Decolonising energy: Why SA must follow 2050 C02 plans despite its low carbon emissions
“Africa doesn't need decarbonisation — we need energy.”
This was the view of University of the Witwatersrand renewable energy expert Prof Lwazi Ngubevana who spoke about a just energy transition and energy mix in the economy at the first pre-colloquium event in Johannesburg on Friday.
The dialogue was hosted by the department of forestry, fisheries and the environment (DFFE) and the department of mineral resources & energy and energy (DMRE).
Prof Ngubevana's view is that if Europe uses twice as much energy as Africa, then there shouldn't be such a push for Africa to decarbonise.
SA's Low Emissions Development Strategy 2050 (LEDS) was released in February 2020 in line with the Paris Agreement, agreed to by parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to lower carbon emissions to limit global warming.
LEDS includes the Integrated Resources Plan (IRP) which involves the country's electricity supply and the move away from coal power to renewable energy sources like wind and solar power to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by this date.
Parties to the Paris Agreement, including SA, must establish a Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) climate action plan to cut emissions and update it every five years.
Despite the net-zero emissions target, in 2050 there will still be a 5,000MW capacity in coal power, and the recently built coal-powered Kusile and Medupi power stations will still be online, with the potential capacity of 1,000MW from 2030.
“This is not just,” Ngubevana said. “Around 70% of Europe's energy supply comes from fossil fuels [versus] Africa's 50%.
“There are around 1.4 billion people in Africa and around 750 million people in Europe yet they emit so much more C02 ... The price of coal went up 200% from last year, yet we export the (good) coal to Europe ... The trend has nothing to do with the war in the Ukraine — it's about energy security — [Europe's] demand [for coal] is not changing but we need to lower our demand?”
Ngubevana said the real agenda was the fight over resources.
SA was in the market for renewables but this would mean it would need to import the renewable technology and import the skills and labour needed to work these technologies.
“We need to own our resources [which come from our land and oceans]. We need to set the agenda — how and when we transition to renewables — with our own policies.
“We need to ensure energy is available and affordable to the population — this is fuel too, not just electricity. Our people have got to own our resources but the financial institutions will not touch anything that comes from fossil fuels.”
Ngubevana said opportunities could be found in the face of climate change — especially the opportunity to employ more people.
“Unemployment rates are unsustainable. We have an opportunity as we transition — we have natural resources — fossil fuels and minerals and we’ve got young people [who need jobs]. There is a huge market [for energy] in the continent but we're only doing about 15% trade with Africa.
“All this must happen in context of environmental sustainable — if we continue [as we are] or do worse, then we will destroy the future for our own children.”
To do this he said the country needed to look at the role of other energy sources — especially gas and nuclear energy. 95% of SA's energy comes from fossil fuels.
“We can’t just drop fossil fuels. Our future is in coal, oil and gas. There is a big opportunity in hydrogen, nuclear, solar, wind and bio fuels — but we need to transition on our own.”
He said there should be repatriations by Europe as the cause of most of the emissions that affect Africa.
“The developed world is supposed to help the developing countries to meet the [net-zero]. We need energy not decarbonisation as we contribute to [carbon emissions] so minimally.”
Bongani Sayidini, COO at Petroleum Agency SA, said there was an estimated 9bn barrels of oil and roughly 60 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of gas offshore.
This is the predicted value but if the actual value was only 20tcf of gas, SA could use it to generate 20GW power — half the 40GW new generation capacity needed to meet the country's demand.
"[Eskom GCE André ]de Ruyter would sleep like a baby,” he joked.”
Steve Nichols from the Presidential Climate Commission said: “The climate impacts are paramount. SA is impacted more by climate change as the country warms twice as much as global average.”
Advocate Marius Oosthuizen said though the NDC is not binding in law, the country will try to achieve the targets.
“The constitution says we are part of the family of nations so we can't throw [the NDC] out the window.”
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