By Jaco Du Toit, Programme and Policy Coordinator, WWF Global Climate and Energy Initiative
South Africa is a country that has shown how much change can be achieved in just two decades. We’ve only had 20 years of democracy, and yet we’ve fundamentally changed the way our society works. And I think the climate story should be the same.
Our next big challenge is the transition to a just, low-carbon economy. For a developing country that faces many challenges, South Africa has made an admirable start in its efforts to play its part in the global fight against climate change.
SOUTH AFRICA HAS COMMITTED TO REDUCING EMISSIONS 34% BELOW ‘BUSINESS AS USUAL’ LEVELS BY 2020.
At the UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen in 2009, South Africa’s president committed to reducing emission 34% below ‘business as usual’ levels by 2020, and 42% by 2025. But there is much more that can be done, especially with support from the international community.
Examples of what South Africa is doing (and could do more of) include:
• Integrated public transit systems (including rapid bus and modern rail systems) are being rolled out in many of our cities. These systems reduce greenhouse gas emissions while also giving people on the fringes of our cities access to better economic opportunities, and reducing commuting times and costs.
A key challenge now is to move freight transport from the roads back onto the railways, as this would save further emissions, as well as reducing the heavy social costs from traffic accidents, congestion, road maintenance etc.
• On the energy front, South Africa has made big changes over the last three years with a rollout of renewable energies under a bidding process.
We’re well on-track to delivering 3.7 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity, as part of the effort to produce 42% of all our new electricity capacity from renewable sources by 2030. This will mean 13% of electricity will be provided by renewables by 2030.
But we need to do more. The current allotment for renewable energy procurement is almost fully allocated. Now we need a long-term plan that will give manufacturers the assurance they need to set up manufacturing facilities in our country, which would create the jobs we need to power our economy.
South Africa’s energy mix still holds carbon contradictions. South Africa is constructing two of the largest new coal-fired power stations in the world (Medupi and Kusile).
Since the lifetime of a coal power station can be more than 40 years, it’s imperative that these are the last ones that get constructed in South Africa. All further energy demand should be met through expanding the renewable energy generation capacity and energy efficiency drives.
AN IMPORTANT STEP ON THE ROAD TO PHASING OUT FOSSIL FUELS IS THE PLANNED ROLLOUT OF A CARBON TAX IN 2015.
An important step on the road to phasing out fossil fuels is the planned rollout of a carbon tax, due to be implemented from 2015. This is a fundamental part of driving the economy in a low-carbon direction and creating an economic environment that encourages energy efficiency and low-carbon business.
But we need to recognize the developmental challenges we face, and that the impacts of such a tax can’t be borne by the poor in our country. It has to be allocated correctly, without allowing large long-term exemptions for heavy-emitting industries and organizations.
South Africa has always been a country that has punched above its weight politically in international negotiations. Domestically the long walk to climate freedom has started, but we are going to need the rest of the world to walk with us and to support us every step of the way.