File picture: Анатолий Стафичук/Pixabay
File picture: Анатолий Стафичук/Pixabay

Coal is unaffordable and deadly, and we don’t want it

By Makoma Lekalakala Time of article published Aug 13, 2019

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South Africa must never build another coal-fired power station. Next month, on September 20, we will take to the streets to demand this.

Across South Africa we will be joined by school children striking to prevent a future ruined by carbon emissions and a deepened climate crisis. “You’ll die of old age. We’ll die of climate change,” they will cry. 

We will be joined around the world by millions more, demanding firm, ambitious plans to keep the world’s temperature within 1.5oC above pre-industrial levels. We want a clean, low-carbon South Africa, not this one that every sober person can see is dragging us to social ruin.

July 2019 was the world’s hottest month in recorded history. It melted ice sheets and seared Europe.

Close to home, major South African cities now exist at the brink of catastrophic drought. Meanwhile, tropical cyclones decimated Mozambique in March and April, forcing people from their homes. Today, UNICEF reports, tens of thousands of Mozambicans are living in resettlement camps, millions are battling to find food and thousands of children are suffering from severe malnutrition.

New York City will be at the centre of the September global strikes, where UN Secretary-General António Guterres will convene the Climate Action Summit on September 23. Guterres is using it to encourage countries to raise their pledges under the 2015 Paris climate accord. Under the Paris deal, next year is the first time all countries are scheduled to submit new climate plans and boost their ambition.

Guterres has called on countries to commit to stop building coal-fired power plants from next year and commit to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, because we have hurtled into a global state of emergency.

"There is no future for coal,” Rachel Kyte told a recent gathering of reporters. She is UN boss Guterres’ spokesperson on sustainable energy. “[Coal’s] price with respect to the life cycle of the investment to generate electricity is not competitive, and it has an extreme impact on human health, as well as on the planet."

South Africa is the world’s 14th biggest greenhouse gas emitter, mainly from coal. Yet our energy transition preparedness ranks second last out of 114 countries, according to a World Economic Forum index. We just beat Zimbabwe.

President Cyril Ramaphosa is expected to send delegates to New York. Two days before the summit we will strike, demanding that South African leaders help us to drive a just transition from coal. The longer they do nothing, the greater the chance that the poor and working classes will be left behind, again.

South African studies are clear that new coal power is unaffordable and unsafe. It will drive up electricity tariffs and keep our electricity system on its knees. Its pollution will kill more of our children.

The good news is that funders are abandoning coal, because there is no future for it; a renewable-based electricity system is cheaper, safer and more reliable. The bad news is that South African leaders are ignoring the facts. They are trying to force two new coal-fired power stations onto the grid.

When those coal projects are stranded, because they will be, the poor will be left holding the bag, not the elites. This will be South Africa’s “no-deal” energy transition. An unjust, unplanned, unmanaged transition like all those before it. It will fuel social and political discord.

Or, workers and communities can demand that their leaders step up, now, to plan and drive an equitable transition from dirty, expensive coal to clean, affordable renewable energy. 

At the jobs summit last year, South Africans agreed that Ramaphosa must appoint a climate change and just transition planning committee. People see the urgency. They repeated this when government’s National Planning Commission facilitated just transition social dialogues across the country.

But Ramaphosa has done nothing.

We call on him and South Africa’s delegates going to New York to promise us and the world this: South Africa will never build another coal-fired power station. And, crucially, it will immediately appoint a committee to facilitate a just transition from coal that protects and benefits the most vulnerable communities. 

Any person who wants coal to stop killing our children, undermining our electricity system and damning our future, is welcome to join us on the streets. Details of multiple organised marches will be published soon.

* Makoma Lekalakala is a South African environmental justice activist. She is Earthlife Africa Johannesburg's director and received the 2018 Goldman Environmental Prize for Africa for her activism.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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