Our Burning Planet

ECO-JUSTICE

Greens see red over ‘blue apartheid’ – activists call on state to ditch fossil fuels and develop a proper energy plan

Greens see red over ‘blue apartheid’ – activists call on state to ditch fossil fuels and develop a proper energy plan
Young South Africans take part in the Global Climate Strike outside Parliament on 15 March 2019. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Nic Bothma)

The Green Connection believes that pursuing fossil fuels does little to address South Africa’s economic crisis, much less address the energy crisis, and proposes an alternative vision for the future of the country’s energy and economic landscape.

The environmental justice organisation and its partners held a lunchtime briefing on Wednesday to unpack its opposition to offshore oil and gas – fossil fuels with carbon and methane emissions that contribute to global warming and climate change.

They explained how oil and gas exploration also risks harm to marine species and functioning ecosystems, which in turn affects the well-being of coastal communities and small-scale fishers by putting their livelihoods and food security at risk. 

The Green Connection’s strategic lead, Liziwe McDaid, said the organisation is not only focused on ensuring lawful and procedurally fair decision-making in oil and gas projects such as Searcher, Azinam, Total, and Karpowerships. 

They were “also concerned with empowering those communities who are affected by these projects but who are feeling voiceless or who want the opportunity to understand what these projects might entail, so that they can raise their voices to give informed input”.

McDaid said the way they stopped apartheid was from the ground up and this is also the way they will stop the “blue apartheid”. 

“One of our organisation’s main goals is to help South Africans better understand the issues – in energy, climate, the environment and socioeconomic justice. To encourage more civil society participation, which would hopefully result in better decisions, which have been made with the greater public interest in mind.”

Read in Daily Maverick: “Energy regulator to oppose court application by ecogroup to review Karpowership licences

She said it is difficult to reconcile this urgent need for decisive action to address the climate crisis – which means moving away from fossil fuels – with several offshore oil and gas projects that are under way and more being proposed.

“When it comes to gas (especially), the emission of methane is 85 times more harmful than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, over a 20-year period. Oil and gas should not be part of a just transition, alternatives are available, and we do not have to drill our oceans… this is more about making money rather than benefiting local communities.”

Appeal to the President

According to McDaid, since energy use and generation have such a significant impact on the climate, it makes sense to develop a proper integrated energy plan (IEP), which considers both mitigation and adaptation to the crisis. 

“It is for this reason that The Green Connection has written to President Cyril Ramaphosa calling on him to bring section 6 of the National Energy Act (NEA) into operation, and is preparing to go to court should he fail to do so. Once brought into operation, section 6… will require the minister of energy to develop an inclusive IEP with public consultation, and to review the plan annually.”

She said the link between the energy crisis and the country’s ongoing lack of an energy plan cannot be ignored, because “South Africa needs stable and affordable energy into the future and for that the country needs an IEP”.

The Green Connection’s advocacy officer, Kholwani Simelane, said the IEP is a roadmap for South Africa’s future energy landscape. 

“It should guide energy infrastructure investments and policy development, using consumption trends within different sectors of the economy – including agriculture, commerce, industry, residential and transport.


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“Since energy is the lifeblood of the economy, which impacts on all sectors as well as individual livelihoods, integrated energy planning is necessary to ensure that current and future energy needs can be met in the most environmentally sustainable, cost-effective, efficient and socially beneficial ways. It should also take climate change into account,” he said.

Simelane said not having a plan results in haphazard energy decisions which can negatively affect the economy and further disadvantage communities. 

“The IEP, if done properly, would enable a sustainable, bottom-up way of looking at energy development,” he said.

Partnership with French NGO

McDaid said The Green Connection is in partnership with French NGO Bloom and they are calling out Total as one of the companies that profit from offshore oil and gas exploration and production.

“COP27 revealed that oil companies’ profits are up 131%. Together the two eco-justice organisations are raising the moral perspective that companies, like the French-based Total should actually use their profits for the just transition, instead of further drilling for oil and gas, which is only making climate change worse,” she said.

Read in Daily Maverick: “SA could be a global player in $23-trillion green energy market, says US

She said it cannot be right that oil companies are making billions of dollars in profits despite the cost to the climate.

“The right thing for these companies to do would be to compensate countries like Pakistan, which suffered massive economic damage due to floods. South Africa is in a similar situation and the government will have to spend money which could have been used on other necessary services for citizens to address the flood and other damages that result from climate change.”

On Karpowership

In a written response to Our Burning Planet, energy expert Hilton Trollip said he did a deep techno-economic analysis into Karpowerships, and every bit of that analysis showed that they would be incredibly bad value for money. 

“We do not need this technology, because in essence we would be paying a lot more for electricity that we could get cheaper if generated in a different way. Karpowership has no rational role in South Africa’s energy transition, and if it succeeds South Africa will add huge additional costs to the electricity consumer,” he said.

Trollip said there are also massive risks in gas prices increasing. 

“If Karpowerships go ahead, in addition to the environmental and other damage they may cause, they will impose huge unnecessary financial costs and risks on the South African public, in addition to thoroughly undermining the transparent, democratic and rational aspects of our governance system,” he said.

There were plenty and much better technical alternatives available, specifically renewable energy. 

“The energy used for Karpowerships is incredibly expensive and the draft power purchase agreement has not been made public. There is concern that Eskom may be required to sign a contract that includes take or pay or similar provisions that will oblige it to pay for a fixed minimum amount of electricity over the 20-year contract price even if it is not needed. This is one of the biggest risks to this contract. We would like to see that power purchase agreement – would we get good value for money?” asked Trollip.

Oil companies explorations interrupt local economies

The Green Connection’s Community Outreach coordinator, Neville van Rooy, said they believe it is unfair and unjust for oil and gas companies to interrupt local economies.

“Communities are opposing the oil and gas industries when there are so many sustainable alternatives to development. The government appears to be in climate denial because they say they are serious about taking action to address climate change, while at the same time they are promoting and supporting more fossil fuel-intensive activities.

“These activities threaten the rights of small-scale fishers to food security and can undermine existing and future sustainable local economies. Since we see no visible steps towards exiting this destructive path littered with fossil fuels, this tells me that our government appears not serious about climate change,” said Rooy.

Read in Daily Maverick: “Local small-scale fishers suffer due to the extractivism of big corporates

A small-scale fisher from Steenberg Cove, Christian Adams, said small-scale fishers were calling on the government, Total and Shell to stop oil and gas exploration at the expense of their people.

“Our fear is that we will end up in the same situation as those small-scale fishers and coastal communities in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, where the fishers are still feeling the effects from the gas pipelines,” he said.

‘False hope’

The Green Connection’s economic researcher, Gillian Hamilton, introduced the Koeksister Project, an experimental, alternative economic initiative that seeks to build resilience, especially at the local level.

She said the project is the direction they should take with the economy. 

“When it comes to the supposed gains from oil and gas, we must recognise that the oil and gas industry, as well as the government, are giving false hope and making false promises to the people of South Africa.”

She said that from a climate change perspective South Africa must dramatically cut its extremely high emissions:

“What the government should be doing is looking at how we can meet the needs of all our people, while operating within the ecological boundaries of the planet. We all must acknowledge and recognise that our future will probably be dramatically different from our current reality… it is critical that we plan, rather than wait to be taken by surprise. Immediate and collective action is our only solution.” DM/OBP

 

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