This is the first in a three-part series. Before the elections on 8 May, Daily Maverick will assess the climate policies in the manifestos of the DA and EFF.
Stephen Cornell, the chief executive of Sasol, is very pleased.
And why wouldn’t he be? On Friday 12 April 2019, when mineral resources minister Gwede Mantashe officiated at the opening of the R5.6-billion Impumelelo Colliery in Mpumalanga, the take-home message was that the ANC government wasn’t going to sit around idly any more while climate activists threw shade at fossil fuel companies.
No, said Mantashe, it was time for the coal industry to push back against the lie that its product was “dirty”, particularly considering that such falsehoods had recently placed the entire industry “under siege”.
Meanwhile, back in Pretoria, the minister’s people were preparing a press release that would tackle the misinformation head-on:
“Gwede Mantashe has urged the coal mining sector to continue investing in clean-coal technology,” the communiqué from the Department of Mineral Resources stated, “in order to mitigate the effects of climate change.”
How would Sasol’s Impumelelo Colliery, which according to Cornell is ready to deliver 10 million tons of coal a year – a figure, given the fossil fuel’s 77% to 87% carbon content, that will result in emissions roughly equivalent to the annual fumes from 1,4 million motorcars – save us from the changing climate? The press release didn’t say. Instead, appealing to the pride South Africans should take in the fact that we can build such big things, it told us that the minister was speaking at the opening of “one of the largest underground coal complexes in the world”.
And so to the ANC’s 2019 election manifesto, where we read on page 64 that the party will “recommit South Africa to take forward its responsibilities in the fight against climate change, as part of the global community and in line with the Paris Agreement”.
This would be the same Paris Agreement that, as the Washington Post reported in late 2018, is failing humanity catastrophically, with only seven out of 195 countries having made either the commitment or the effort to meet the agreed-upon ceiling of 2°C warming.
To coincide with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report of October 2018 – the one that called for “rapid and far-reaching” transformation of the world’s carbon-addicted economies by 2030 – the newspaper cited a Climate Action Tracker study that examined the Paris pledges of 32 countries responsible for 80% of global emissions.
In the study, South Africa featured in the “highly insufficient” category, alongside China, South Korea, Canada and Japan, nations that were condemning the planet to a temperature rise of between 3°C and 4°C – an increase, according to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that could result in twice as many wars in Africa as there are now.
To be fair, South Africa did feature slightly better in Climate Action Tracker’s study than Saudi Arabia, Russia and the USA, three of the nations intent on driving us to warming above 4°C, but then the ruling regimes in those countries weren’t pretending to give a damn in their election manifestos. Which brings us back to the only other direct mention of climate in the ANC’s campaign promises, under the header “Sustainable and Radical Land Reform”.
Apparently, the ANC will “develop a sustainable agriculture strategy to mitigate the impact of climate change”. It will also, for the same purposes, “promote the sustainable use of water resources”. Here is where the party’s words crash once again into the actions of mineral resources minister Mantashe, who, according to a release put out by the anti-mining Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC) on the morning of 16 April, will be visiting Xolobeni for a third time on 25 April.
“Gwede Mantashe has nothing to do here,” said the ACC in its statement. “This community doesn’t want the Xolobeni mining project. We have said no to mining for 15 years and in November  we won the ‘Right to Say No’ in a landmark judgment.”
But Mantashe does want the Xolobeni mining project, despite the fact that the ACC has consistently warned that it will destroy the local community’s soil and water resources. So intent is the ANC government on backing the mining minister, it appears, that it’s giving him the full go-ahead to appeal the High Court judgment – a ruling that simply upheld the rights to land, water and food sovereignty that the residents of Xolobeni, like all South Africans, were constitutionally entitled to anyway.
The question, then, as Mantashe prepares for his next visit, is this: how much pressure will his party allow him to apply? Stun grenades and tear gas canisters are one thing, and we can fully expect the South African Police Service to deploy these in Xolobeni again, but the mining minister has so far been holding back on some of the most lethal weapons in his arsenal. As per the observations of Aninka Claassens, among the country’s foremost experts on the land rights of mining-affected communities, there are clauses in the relevant legislation that entitle the state to expropriate land where “it is in the interests of economic transformation to do so”.
All of which is to suggest that seen through the lens of climate, which the party itself situates under the header of “radical land reform”, the ANC’s election manifesto is a 66-page impossibility.
Sure, without mentioning the climate specifically, the manifesto does place a heavy emphasis on renewable energy. Somehow, though, the numbers are out of whack here too. Climate Action Tracker may commend the current ANC government for its Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), suggesting that if the plan is adopted it will “mark a major shift in energy policy”, but to meet its Paris commitments, the global consortium cautions, South Africa would still need to phase out coal by mid-century and “substantially limit unabated natural gas use”.
Under current ANC policy, that’s just not going to happen. The party is too excited about the recent “economy saving” discovery of a billion barrels of gas off the Southern Cape coast and Mantashe is too excited about coal.
As for our other natural resources, every institution of influence in the country – including the major opposition parties, the big banks and the mainstream media – remains as committed as ever to their extraction, so the ANC is hardly out on a limb with its election promise of reviving the mining sector. On this point, unfortunately, the 25-ton mastodon in the room is the report released by the United Nations Environment Programme in March, entitled “Global Resources Outlook 2019: Natural Resources for the Future We Want”.
In brief, this heavily footnoted and cross-referenced study found that resource extraction now accounts for 53% of the world’s carbon emissions. The biggest surprise for the authors was that the number only covers the climate impact of “pulling materials out of the ground and preparing them for use” – the burning of fossil fuels isn’t included.
What’s more, as per the report, resource extraction is responsible for more than 80% of worldwide biodiversity loss.
“Frankly,” said Joyce Msuya, Acting Executive Director of UN Environment, regarding these findings, “there will be no tomorrow for many people unless we stop.”
For Mantashe, on the other hand, there will be “no tomorrow” for South African mining unless he defeats the activists in Xolobeni. Along with the mining experts at some of the country’s major law firms, he believes that November 2018’s judgment will kill the industry dead.
At which point things get hopelessly existential. Whose future are we being asked to vote for? DM
"Joyfully to the breeze royal Odysseus spread his sail and with his rudder skillfully he steered." ~ Homer