Environmental activists demonstrate outside the United Nations Climate Change conference (COP17) in Durban. The protest march was part of a Global Day of Action to demand a fair climate change deal.

Releasing 61.2 million metric tons of CO² annually, Sasol is the top SA carbon emitter listed in the Carbon Disclosure Project’s JSE 100 Report for 2011.

But the synthetic fuels giant is not the country’s biggest polluter. That unenviable title goes to power parastatal Eskom, which accounted for 45 percent (230.3 million metric tons) of SA’s total CO² emissions last year. However, Eskom does not appear in the JSE report because it is not a listed company.

The report was released by the National Business Initiative on the sidelines of the UN’s 17th Conference of Parties (COP17) climate change talks in Durban on Tuesday.

It said the JSE’s top 100 companies accounted for about 20 percent of SA’s total annual carbon emissions, which are estimated to be 510 million metric tons, ranking the country among the world’s top 20 greenhouse-gas emitters.

The other JSE-listed companies in the top 10 list of CO² emitters were Arcelor Mittal SA, Pretoria Portland Cement, BHP Billiton, Evraz Highveld Steel and Vanadium, Anglo American, Sappi, Harmony Gold Mining, Mondi Group and Gold Fields.

Releasing the report on Tuesday, Valerie Geen, the National Business Initiative director of climate and energy, said SA’s top companies were now firmly established among world leaders for their responsiveness in measuring and disclosing their greenhouse-gas emissions.

“This report is not about winners and losers; it is about the big issue we face with climate change and how we work together to address it,” she said. “While the report highlights the predominant contributors of CO² emissions in corporate SA, it also notes companies that have shown leadership and moved forward in reducing their carbon footprints.”

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said SA could be proud that 83 percent of the top 100 listed companies had responded to the voluntary disclosure project.

“The report plays an integral role in providing data related to company emissions,” he said. “If you can’t measure it, then you can’t manage it. So, it’s fantastic we’ve had such a high response rate. This is the second-highest response rate to the Carbon Disclosure Project in the world. This is also a sign that South African big business is not waiting for a deal to be sealed at COP17 to go green.”

Paul Simpson, chief executive of the disclosure project, welcomed the high number of JSE-listed companies taking part in the initiative. He said SA ranked second only to Europe in its response rate to the report.

“The Carbon Disclosure Project is undertaken in 60 countries worldwide, and some 3 700 of the world’s largest corporations were surveyed,” he said.

“The high response rate in SA suggests that, notwithstanding short-term concerns and the pressures associated with the economic downturn, climate change remains high on the South African corporate agenda.”