Defend Truth


Speaking with forked tongues: Why SA’s climate energy policy needs consistency and commitment


Liziwe McDaid is The Green Connection’s Strategic Lead. She is a qualified scientist, teacher, and adult educator, with a Master’s Degree in Climate Change and Development from the University of Cape Town. Liz was also awarded the 2018 Goldman Environmental Award Africa, for her eco-justice efforts.

We hope that President Ramaphosa is sincere about the need to address climate change urgently. But if he is, his first step should be to get his Cabinet in line. It is hard to believe someone who says they need green finance to make Eskom and the electricity sector more climate friendly, while still allowing their energy minister to rampantly promote fossil fuel exploration and the construction of new fossil fuel electricity generation facilities.

The Green Connection is pleased about the recent announcement that climate leaders at the United Nations COP26 summit, which has just concluded in Glasgow, will give South Africa a whopping R131-billion to help the world to meet its climate targets by “choking off international finance for coal”. 

The multibillion-dollar partnership is meant to help South Africa finance a quicker transition from coal and achieve the new Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) targets for carbon emissions, which they hope will provide a model for other countries.

However, can you blame us for being cynical about where these funds come from? It is somewhat difficult to reconcile this noble initiative with the stark fact that the very same nations have companies that are busy trying to drill for oil and gas in the oceans around South Africa. The same game seems to be playing out in Sudan, Cabo Delgado in Mozambique and, of course, there are various fracking operations under way in several countries. All these activities contradict the noble claim that the Global North is serious about addressing climate change.

Similarly, while we hope that President Ramaphosa is sincere about the need to address climate change urgently, his first step should be to get his Cabinet in line. It is hard to believe someone who says they need green finance to make Eskom and the electricity sector more climate friendly, while still allowing their energy minister to rampantly promote fossil fuel exploration and the construction of new fossil fuel electricity generation facilities. As it stands, South Africa is already the world’s 12th-biggest emitter of climate-warming gases and heavily reliant on ageing coal-fired power stations for its electricity.

It would be very easy, especially with the levels of corruption in South Africa, to regard this loan as another bailout for Eskom and a more silver bullet-style solution instead of a commitment to real change. The public needs to know exactly how this money will be spent. We need transparency (like we have never seen before), with proper checks and balances in place to ensure that these funds are indeed used for a just energy transition and nothing else.

Healthy cynicism is informed by experience. The current Karpowerships debacle, where a so-called emergency solution will be moored in three of our ports for 20 years — potentially impacting on the coasts, sea life and the livelihoods of the communities who depend on the oceans — is another example of decisions that we do not believe are in the national interest. 

The Karpowership SA projects do not have environmental authorisation to proceed, and it has also been reported in the media that Karpowership SA is being investigated by the Green Scorpions on whether misleading information was provided to secure an emergency exemption (subsequently revoked by environmental minister Barbara Creecy).

Thus far, the process continues to be plagued by allegations of corruption and abuse of due process. It beggars belief that the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) has granted the Karpowership SA companies licences to generate electricity in the absence of environmental authorisations and full information, such as power purchase agreements finalised with Eskom.  

The Nersa “reasons for decision” issued nearly two months after it gave its approvals, also continue to keep the public in the dark, with tariff charge rates (and other financial information) being redacted, making it impossible to determine the potential impact of the projects on future electricity prices. It seems we are supposed to blindly acquiesce. This is not what we call “meaningful”, “informed” and “transparent” public participation.

In addition, Karpowership SA applied to Nersa for electricity distribution connection licences. To rub salt into the wound, Nersa had the temerity to publish a notice for comments on the application while not abiding by its legal obligation to give the public 30 days to comment, or publishing notices in affected areas. 

Publishing on 18 October, with a closing date of the 29th of the same month, gives very little time to comment. And the facilities that Karpowership SA wants licences for are in Saldanha, Coega and Richards Bay, but the announcement was published in the Sowetan and not (as far as we are aware) in local newspapers (or by way of other media) to ensure that the application was brought to the attention of the public in the affected areas. It is therefore quite clear that there are a lot of dots that need connecting, and something seems not right with the Karpowership deal.

