'Unrealistic' for SA to set emission targets

Cabinet ran its climate change colours up the mast on Thursday, declaring South Africa would not agree to any targets at the looming United Nations climate change conference that could compromise the country’s economic development.

“We think it is unrealistic for us at this stage to set targets,” government spokesperson Themba Maseko told a media briefing at Parliament, following Cabinet’s fortnightly meeting on Wednesday.

Responding to a question on whether Cabinet was saying no to greenhouse gas emission targets of any sort, he said it was too early for South Africa to agree to targets.

“We think it is premature for South Africa to agree to targets at this particular point in time, largely because ... our energy requirements still rely very largely on coal-powered power stations.

“If we were to agree to targets now, we think that could hamper our economic growth, because it would mean that we’d then have to ask Eskom to slow down on its programme to build more power stations.

“Our economy still requires a lot of energy, and the only viable source of energy at this particular point in time is through the use of coal-powered power stations,” he said.

The UN climate change conference—aimed at establishing a global climate agreement for the period from 2012, when the first commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol expires—is set to start in Copenhagen, Denmark, on December 15.

Maseko said South Africa was seen, globally, as one of the major contributors of greenhouse gases, but this was a false impression based on population size.

“Whereas we are a large gas emitter, a lot of it has to do with the fact that we have a smaller population and yet are emitting a lot of gasses. Setting targets now would hamper our growth,” he said.

Cabinet believed developed nations, rather than developing nations, had the greater responsibility when it came to targets.

“Developed nations in our view have a greater responsibility now.
They have contributed to emissions for longer than any of the developing nations, and their economies have reached a certain level of growth which can enable them to actually reduce their emissions.

“Whereas, developing nations, such as ourselves have quite a way to go in terms of growing our economy and meeting our ... growth [targets].

“We therefore think it is unrealistic for us at this stage to set targets,” he said.

Asked if this was the position South Africa would take at the Copenhagen conference, he confirmed this was “basically the essence of the position we are taking”.

It was one shared by many developing nations.

Maseko said whatever agreement was reached at Copenhagen, South Africa’s position was it “should not be at the expense of the development challenges of the developing nations”.

Earlier, he told journalists that the government would take “responsible and measurable action” to reduce the country’s emissions over time. - Sapa

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