Our Burning Planet

OUR BURNING PLANET

Mantashe punts ‘clean’ coal at mining summit while Cabinet colleagues pitch green energy finance to rich countries

From left: Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe. (Photo: Flickr / GCIS) | Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan. (Photo: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg via Getty Images) | Trade, Industry and Competition Minister Ebrahim Patel. (Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images) | Environment, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Barbara Creecy. (Photo: Ruvan Boshoff)

While he supposedly had to attend to a family commitment that precluded his attendance at a significant green finance meeting, Gwede Mantashe’s verified Twitter account was sharing videos of the minister extolling the virtues of coal mining and power to delegates at the Limpopo Mining Investment Conference.

First published by Daily Maverick 168 newspaper

He had commitments.

“Prior commitments which are family-related”, but he “also believed that the government delegation at the time was sufficient.”

This, according to his spokesperson, is why Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe could not attend the meeting between representatives of the world’s richest countries who came to South Africa seeking a deal that would incentivise keeping the country’s coal in the ground.

Mantashe did, however, seemingly have the time available to call for greater investment in coal and “clean coal” technology in South Africa at roughly the same time.

An article in Business Maverick reports that South African Cabinet ministers met with climate envoys from the US, UK, France and Germany and the European Union on Tuesday to explore opportunities to finance and support South Africa in its plans to accelerate its decarbonisation agenda and green energy ambitions.

The climate envoys were led by UK COP26 envoy John Murton and John Morton, climate counsellor to the US Treasury Secretary. The South African delegation included Environment, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Barbara Creecy; Trade, Industry and Competition Minister Ebrahim Patel; Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan; Deputy Finance Minister David Masondo; and Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Alvin Botes. Also present were officials from the Presidency and the Treasury Director-General Dondo Mogajane.

A statement from the environment department released after the meeting said: “We recognise the consequences of climate change will be catastrophic for the world, and for South Africa in particular, without global ambitious action to reduce emissions, and address adaptation. The latest science makes it clear that in order to prevent these catastrophic consequences, an accelerated shift to a low-emissions society is required.” 

The statement continued: “As the largest carbon emitter on the African continent, South Africa is particularly well positioned to be the preferred partner for concessional climate (or ‘green’) funding to accelerate the decarbonisation of its economy.” 

The meeting took place between 3pm and 5pm on Tuesday, according to department spokesperson Albi Modise. 

Notably absent from the meeting, however, was Mantashe. Nor was any other representative of the Department of Mineral Resources (DMRE) there. Around the time of the climate finance meeting, Mantashe’s verified Twitter account was posting videos of the minister addressing delegates at the Limpopo Mining Investment Conference.

Daily Maverick reported that last week activists and mining-affected communities and organisations combating the climate crisis chained themselves to the gates of the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy in Tshwane, demanding the implementation of policies on renewable energy and for Mantashe’s resignation.

Alex Lenferna, secretary of the Climate Justice Coalition, said at the protest: “Eskom has a plan on the table to accelerate the transition to renewable energy. And they’re trying to secure international climate finance. And that’s one of the only ways that Eskom can save itself from the mess it’s in and move forward towards renewable energy. And Mantashe, the DMRE, are the only ones standing opposed to it.” 

As part of the #UprootTheDMRE campaign, the activists and protestors wanted the minister to come out and receive their memorandum. He didn’t because he was absent.

Asked why the DMRE was entirely absent from this week’s climate finance meeting, the minister’s media liaison officer, Nathi Shabangu, said: “You will remember that government does not work in silos. Ministers are part of one cabinet and when the delegation that is being mentioned was part of the meeting so government was represented holistically.”

He continued that “the ministers themselves would have engaged on the issues prior the meeting and they would have had an agreement on how to take the meeting forward, so that’s why we say he did believe that the government delegation was sufficient to put the interests of the country forward and the interests of the continent and the world at large.”

Interests of the country and world at large indeed. 

An updated model of limits to fossil fuel extraction, published as an article in the journal Nature, found that “nearly 90% of economically viable global coal reserves must be left in the ground to have even a 50% chance of hitting internationally agreed climate-change goals”.

“For a 50% chance of remaining below 1.5°C of global warming – the more aspirational goal of the 2015 Paris agreement – the world must not emit more than 580 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide before 2100”, and “89% of coal reserves, 58% of oil reserves and 59% of gas reserves must remain unextracted.”

Yet, while the government met the G4 and EU climate envoys, senior officials in the DMRE encouraged greater investment in coal until the “viability” of the alternatives to the fossil fuel are ascertained.

