Sasol's Secunda plant.

Energy giant Sasol, South Africa’s second-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases and operator of the world’s biggest single-point emission source – at Secunda in Mpumalanga – has been told by the government in no uncertain terms to accept its newly adopted climate change policy.

This policy includes the principle of carbon budgets, or caps on greenhouse gas emissions, for each of the country’s major polluting industrial sectors and for big individual polluters like Sasol and Eskom, South Africa’s biggest emitter. They are both likely to be strongly affected when hard figures for these caps are decided – possibly next year.

The new policy also includes the principle of a carbon tax which could be levied on emissions.

Sasol has also been challenged by the chairman of the National Assembly’s water and environmental affairs’ portfolio committee, Johnny de Lange, to change corporate direction from primary fuel production and to consider investing heavily in green, low carbon technologies like renewable energy.

“If I were you guys, you and Eskom, I’d be like China,” De Lange told a Sasol delegation making a presentation to his committee as part of public hearings on the government’s new National Climate Change Response Strategy, or white paper, policy document.

“You become the expert on renewable energies, and the monopolies… I would grab the thing by the horns and run with it.”

His remarks came soon after Australia passed landmark laws yesterday to impose a price on carbon emissions in one of the biggest economic reforms in a decade, Reuters reported. The vote in the Senate made Australia the second major economy behind the EU to pass carbon-limiting legislation.

Norbert Behrens, Sasol’s group general manager: strategy and planning, told De Lange’s committee that 60 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions were produced by the top five industrialised countries, of which only Germany was “seriously pursuing” climate change policies.

South Africa produced just 1.1 percent of the world emissions total.

Because South Africa relied heavily on coal and had no significant natural gas resources, which were less polluting and hence more cost-effective, the country was at an economic disadvantage relative to its competitors, Behrens said.

Saying Sasol believed a detailed analysis of South Africa’s emissions were necessary, he added: “We do not oppose a carbon tax outright, but we do not support it as it is set out in the white paper. In our view it doesn’t sufficiently take into account socio-economic consequences.”

But De Lange said he was “very stunned” by Sasol’s attitude and tore into the presenters, saying emission reduction targets set out in the white paper were based on international commitments.

“You should be the last people to want to come and move the goalposts… This is government policy now, adopted by government.”

Later, De Lange said South Africa would definitely set mandatory carbon budgets for industrial sectors and companies such as Sasol, even though reciprocal finance and technological assistance promised in terms of the climate change convention (UNFCCC) had not yet materialised, and he wanted them in place in less than two years.

“I think you’re living in a complete dream world if you think it’s not going to happen.” - Cape Argus