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The Fiction of Bounty

Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe tried to neuter coal at the wind energy conference in Cape Town with further fantasies of swinging South Africa in a retrograde direction,“We must disabuse ourselves of the polemic to pit renewables against coal and nuclear, and vice-versa. We should exploit our vast coal deposits through technical innovation.”

Mantashe continues to normalise the language of ‘economic development’ over environmental preservation. His fiction of economic development is set against the “fall in new builds and rapid retreat of bankers from financing of new coal projects”[1]. His declaration suggests vested interests rather than environmental ones as central to national energy policy. 

No doubt the long-awaited Integrated Resource Plan will reveal a plan designed for continued carbon emissions. South Africa emits nearly 500 million tons of carbon dioxide each year, four times the global average; is establishing a gas energy sector ( which will have to be phased out in the next decade); will shortly be drilling offshore of the KZN coast and has signed a R14.5 billion deal, clouded in secrecy, for oil exploration and production in war-torn South Sudan.This rapacity for fossil fuel to drive government’s operating budget is a recipe for corruption, but more importantly, the dangers are incalculable.

So how does this tie in with the National Development Plan requirement to leave future generations an environmental endowment of at least equal value to the one we have now? Where are the economic shifts ”to sustainable production, including avoiding climate change, protecting biodiversity, and ending war” touted by the National Planning Commission[2]?

The jury is still out on whether Minister of Environment Forestry and Fisheries Barbara Creecy will drive transformative change, bringing the imperative of climate change to each energy-related decision. Climate change in South Africa is a measurable reality. We are exeriencing shifting climate zones across the country, changes in rainfall patterns, soil moisture and runoff, changing temperatures in aquatic systems and twice the global temperature increase in last century. All of us are aware of the extreme weather events with more-intense droughts, floods and storms lashing our homes and businesses. We don’t, however, all have equal risk of adverse consequences. The ecological message, no matter how persuasive to people at large, will never change policy while it is made by ruling elites who have a powerful stake in keeping the systems we have.

Local climate change activists are calling for development of policy matched to the scale of the challenges we face. This week saw Youth4ClimateAction’s #CreecyWeCare campaign demanding Creecy declare a climate emergency now. It dovetailed with XR’s appeal to the departments of Mineral and Energy and Environmental Affairs for a ‘climate emergency’ statement.  Both groups are committed to mass, non-violent mobilisation and have been calling for a degrowth of fossil fuels in South Africa. Our predicament requires the pressure of courageous mass action to drive effective change and true climate mitigation. 

We need scale at speed. Tough watchdogging of environmental policy and politicians, both regionally and nationally, is vital in pushing for an effective and deployable climate policy portfolio with stringent abatement measures – cosmopolitan welfare rather than self interest. Otherwise the least of our questions will be: when will South Africa start experiencing carbon footprint sanctions? 

[1]Creamer, T. 2019. Tail Wagging Dog, Engineering News Vol 39. No38 .p7.

[2]National Development Plan 2030: A Just Transition to a low carbon climate resilient economy and society. Talanoa Dialogue Report, 2018, National Planning Commission, Dept of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation. P1

Photo credit : GCIS

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