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President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES/ALAISTER RUSSELL
President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES/ALAISTER RUSSELL

With the world facing a climate change crisis, President Cyril Ramaphosa says SA’s electricity sector, which produces up to 41% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, will be the first and quickest to decarbonise — and Eskom will play an instrumental role in achieving this.

Writing in his Monday weekly newsletter, the president said the country would use coal-fired power stations to invest in low-carbon generation capacity such as renewables, a move that was likely to benefit the economy.

“We will be decommissioning and repurposing coal-fired power stations, and investing in new low-carbon generation capacity, such as renewables. We will also pursue ‘green’ industrialisation, such as manufacturing and using green technology, and a shift to the production of electric vehicles.

“While there are economic challenges and risks, there are huge economic opportunities we must seize. SA is endowed with abundant resources that can be harnessed to open new frontiers of investment and growth and build a new economy in areas like green hydrogen,” he said.   

To get the transition off the ground, Ramaphosa said Eskom will undertake a pilot project at Komati power station, which is due to shut down its last coal-fired unit in 2022, to produce power through renewable energy.

“Komati will serve as a good example of how this shift from coal dependency could be achieved. We are working together with different partners across society in mining towns in Mpumalanga to assess the potential impact of a move away from coal, and ways to ensure communities are protected against the risks and benefit from the opportunities presented by this transition.”

Ramaphosa said it was no exaggeration that the climate crisis was of unprecedented proportions. The latest report from the world’s leading climate scientists has warned that the pace of global warming is rapidly increasing, and Sub-Saharan Africa has been experiencing temperature increases well above the global average.

Climate change presents serious health, environmental and economic risks for our country, among other things, Ramaphosa said. 

“These risks will have increasingly damaging effects on human health, water availability, food production, infrastructure and migration.

Many South Africans are already feeling the effects of climate change through drought and flooding, which have an effect on their livelihoods
President Cyril Ramaphosa

“Many South Africans are already feeling the effects of climate change through drought and flooding, which have an effect on their livelihoods. Several communities in Mpumalanga, for example, are affected by high levels of pollution, which increases respiratory illness and other diseases.”

There are broader economic risks, including the trading partners that pursue the goal of net-zero carbon emission increasing restrictions on the import of goods produced using carbon-intensive energy, he said

“Because so much of our industry depends on coal-generated electricity, we are likely to find the products we export to countries face trade barriers and consumers in those countries may be less willing to buy our products.

“The other economic risk is that investors will shy away from investing in fossil fuel-powered industries. Banks and financial institutions are already facing pressure from their shareholders not to finance enterprises that depend on fossil fuels to produce their products or services.”

The cabinet recently approved the country’s updated Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), which sets out SA’s emissions targets towards net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. This sets a target range for emissions, from restricting global warming to less than 2ºC at the top of the range, said Ramaphosa.   

He said the country cannot do this alone. “Where we get to in this range depends on the support we get for our transition. Increased ambition cannot be achieved without support from the more developed economies living up to the promises they have made in the past to provide financial support to developing economies. 

“This needs to be in the form of grants, loans at concessional rates and private investment. The energy transition at Eskom and the development of green industries such as electric vehicles and green hydrogen will need to be underpinned by these forms of financial support.

“This is not about charity. It is about fairness and mutual benefit.”