We are making headway towards an energy-efficient economy


The article ‘Too much wiggle room’ on emissions regrettably did not give the department of environmental affairs the right to reply to a number of sweeping statements and generalisations – namely, that the country’s climate change response policy favours large corporate polluters and that we have one of the most energy-inefficient economies in the world.

In December, at the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris, parties will work towards a new legal agreement to apply to all countries from 2020. In preparation, countries have agreed to publicly outline what post-2020 climate actions they intend to take under this new agreement, known as intended nationally determined contributions.

Prior to communicating these to the convention secretariat, we convened a series of stakeholder workshops around the country. A number of sector role-players, civil society organisations, academic institutions, community groups and ordinary South Africans made submissions based on the draft document.

It is unclear, then, why your correspondent surmises that communities have not been consulted. We are well on track to submit our intended nationally determined contributions before the October 1 deadline, demonstrating political commitment to tackling climate change.

Like most developing countries, we are vulnerable to the effects of climate change owing to our resource extraction-based economy and our developmental challenges. Unless urgently addressed, we could see the developmental gains scored by our young democracy eroded as increased food and water insecurity exacerbates poverty, hunger and disease.

Our national climate change response policy is guided by the imperative to protect those most vulnerable. We have stressed throughout that our approach is in the context of sustainable development. While we can do more to scale up our effort, to claim that we have disregarded the impact of climate change on our people is unfair.

For instance, several projects are being piloted in KwaZulu-Natal, the Northern Cape and Limpopo that increase resilience through interventions such as early warning systems, climate-smart agriculture and climate-proofing settlements. This is in addition to the substantial adaptation projects being rolled out by the departments of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, and land and rural development.

The claim that our climate change response policy “favours large corporate polluters” is also unsubstantiated. Most emission reduction measures in the policy will be implemented by the economic sectors and companies. We are currently allocating carbon budgets to companies, which will contribute to the country’s emission reduction goals.

The claim that South Africa has “one of the most energy-inefficient economies in the world” is a half-truth. A recently published report by the energy department indicates that we have improved significantly – not only with regard to the energy intensity of our economy, but also in implementing general energy-efficient measures countrywide.

Between 2000 and 2012, the energy intensity of the economically productive sectors was reduced by more than 28%, while that of the residential sector fell by more than 15%. Although this can be attributed to a host of factors, total energy savings due to efficiency improvements in various sectors is to be welcomed.

South Africa remains on track to meet the energy efficiency targets set under our 2005 strategy. Furthermore, we continue to attract major investment through the renewable energy independent power producers programme.

South Africa is a developing country and will continue to push for space to develop – while transitioning to a lower carbon- and climate-resilient economy and society.

It is in our national interest to consider our developmental requirements and our obligation to reduce poverty, unemployment and inequality while not impeding economic development. This is why at COP21 we will push for an agreement that is fair, effective and ambitious – and strengthens a multilateral response to the global climate change challenge.

Commitments under the Paris agreement will be nationally determined and in accordance with the convention principles of common but differentiated responsibilities and capabilities.

Countries like ours, with a host of developmental challenges and priorities, require the means to be able to significantly reduce emissions and adapt to an ever-changing climate.

It is assumed that the Paris agreement will provide the mechanisms and tools to enhance international and regional co-operation on mitigation and adaptation. The success of Paris ultimately rests on a recognition that climate change is a global problem requiring a global solution.

Edna Molewa is minister of environmental affairs. Follow her on Twitter: @BEMolewa

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