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Eskom's Kendal coal-fired power station in Mpumalanga. Picture: BLOOMBERG/WALDO SWIEGERS.
Eskom's Kendal coal-fired power station in Mpumalanga. Picture: BLOOMBERG/WALDO SWIEGERS.

Environment minister Barbara Creecy recently published a draft of SA’s first sectoral emission targets for public comment.

The targets, which place responsibility for reducing emissions on the departments that oversee certain sectors, are an important element of SA’s overall climate mitigation strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with the country’s nationally determined contribution under the Paris Agreement.

Our most recent nationally determined contribution expresses the ambition of reducing emissions to a target range of 350-million tonnes to 420-million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions (CO2e) — a reduction of about 20%-33% from current emissions.

If SA fails to reduce emissions to within the target band it could jeopardise the country’s ability to secure the many billions of rand of concessional financing it will need to respond to risks posed by climate change, such as more frequent and intense droughts and floods, and to fund the various activities under the just energy transition.

The draft targets are expected to result in an overall reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of 27-million tonnes by 2030 compared with a business-as-usual scenario.

Given that the electricity sector accounts for about 70% of SA’s total emissions, the biggest contribution to reductions will have to come from there. According to the targets, it will have to cut back emissions from about 196-million tonnes of CO2e in 2022 to 125-million tonnes by 2030.

About 80% of SA’s electricity comes from coal-fired power stations, and achieving the nationally determined contributions and the targets will largely depend on the pace at which Eskom decommissions coal-fired power stations. No clear decommissioning schedule that all parties have agreed to is on the table.

Shutdowns

Based on decommissioning schedules published by Eskom, the Integrated Resources Plan (IRP) of 2019 provides for about 5,400MW of electricity from coal generation by Eskom to be decommissioned by 2022, increasing to 10,500MW by 2030 and 35,000MW by 2050.

This was based on Komati, which has been shut down, Grootvlei and Camden power stations being fully decommissioned by 2025, Hendrina by 2026, and Kriel and Arnot by 2029.

However, a revised schedule as used in the draft IRP 2023 has several power stations that have been earmarked for shutdown before 2030 being operated longer than anticipated. This revised schedule pushes Grootvlei’s final decommissioning date to 2027 and Kriel’s to 2030.

But the draft IRP 2023, developed by the department of mineral resources & energy, in one of the post-2030 scenarios given in the plan, proposes even more delays to shutdowns and reduces the decommissioning up to 2030 by about half to about 5,000MW, and to about 23,000MW by 2050.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg recently reported that the project management unit for SA’s more than R1-trillion Just Energy Transition Investment Plan, which sits in the presidency, has said that it will soon provide a new timeline for the decommissioning of coal-fired power plants. This decommissioning plan will be linked to SA’s emissions targets in a bid to secure funding from the World Bank-linked Climate Investment Funds.

It is unclear how this decommissioning plan will fit in with the proposals in the IRP 2023 or with Eskom’s own plans for plant shutdowns.

What is clear is that all of the government urgently needs to get on the same page if it wants to show it is serious about achieving the aims of the Climate Change Bill, including emission targets.

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