The University of Cape Town’s Energy Research Centre (ERC) is concerned that South Africa’s electricity has been declared the dirtiest of the G20 countries’, as revealed by the fourth annual Brown to Green Report released last week.
The report found that South Africa has the highest intensity of emissions in the power sector, with emissions per capita roughly double the G20 average. And this has been increasing in recent years because of South Africa’s dependency on coal and expansive new coal-generation projects, the report said. While renewable energy has been growing rapidly, the share of this type of electricity is still low.
Subsidising unsustainable energy
Co-author of the South African report, Bryce McCall from the ERC, expressed concern about the intensity of domestic industry emissions, which remain some of the highest among reporting G20 countries.
“South Africa has above G20-average expenditure on fossil fuel subsidies as a proportion of GDP, and is currently rated as fifth behind Saudi Arabia, Italy, Australia and Brazil."
“The emissions intensity of the South African power sector has increased by 5% between 2012 and 2017, despite several Renewable Energy Independent Power Producers beginning commercial operation during this period,” he says.
“South Africa also has above G20-average expenditure on fossil fuel subsidies as a proportion of GDP, and is currently rated as fifth behind Saudi Arabia, Italy, Australia and Brazil. Under our current economic conditions, subsidising dirty and expensive power makes no sense.”
These findings come on top of recently released satellite data that identified Mpumalanga as a global pollution hotspot, and Witbank as having the world’s dirtiest air. The province is among the worst in the world for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) concentrations and has the lowest air quality in South Africa.
The global context
The Brown to Green Report is the world’s most comprehensive annual review of climate action by G20 countries. The report draws on the latest emissions data from 2017 and covers 80 indicators of decarbonisation, climate policies, finance and vulnerability to the impacts of climate change.
82% of G20 countries’ energy supply still comes from fossil fuels and few have adequate policies to phase out coal.
Despite commitments by both developed and emerging countries to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels, the report found that 82% of the G20 countries’ energy supply still comes from fossil fuels and few have adequate policies to phase out coal.
Although South Africa is a signatory to the Paris Agreement to limit global average temperatures to below 2 °C or 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, the government’s decision to continue to build additional coal power plants until 2024 means that South Africa may not reach that target.
The report is, however, not all bad news for South Africa: South Africa is the only G20 country to explicitly reference the principle of a Just Energy Transition as part of its commitments to the Paris Agreement.
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