In the first paragraph of his keynote address to the Africa Energy Indaba in Johannesburg, energy minister Jeff Radebe used the word “burning” three times. The repeated use of this word unintentionally presaged the message he gave, which was that coal is still king in SA. While acknowledging that a “paradigm shift is required” for SA to meet its greenhouse-gas emission-reduction targets, he said “we cannot ignore the fact that we have abundant coal reserves and the price of local coal remains relatively low … our vast coal deposits cannot be sterilised”. Radebe attempted to square this circle by taking SA down the rabbit hole that is “clean coal”. He argued that SA could begin to use its coal “in an environmentally responsible way” simply by the application of the right technology. The allegedly “clean coal” technologies he referred to are carbon capture and storage (CCS), underground coal gasification (UGS), coal to liquids (CTL) and “other clean coal technologies”. The trouble is ...

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