New book looks at SA's climate-change mitigation options

08 March 2010

Assoc Prof Harald Winkler Carbon cuts: Assoc Prof Harald Winkler lays out South Africa's carbon-cutting mitigation options.

In 2007, Associate Professor Harald Winkler of UCT's Energy Research Centre, plus colleagues and partners, wrapped up a detailed technical report for the Department of Environmental Affairs - a report that painted a series of long-term carbon-emission mitigation scenarios for the country.

Winkler and UCT Press have launched a more reader-friendly version of that report in the shape of a peer-reviewed new book, Taking Action on Climate Change - Long-term mitigation scenarios for South Africa. (The book comes with a CD that holds the full technical report.)

The scenarios, based on inputs from government, business and civil society, calculate what would happen if South Africa introduced steps to curb greenhouse-gas emissions - or chose to do nothing (the worst-case, business-as-usual scenario, called 'Growth without Constraints'). Thrown in are variables such as energy production, transport-energy demand, vehicle efficiency, demand for energy, industrial emissions, and the use of renewable energy sources, among other factors.

The book analyses model results for four strategic options for the country, namely 'Start Now' (invest big money in mitigation now, with savings over time outweighing the initial costs), 'Scale Up' (in which mitigation actions are driven by policies, and systems of penalties and incentives), and 'Use the Market' (getting the market to promote accelerated technologies and social behaviour through a carbon tax and incentives). A fourth strategy, 'Reach for the Goal' (founded on new technologies, lower-carbon resources, and a transition to a low-carbon economy and society) considers interventions that cannot be modelled yet - but which may be critical by 2050. Each strategic option is composed of more detailed mitigation actions.

The country's emission-reduction pledge at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in December 2009 offered hope, says Winkler. There, South Africa committed to cutting its emissions by 34% - relative to business as usual - by 2020, and by 42% by 2025. Those numbers are based on long-term mitigation strategies by and large, with some adjustment for near-term electricity plans - particularly the building of coal-fired power stations Medupi and Kusile - within mitigation commitments.

The pledge is ambitious, but achievable, says Winkler.

"That doesn't mean that the options are easy. A lot of them are challenging, I think; but they can be done."

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