Johannesburg, 21 April 2014 – The coal-mining company, Exxaro, and the French energy giant, GDF Suez, have teamed up to build a 1200MW coal-fired power station on the doorstep of the Medupi power station. This 1200MW plant is exactly the kind of investment that will cause catastrophic climate change and shows a profound lack of concern by either Exxaro or GDF Suez about the health and welfare of Southern Africa, which is set to experience some of the worst impacts of climate change. Earthlife Africa Jhb is asking South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) not to approve this toxic and carbon-intensive plant.
It is high time that South African citizens insist that the grave warnings of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are heeded to by the South African Government, in this the golden age of coal extraction and combustion. The Working Group III 5th Assessment Report, released last week from Berlin – Germany, confirms that burning fossil fuels is the major contributor of greenhouse gases which have risen on average by 2.2 percent each year in the period from 2000- 2010. The authors of the Report, entitled “Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change” further herald coal as the major culprit within the fossil fuel family.
The findings of the IPCC report show that without additional measures to mitigate the release of greenhouse gases into the world’s atmosphere global temperatures will continue to rise to between 3 and 4 degrees Celsius. The rise in temperature will lead to catastrophic environmental and social impacts that will be most severe in the countries of the developing world. Experts, such as IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachuri, claim that “the longer we delay the higher would be the cost”. But the IPCC Working Group III is also optimistic in claiming that the current costs of transitioning to a green economy are “well within our reach”.
The IPCC report confirms a song well sung by civil society groups in South Africa, particularly those with an interest in environmental justice. This song is in contrast to the claims of the South African
government and fossil fuel industry which are that burning and extracting coal is a cheap and reliable source of electricity production. What civil society groups in South Africa have been saying, repeatedly, is that coal is not a cheap source of energy if the external costs of the environmental and health impacts are not included in the price tag.
Dominique Doyle, Earthlife Africa’s Energy Policy Officer, welcomes the news of the IPCC report as further fuel for their campaign for a just transition to sustainable energy in South Africa. Doyle reiterates that the IPCC report confirms the constant submissions that the non-governmental organisation, Earthlife Africa, makes to the government departments mandated with the responsibility of striking the balance between the energy required for economic growth and environmental protection. This balance is ultimately what produces healthy and prosperous communities.
Doyle claims that the external costs of energy generation are not considered by government departments because the costs will actually be a burden borne by future generations and are difficult to quantify. Doyle concludes that although many are aware that impacts such as climate change and respiratory disease are a result of coal-fired power stations, few are willing to challenge the status quo of the mineral-energy complex in South Africa and account for these devastating costs.
While the internationally accredited IPCC Report finds that in order to avoid catastrophic climate change, renewable energy and energy efficiency investments should be quadrupled, the South African government has once again been found to be considering more climate change causing coal-fired power generation. Currently, an Environmental Impact Assessment for yet another coal-fired power station in the Waterberg region of Limpopo Province is out for public comment. The power plant is a 1200MW proposal by mining company Exxaro Resources and the French independent power producer GDF Suez. The produced dirty electricity will be sold to the Eskom grid, once again rendering South Africa to be the largest contributor of greenhouse gases on the African continent and the major cause of regional climate change in Southern Africa. Interestingly enough, Exarro and GDF Suez are hiding behind a shelf company (Newshelf 1282) in their formal applications for environmental authorisation.
The alliance between the South African mining company Exxaro and the French GDF Suez clashes with the messaging coming from the developed world, that the developing world requires financial assistance in leapfrogging the use of dirty energy to achieve economic growth. In this case the developed world, France, is directly financing dirty energy in South Africa. Further, the proposed power plant provides a striking example of the IPCC report findings and the subsequent commentary from the international audience. The capacity and funds to transition to a more sustainable development path are available, but require will power to be implemented. The Waterberg region perhaps has some of the best solar capacity in the world for clean electricity generation, yet both the developed and developing world are partnering here to stubbornly stick to dangerous fossil fuel addiction.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, established by the United Nations Environmental Programme and the World Meteorological Organization in 1988, is globally the leading scientific authority on climate change. The IPCC is divided into three Working Groups. Working Group I assesses the physical characteristics of the climate system. Working Group II assesses the vulnerability of socio-economic and natural systems to climate change climate change and adaptation options. Working Group III assesses options for mitigating climate change.
Sustainable Energy and Climate Change Programme Officer
Tel (w): +27 (0) 11 339 3662
Mobile: +27 (0) 82 682 9177
Email: makoma [at] earthlife.org.za
Energy Policy Officer
Tel (w): +27 (0) 11 339 3662
Mobile: +27 (0) 79 331 2028
Email: dominique [at] earthlife.org.za