DAVE BRYANT: Cutting red tape and creating jobs must be at the forefront of SA’s just transition
The unsweetened reality is that we simply do not have the luxury of being able to rush a transition away from coal.
The 27th Congress of the Parties on Climate Change (COP27) that ended recently in Egypt took place during a time of growing international uncertainty after the Covid-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Few critics expected the global commitments at this COP to be particularly ambitious, and it appears this scepticism was justified, with countries in the developed world proving reluctant to commit to greater and more tangible steps to assist with the green transition in Africa, despite grandiloquent public pronouncements from international leaders.
Their grudging acknowledgment of loss and damage responsibilities is as symbolic as it is worthless without any time frames or specifics. However, the SA government also cannot simply use “the West” as a scapegoat for its failure to plan and prepare for the fallout from climate change and the current domestic energy crisis.
It is undeniable that the global climate is changing before our eyes. The frequency and intensity of floods and wildfires, combined with rising sea levels, are forcing countries to take urgent steps to adapt, and the developing world is being hit hardest. It was for this reason that a proposal was put forward regarding reparations from developed countries for loss and damage caused by climate change.
With Africa only producing 3% of global greenhouse emissions, it is clear where the bulk of the responsibility for the man-made impact on climate change should reside, and these countries should be held responsible for the subsequent devastation.
The spanner in the works is the fact that, bizarrely, one of the countries classed as developing is China, the world’s second-largest economy, which generates more than a quarter of global greenhouse emissions. While the US has quite rightly argued that China should also pay its fair share towards damage caused by climate change, the Chinese authorities argue that as a developing country they should be treated as victims of Western industrialisation.
Due to its obsequious relationship with China, the ANC government refuses to acknowledge that the world’s largest coal consumer and second-largest economy should bear the same financial responsibility as Western countries. This diplomatic omnishambles has made the task of negotiating for reparations far more difficult for African counties. Why on earth is SA so intent on giving China a free ride?
The DA has had two members present at COP27 as part of a multiparty parliamentary oversight delegation, where we have had an opportunity to engage directly with the SA government negotiators and representatives from across the globe. It is becoming increasingly clear through our interactions, and during the multitude of side events, that the elusive grants and loans from the international community alone will not resolve our challenges.
As a country we must focus on leveraging our own enormous renewable energy potential, particularly solar and wind. Apart from the obvious benefits to domestic electricity generation, the opportunities for other green industries such as green hydrogen and green steel are immense. SA is in a unique position, possessing the scientific, technological and renewable resources to make this a reality. In the coming years international investors will be increasingly dissuaded from investing in fossil fuel-intensive industries and we must leapfrog our competitors to ensure that we are not left behind.
South Africans have been subject to intermittent electricity blackouts for the past 14 years, with 2022 already proving the most intensive thus far. These blackouts are the direct result of the national government’s poor maintenance and the overall mismanagement of Eskom. This has been compounded by fraud, direct sabotage and ongoing budgetary constraints at the entity.
So far this year SA has experienced a total of 165 days of blackouts. This failure has not been caused by climate change or Western governments. It is the ANC that has destroyed Eskom, all on its own. While Eskom’s leadership scrambles to keep the lights on, we must focus on diversifying our energy mix if we wish to stabilise our domestic energy challenges and move away from rolling blackouts once and for all.
Currently, over 70% of SA’s energy generation comes from coal and our mines produce an average of 224-million tonnes of it per year. We are the fifth-largest coal producer in the world and many large towns have mushroomed around coal mines, where people rely directly and indirectly on the coal industry for their livelihoods.
The unsweetened reality is that we simply do not have the luxury of being able to rush a transition away from coal. We must ensure that we create more job opportunities for all South Africans and no-one is unfairly prejudiced during the transition. Investing aggressively in new green technologies will assist in providing hundreds of thousands of jobs that can augment our domestic capacity while simultaneously assisting with the green transition. The global impacts of climate change are becoming more visible daily and we must commit to ensuring that we reduce our carbon footprint as much as possible.
If we wish to achieve this we have to make sure we open up opportunities for the private sector to get involved at every available opportunity. We must do everything we can to cut the red tape and administrative bureaucracy that hampers investment and give the private sector the freedom to build these new industries and create much-needed jobs. The days of absolute government control over the energy market are long gone. We have to look at new and innovative ways to generate electricity and increase our existing limited grid capacity in areas of high potential renewables generation, such as the Northern Cape.
There is hope for a clean and diversified energy future, and DA local governments across the country are showing that this is possible. Cape Town was recently recognised by the Carbon Disclosure Project as one of only two cities in Africa that have shown climate leadership. This has not been achieved through performative displays but by recognising the value of the market and investing in maintaining existing infrastructure.
Central to Cape Town’s focus for many years has been empowering independent power producers (IPPs) by pushing to allow them to generate electricity to help augment Cape Town’s energy resources. Pressure from the DA-led city administration has led directly to accelerated action from the national government to open up the space for IPPs.
Due to planning and ongoing maintenance of infrastructure under consecutive DA governments Cape Town has been able to protect its residents from lower levels of blackouts and will take this up to four levels of protection by 2026. Cape Town was one of the first municipalities in the country to develop detailed climate change legislation, with a climate change strategy approved last year.
As the ANC continues to collapse in on itself and the country moves towards coalition governments, it is going to be essential that those in the seats of power focus on putting the people of SA first. We have to ensure that we stabilise our energy generation capacity to allow government to take more far-reaching steps to move away from coal. We have to look for pragmatic solutions that cut red tape and allow the private sector to lead the way on renewable energy projects.
The Climate Change Bill is currently before parliament and will likely be on its way to becoming law next year. If we do not move fast to open up spaces for the private sector, this legislation risks becoming more of an obstacle than an enabler. Time is running out fast, both for our environment and for our economy.
• Bryant is DA shadow environment, forestry & fisheries minister.
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