We have seen Tosaco Energy (a privately owned energy company, established in 2016, to operate and participate in energy projects in South Africa and on the African continent) apply for authorisation to conduct 3D seismic surveys off the West Coast, with the intention of looking for oil and gas. Shell Exploration and Production SA have also given notice of their intention to undertake 3D seismic surveys off the East Coast. 

Although such activities generally avoid obvious harmful seasons, in this case Shell is going ahead during a time of whale and baby turtle migrations. Do they not care about people whose livelihoods depend on the sea, or this fragile planet? Are they more interested in making profits than the cost of more fossil fuels to the people and the environment? And by promoting offshore oil and gas exploration, is our government not undermining the future of South Africa and our next generations?

If the COP26 deal is for real, then with investing in green electrification, we need a ban on all new fossil fuel exploration. Without such a moratorium, whatever savings are made on the Eskom side will simply go up in smoke in terms of increased greenhouse gas emissions resulting from oil and gas exploration, production and end usage.

What makes matters worse is that our governance systems seem to be in tatters if we are to take Nersa and the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) as examples.

DMRE has pieces of law, promulgated in 2008 but not yet brought into operation, which, if implemented, would have resulted in a proper energy plan which would be revised annually. These laws would also have ensured that our energy choices are made in the public interest. However, what we have are “secret, in the corner”-type deals with lots of oil and gas projects popping out of the woodwork that are not in the public interest from a climate change perspective.

There is an urgent need for proper energy planning, and citizens must be part of it, because long after the current Cabinet members have shuffled off, it will be the people of South Africa who will have to bear the consequences of whatever decisions are made today. 

So, our message to South African leaders at COP26 was that we want to believe you, but we cannot believe you if you are taking money in the name of climate change mitigation with one hand and taking money from the same or similar people to carry out projects that will exacerbate climate change with the other.

This two-handed approach will not work. We need strong leaders to take us into a sustainable future, to make it the just transition that South Africa needs. African energy leaders serving a multinational corporate agenda need to be reminded that it is their people who are experiencing droughts, floods and food insecurity, leading them to become climate refugees. 

Once the land and the ocean have been destroyed, will we be able to eat the money? DM/MC


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Shirley Walters says:

    Thanks, Liz, for expressing what many of us feel, and for keeping a watching brief to alert the rest of us when we must rise up and say ‘No’!

    • Dennis Bailey says:

      SA’s won’t rise up on anything that’s good for the planet. The poor are obsessed with finding the next meal and the rich with keeping it from them.

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    The forked tongue is all those we elect to speak for us can do, CR forked tongue in chief included. For as long as we have politicians waxing lyrically about climate justice, there will be none. We’re doomed for the medium future, and everything after depends on what happens by 24.

  • Thinker and Doer says:

    Thank you very much for this very pertinent article, that makes very important points. The government really is not taking the urgent need to implement a just and sustainable transition seriously, the Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources intentionally delayed opening up the system to independent power producers, because he still insists on continuing with coal and bringing in gas production, and nuclear, which are mechanisms that benefits can be gained. The Karpower process is incredibly dodgy, as highlighted, and must not proceed. It is disappointing that South Africa at CoP26 joined India and China in objecting to a firm commitment to phase out coal. That is putting SA in the polluters’ camp, and really also lets down all of the developing countries that are already experiencing severe effects from climate change. SA is going to be affected severely too, so implementing a just sustainable transition needs to be the highest priority, and not just be paid lip service. Government needs to speak consistently and act seriously, in order to attract investment and funding to enable the transition.

  • Antonette Rowland says:

    And what about Africa Oil Week?

  • sl0m0 za says:

    The Government is a joke and we have all stopped laughing…..

  • Judy Scott-Goldman says:

    Thank you, Liz, for an important article. Extinction Rebellion Cape Town did our bit to convey the same message with our demonstrations at Africa Energy Week in Cape Town, 9-11 November, 2021, where African ministers were wheeling and dealing with oil and gas companies while other ministers from the same countries were presenting their nationally determined contributions in Glasgow.

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