To enjoy the full Mail & Guardian online experience: please upgrade your browser
10 Mar 2017 00:00
A satellite image of Ocober 2014 heat radiating Pacific Ocean; blue cloud cover. (Nasa)
In a ruling this week, the high court has forced the government to account for climate change impacts in its planning. This comes after the environment department gave a coal-fired power station permission to be built, even though it only had a single paragraph to consider how the plant would contribute to climate change.
That impact would be profound, with the plant accounting for 4% of the country’s total emissions by the 2050s.
Signing off on this project is at odds with the imperative for all countries to lower their carbon emissions.
South Africans are already, per capita, the 12th-highest emitters of carbon in the world.
But the need to do something about this is not translating into functional policy. Big business – with its long history of externalising its pollution and making the poorest pay through diseases such as asthma – and other government departments have consistently blocked climate change legislation and a carbon tax. They are so successful at this that the environment department cannot even get factories to tell it how much carbon they emit.
This means that, even though South Africa says the right things, it is doing very little beyond writing policy papers. This has left people both inside and outside government frustrated that the climate change crisis is being ignored.
In this particular case, it meant the environment department signed off on a coal-fired plant because the energy department – vested with more political power – had advocated for its construction. It therefore fell to civil society group Earthlife Africa to appeal that decision, and go to court to argue the case. The court’s ruling – that legislation “overwhelmingly” supports the need for climate change impacts to be properly considered before a project can go ahead – sets a precedent.
Now, the government has to consider climate change in its thinking. That could force policy to move one step closer to reality.
Read more from Editorial
Create Account | Lost Your Password?