/ 28 July 2008

SA unveils long-term strategy to fight climate change

South Africa’s transition to a low-carbon economy to combat global warming will be marked by ambitious and mandatory energy-efficiency targets, and the possible introduction of a carbon tax.

This was announced on Monday by Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism Marthinus van Schalkwyk, briefing journalists at Parliament on a long-term strategy to deal with climate change.

The Cabinet has decided to adopt a ”proactive and scientifically and economically robust policy” to meet the challenge, he said.

Research has shown that if world temperatures are to rise more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial-age levels, the impact of climate change could be catastrophic.

Currently, average global temperatures are 0,7 degrees above those in the mid-eighteenth century.

Van Schalkwyk said the best-case scenario for South Africa, if action is taken now, shows greenhouse gas emissions — the main driver of global warming — rising to a ”plateau” in 2020 to 2025, before starting to decline by 2030 to 2035.

The latest (2003) available figures peg South Africa’s greenhouse gas emissions at the equivalent of 446-million tons of carbon dioxide a year. According to figures presented at Monday’s briefing, this will rise by 100-million tons over the next decade.

On a possible carbon tax, Van Schalkwyk said the Treasury is busy studying this option, along with a possible cap on trade.

”These are two separate instruments, and we haven’t taken a final decision,” he said.

Current energy efficiency and electricity demand-side initiatives will be scaled up and made mandatory through ”available regulatory instruments and other appropriate mechanisms”.

The government also plans to diversify the energy mix away from coal, while at the same time ”introducing more stringent thermal efficiency and emissions standards for coal-fired power stations”.

Van Schalkwyk did not spell out how this will impact on Eskom’s current coal-fired power stations — the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions in South Africa — but did say no new station will be approved that does not use carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology.

The government is also set to introduce industrial policy ”that favours sectors using less energy per unit of economic output and building domestic industries in these emerging sectors”. Further, it plans to set ”ambitious and where appropriate mandatory national targets for the reduction of transport emissions”.

This will include ”stringent and escalating” fuel efficiency standards, promoting a shift towards public transport and the ”aggressive promotion of hybrids and electric vehicles”.

There will also be emphasis on closing the price gap between the cost of electricity from coal-fired power stations (currently about 22 cents a kilowatt hour) and renewable resources such as solar (46 cents a kWh) and wind power (56 cents a kWh).

”This Cabinet decision is sending a very strong message that as a government and as a country we are committing ourselves to a low carbon economy …,” Van Schalkwyk said. — Sapa