SA needs drastic policy changes to reach climate targets
A number of policy recommendations such as moratoriums on new coal plants have been suggested to G20 countries, including South Africa, to ensure that they reach targets on lowering carbon emissions.
Moratorium on the new coal mines, electrified public transport and stricter building laws recommended to help South Africa move from dirty economy
The “ambition calls” from global partnership, Climate Transparency, are in line with United Nations Secretary-(UN) General Antonio Guterres that the Climate Action Summit translates into key deliverables that will see the globe moving towards carbon neutrality.
South Africa falls in the top 20 countries with the highest greenhouse gas emissions. The policy changes will put additional pressure on the government to start acting on pollution otherwise it will not meet many of its international pledges on sustainability.
The UN estimates that the world needs to increase its efforts between three- and five-fold to contain climate change to the levels dictated by science – a 1.5°C rise at most – and avoid escalating climate damage already taking place around the world.
The recommendations for South Africa centre on three key pillars and for them to become a reality, the country will have to in many new technologies.
Coal makes up almost 70% of South Africa’s energy mix. A rapid shift from the fossil fuel is critical for both decarbonisation and development that meets the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDG), and South Africa’s Paris Agreement commitment on carbon emissions.
Climate Transparency says research shows that transitioning away from coal in the power sector offers the cheapest opportunity for decarbonisation in the country. Also, cheap and abundant renewable resources mean that 90% of South Africa’s electricity could be renewable by 2050.
Despite this, the country’s plan for the future of its electricity sector includes the completion of two mega coal plants – Medupi and Kusile – with additional new coal plants, and disregards air quality legislation.
The global partnership believes that if cheaper alternatives are adopted, not only will the country stand a better chance of enhancing its climate ambition, but it will improve air quality and public health.
It has called on the government to cancel the completion of units five and six of the Kusile coal power plant and place a moratorium on new and planned coal plants. Coal plants that cannot be economically retrofitted for air quality standards must be retired and the decommissioning of old coal power plants accelerated.
“A more ambitious decarbonisation pathway for South Africa would include closure of all coal plants by 2040 and have significant co-benefits, including less air pollution and water use, with higher levels of low carbon electricity investment,” the recommendations read.
“A moratorium on new coal plants and accelerated decommissioning of existing ones would mean more and sooner investment in low-carbon electricity capacity. This would need to be accompanied by an appropriate and properly resourced ‘just transition’ strategy. These two measures, coupled with a just transition strategy, would create additional jobs and address many of South Africa’s development challenges, boosting sectors that are more likely to form the core of the country’s future electricity supply.”
MASS ELECTRIFIED PUBLIC TRANSPORT IN URBAN CENTRES
Unequal access to mobility is a pressing policy issue for local municipalities in South Africa, but there is huge potential for actors to accelerate climate action by decarbonising key areas such as urban passenger transport.
Climate Transparency recommends a shift towards public modes of transport and increase electric mobility in Cape Town, Durban and Gauteng.
“As half of all transport-related emissions occur in cities, there is an urgent need for sustainable urban transport systems worldwide. This is important, not only from a climate perspective, but also socially and economically, as transport produces high levels of air pollution from fuel combustion,” says Climate Transparency.
“Furthermore, the increase in urban mobility demand cannot be met by the existing transport infrastructure heavily relying on private vehicles. Thus, several city authorities already strive to initiate a modal shift away from private vehicles towards public transport. Achieving a full decarbonisation of the transport sector relies on the electricity supply sector decarbonising in line with the Paris Agreement temperature limit.”
In South Africa, direct road transport contributed to an 8% share of national emissions in 2012, with about 50% of these stemming from passenger transport. Direct emissions are projected to almost triple by 2050 if the country does not change its policies.
It says a shift to public transport while increasing electric mobility in Cape Town, Durban, and Gauteng, could stabilise ground transport emissions at today’s levels by 2050, reducing congestion, air pollution and severe accidents. It will also result in substantial emission reductions if policies are adopted by other parts of South Africa.
STRICTER BUILDING CODES
Direct energy use in the residential building sector contributed to a share of 4% of overall emissions in 2012. Final energy consumption, including electricity has remained high: close to 17% in 2012, with an expectation of further increases, and a growing electrification trend.
While South Africa has set a goal for zero-emissions buildings by 2030 in its National Development Plan, which is currently under review, it has a long way to go to reach that target.
Climate Transparency says as outlined in the proposed Post-2015 National Energy Efficiency Strategy, further climate action could be implemented by looking at the energy performance of newly constructed buildings, the renovation of existing residential building stock to improve thermal performance, and energy efficiency improvements to appliances and lighting.
Also, a fully decarbonised electricity sector will be critical for enabling low-carbon electrification trends in residential buildings that are in line with the Paris Agreement temperature limits.
“Transition to low-emission buildings initiatives offer great synergies to achieve several social, health and economic benefits, while encouraging low emissions in the residential buildings sector,” the recommendations read.
“Further, accelerated climate action in this sector offers opportunities for job creation and local economic development linked to retrofitting and new construction of green and low-emission residential buildings. Finally, in addition to policies that aim to decrease carbon intensity of the electricity supply sector, increased action in residential buildings could further reduce GHG emissions by up to 35% below 2018 levels by 2050.” For more information on the recommendations and best practices in other countries please go to https://www.climate-transparency.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/South-Africa_Ambition_Call.pdf