‘Too much wiggle room’ on emissions

South Africa’s draft discussion document on how it will do its fair share to tackle climate change was quietly released online earlier this month.

Public consultations are now being held on the draft. But experts say that in its current form, it commits the country to doing far too little.

”At the moment it just looks like we are not all that serious about avoiding tackling catastrophic climate change,” says energy and climate expert Richard Worthington.

Where there used to be a target for lowering carbon emissions to a certain level, there is now a benchmark. This says that by 2035, the country should aim to emit anything between 398?million and 614-million tonnes of carbon each year.

”That’s a massive range to aim for,” says Worthington. ”And it means you are ensuring you have a lot of leeway in doing anything, and in showing the world you have lived up to your promise.”

South Africa currently emits about 500-million tonnes of carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gases) each year. Eskom and Sasol are responsible for roughly three-quarters of these emissions.

The power utility’s coal-fired stations emit 230-million tonnes a year, and Sasol’s Secunda plant is the highest single source of emissions in the world. Both are expanding operations and, with Kusile and Medupi, Eskom is building the world’s third- and fourth-largest coal-fired power stations.

The South African economy is already one of the most energy inefficient in the world – using more energy to produce a unit of gross domestic product than any of its peers.

This means there is a ”massive disconnect” between climate change policy and reality, says Worthington. That policy is now looking to favour the large corporate polluters without thinking of the impact of climate change on communities, he says. ”This discussion document gives everyone a lot of wiggle room, so while it looks to give solid national targets for carbon reductions, it actually means you can increase emissions.”

The government’s official climate change plan – the national climate change response policy of 2011 – calls for emissions to peak in 2025 and then plateau until 2035. After that they must drop.

At the 2009 climate conference in Copenhagen, South Africa pledged to lower emissions by 42% by 2025. But this was dependent on international aid.

The discussion document released this month will create the country’s intended nationally determined contribution, which must be submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change ahead of the Paris COP21 climate summit in November.

Every country in the world is submitting a plan, detailing how it will reduce its carbon emissions and tackle climate change. The United States has promised to lower emissions by a quarter by 2030 and China has said it will hit its peak emissions in a decade, and then these will decline.

Earlier this year, Christiana Figueres, head of the UN’s framework convention, said when put together, all of the nationally determined contributions would not meet the goal of stopping average global temperatures increasing by 2?C.

”This is why we have to be so much more ambitious,” says Tasneem Essop of the World Wide Fund for Nature. ”We are one of the world’s highest per capita emitters and we have to be seen to be leading. This current draft is just too weak.”

Being ambitious and being seen to be ambitious is especially important as South Africa is a cochair of the G77+China grouping, which will be a key player in the climate negotiations in Paris later this year, she says.

”Besides the need to curb emissions, we need to have the political capital to ask other countries to do more. Right now we do not.”

 

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Sipho Kings
Sipho Kings is a former acting editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian

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