Asked whether the words of an energy and mining minister extolling the virtue of coal use in South Africa, while simultaneously agreeing with his government’s coal-reduction plan in absentia, could reasonably be interpreted as being duplicitous, Shabangu said: “Let’s take it from here, there’s a commitment from the department and government as a whole to move from high carbon emissions to low carbon emissions, and how we do that is to increase investments into cleaner technologies and we are guided by the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP).”

“What government has taken is we need to also invest and look at cleaner coal technologies, the CCUS [carbon capture, utilisation and storage] coal, and so we are trying to experiment with that hence the 1,500mw that is in the IRP,” Shabangu told Daily Maverick

According to Bloomberg, Mantashe, in his closing address at the mining conference, said: “When we talk of carbon capture, storage and use, maybe it’s expensive… Renewable energy was expensive, we invested and brought that into the economy and the price is coming down – we must be prepared to invest in cleaner coal technology.”

A report by Dr Ranajit Sahu, released in July 2021 and titled “Comments on Potential Impacts of Proposed New Coal Generation Under the South Africa 2019 Integrated Resource Plan”, assesses the most likely feasible timelines, high-efficiency, low-emission (HELE) technologies and potential air emissions of new coal generation. 

The Centre for Environmental Rights notes that, among other things, the report found that “there is no such thing as clean coal, regardless of whether HELE technologies are used to minimise air emissions from coal (or gas derived from coal)”, and that “given the type, cost and feasibility of existing HELE and carbon capture technologies available in South Africa, it is unrealistic to assume that HELE and carbon capture technologies can adequately mitigate the potential environmental and climate impacts of the proposed new coal capacity”.

“We ought to work on what is stipulated in the IRP,” said Shabangu, explaining that “there’s no contestation… because we’ve agreed in the IRP also that there is quite a sufficient amount of megawatts from old coal-fired power stations will be decommissioned so that is in the IRP. So we’re not talking in two folds, our intention and what the minister is saying he has always maintained, is we need to ensure that in whatever we do, we don’t disrupt energy supply to society.

“We must ensure that we have secured energy supply and in doing so we shouldn’t expect that we can just switch off our coal-fired power stations today and hope to have electricity the next day. Our just transition would need to be systematic in the manner that we secure energy supply. So there’s no contestation on moving from high carbon emissions to low carbon emissions, that is agreed and that is part of government policy.”

Coal hard fact

Dr Jonathan Pershing, US Deputy Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, said in a media briefing that Africa should not follow in the high carbon-intensive ways of the West, but look to new technologies. 

He noted concern about this shift being expensive, but stressed that the opposite was true. 

An analysis by BloombergNEF shows that it is cheaper to build a large solar farm than it is to maintain a coal-fired power plant. 

“Among the lowest prices anywhere for renewable power are in countries in Africa, building on capacity we didn’t even have a decade ago,” Pershing said. 

He cited the Namibia-Botswana mega solar project, which he said could be the world’s largest, with the world’s lowest electricity cost. It could provide the countries with 5 gigawatts of energy. Embattled Eskom supplies these countries with power. Added solar energy could reduce electricity demand that the country is struggling to meet, while increasing diversity in the utility’s energy mix.

South Africa, the envoy said, could also tackle its unemployment problem with alternative technologies – from hydrogen to electric cars and renewable energy, which could create jobs for “literally thousands and thousands of people”. OBP/DM

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Absa OBP

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All Comments 9

  • For the record, this “Afro/Indian” partnership of CR and PG should be enough to stop Gwede in his tracks at the appropriate time unless either one of the is removed from their position.

  • Mantashe and his coal fired henchmen are myopic dinosaurs with 0% foresight. Their nepotistic greed will keep and probably worsten the status quo for generations to come. (Think Karpowership…)
    Maybe one day, and hopefully soon, a young sensible person with a vision for equity and sustainability will manage to jettison these dinosaurs from under their rocks.
    I believe that there is a bright future in environmentally sustainable micro-grids and blockchain technology, literally giving the power to the people. ⚡️✊⚡️(…and away from our centralised, greedy and archaic governmental mindset…)

  • The “kit” that John Murton mentions in his tweet is the ESKOM Rural Microgrid. Microgrids can also be used in urban setting. South Africa needs microgrids by the million

  • “pitch green energy finance to rich countries”…
    Perhaps we should start calling these what they are instead: “better managed countries”..

    • He merely wants to keep the trough full to continue to feed from it! Same with his current battle with Sibanye Gold – promoting a coalition between the rival Unions not for the betterment of the miners but because of his fury over the lack of BEE opportunities that Sibanye have managed to control! Seems like some ANC cadres still think it’s possible to continue robbing the taxpayer with impunity!