”

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