Parliament says SA has hard choice between climate change and load shedding

By Banele Ginindza

South Africa is facing a difficult choice of braving load shedding or living up to its commitments to the Paris Agreement and its own Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) as it has to continually relax the emission standards for petrochemical giant Sasol and power utility Eskom.

This was the warning from Parliament’s select committee on land reform, environment, mineral resources and energy yesterday as it discussed the legacy report of its term.

These are part of the issues the committee, led by Tebogo Constance Modise, has had to kick down the road to the 7th Parliament after its schedule was overloaded with oversight portfolios, including having to deal with departments that did not fall under its ambit.

Delivering the legacy report yesterday, Parliament’s content adviser, Jacobus Jooste, said it was not possible to avoid load shedding without the use of existing infrastructure that the Paris Agreement is against.

Jooste also said the NDCs were trying to move away from, but without alternatives fully in place, this will remain a challenge through the 7th Parliament and possibly on the radar for much longer.

He said the implementation phase of the Paris Agreement, implications and opportunities for the provincial and local government spheres, were being frustrated by continued relaxation of Sasol and Eskom emission requirements.

“It is important to note that internationally, governments are struggling with Paris Agreement NDCs, suggesting systematic challenges with attaining low-carbon economies,” Jooste said.

“To reach nationally declared contributions and those are not possible financially and practically for countries to achieve without some form of sacrifice or electricity shortages as seen in other countries.”

Jooste said that in the past couple of months, there have been challenges that will remain for the 7th Parliament to address, including Eskom and Sasol’s emission standards, with the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment under pressure to relax the emission standards of the entities to balance out load-shedding challenges.

“This will remain a major challenge in the 7th Parliament and possibly in the radar for longer,” Jooste said.

State-owned power utility Eskom is reported to account for about 42% of the nation’s total greenhouse gas emissions, while Sasol is pegged around the 11% range.

Jooste said South Africa has to deal with ageing infrastructure but with its INDCs that are focused on transferring energy to lower-carbon entities.

“But these are not developing fast enough to deal with current energy demands of the country, and the only way to ensure energy availability is with the old order of Eskom infrastructure, creating the problems we see right now,” he said.

Under the Paris Agreement, South Africa is committed to keep global temperatures well below 2ºC above pre-industrial times while pursuing means to limit the increase to 1.5ºC.

The Cabinet has approved key climate actions, including creating a Presidential Climate Commission, South Africa’s Low Emissions Development Strategy, a National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy, a carbon tax, and a Just Transition Framework.

Other issues the committee has kicked down the road to the 7th Parliament include the second round of settling land claims, some still outstanding from claimants booted out before 1913.

Other issues include the encroachment of illegal mining onto agricultural land, and proper regulation of the allocation of fishing rights, among others.

Unfinished business from the 5th Parliament which the 6th Parliament has to pass through to the 7th Parliament includes the social and environmental impacts caused by illegal mining, derelict and owner-less mines and acid mine drainage.

This article first appeared on IOL on 22 May 2024.

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