Cape Town - CLIMATE activists say years of mismanagement, coupled with the Covid-19 pandemic, are behind the drop in South Africa’s air pollution levels.
According to new research by Greenpeace India and the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), South Africa saw a sharp decrease in Sulfur Dioxide (SO) emissions in 2019, bringing the country’s emissions to their lowest level on record.
SO is a colourless air pollutant that increases the risk of health conditions, including stroke, heart disease, asthma, lung cancer, and premature death.
The report revealed that South Africa’s largest hot spot for SO emission is Kriel, in Mpumalanga. It is the largest hot spot associated with coal power worldwide.
“SO emission data for 2020 is not yet available, but preliminary analysis of satellite observations of SO in the atmosphere suggest that pollution in South Africa continued to fall through 2020.
“This is most likely because of a reduction in energy demand at South Africa’s coal-fired power stations, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Despite this, SO pollution remains dangerously high and poses a threat to the health of South Africans. SO pollution can only be reduced sufficiently by permanently phasing out coal-burning industries,” the report reads.
Greenpeace Africa climate and energy campaigner Nhlanhla Sibisi said it was “unfortunate” that the country could not celebrate the reduction in emissions as intentional.
“Instead, it is an indication of their ineptitude at dealing with corruption at Eskom. It is years of mismanagement that caused our air pollution levels to drop – not because there were deliberate measures taken to drop them, but because the power tripped,” said Sibisi.
GreenPeace Africa has called for government to halt all investment in fossil fuels and to strengthen SO emissions standards, by reinstating South Africa’s 500mg/ Nm3 minimum emission standard and applying flue gas pollution control technology at power plants, smelters, and other industrial SO emitters.
The Green Connection’s Liziwe McDaid said they supported the Greenpeace report recommendations, that South Africa needs to move away from fossilfuelled power.
“A just energy transition is key to ensuring that all people impacted by fossil-fuelled power stations should not bear the brunt of the impacts from the renewable energy revolution under way.
“We need to move directly to renewable energy and the Green Connection is very wary of the push towards offshore oil and gas exploitation as some kind of transition fuel.
“We need a properly researched integrated energy plan to ensure that our future is in the public interest,” McDaid said.