SA’s first climate change lawsuit to be heard next Thursday
What has been described as SA’s first climate change lawsuit is set to be heard in the High Court of Pretoria next Thursday. Non-governmental organisation (NGO) Earthlife Africa is asking the court to revoke the environmental impact assessment for the proposed privately run Thabametsi power station.
The coal-powered station is to be run by independent power producers who will sell electricity to Eskom. The environmental assessment is one of the documents needed before the station can start operating.
Earthlife is unhappy that the minister and director-general of environmental affairs granted the coal-fired station authorisation to start, but failed to take into account how it would affect climate change.
Earthlife’s court papers say, "The Thabametsi power station is likely to contribute significant carbon dioxide emissions, although the precise amount is not yet known." The NGO argues that carbon dioxide emissions affect climate change and that this should have been considered by the environmental affairs minister, given that climate change presents a serious threat to Section 24 of the Constitution‚ which allows the environment to be protected for future generations.
Attorney for the Centre for Environmental Rights Nicole Loser said that if Earthlife wins the court case‚ the minister of environmental affairs will have to reassess how the new power station’s emissions will affect climate change.
Earthlife is known for its views against the use of coal to generate electricity. In court documents‚ Thabametsi power company argues that Earthlife may be using this litigation to stop the building of coal power stations in SA, and that "if Earthlife’s aim in this litigation is to prevent the establishment of coal-fired power stations ... then it involves an abuse of process".
Thabametsi also says it has been granted the right to operate as part of government’s plan to use independent power producers for coal-based electricity, and that Earthlife should have taken the department of energy’s independent power producers procurement programme to court, rather than the producers.
Thabametsi power company has run up R210m costs in bidding and planning for the power station and is not happy about the court case, saying that it has conducted a water and air-quality impact assessment, so a climate change assessment is not needed.