The electricity crisis and climate change – poor timing

15 May 2008

I recently welcomed the completion of government’s Long Term Mitigation Scenarios (LTMS) on Climate Change. The LTMS document outlines the various policy options that may be necessary in order for this country to play its role in contributing to the stabilisation of the world’s climate.

I wonder whether Eskom is going to pay any attention to this document at all. Building new coal-fired power stations without the best technology, nor with the ability for future “carbon capture and storage“, does not align it with the likely responses needed for the mitigation of climate change.

I guess a couple of readers of this blog will just say, “So what! Eskom must keep the lights on.” True, but let us at least acknowledge that this electricity crisis and the rushed development plans that will flow out of it are going to make our response to climate change more difficult.

The LTMS makes for dramatic reading, as the scale of the required response suggests that this will be one of the most challenging adjustment processes this country will ever face. If we continue on the current growth path without significantly improving carbon productivity, our emissions will be almost four times higher than they are today, a scenario which places us in the area of dangerous climate change.

The debate around climate change is moving forward rapidly and South Africa cannot be left behind. The contestation around the science is largely over. It is now time for implementation. The LTMS needs as a matter of urgency to be integrated into government decision-making, most notably in the fields of energy, transport and trade and industry. I am told by government officials that Cabinet said as far back as last December that government planning needs to be consistent with the LTMS. Eskom, are you listening?

The private sector will need to accept that mitigation does not have to be viewed as a cost to business, as there are numerous opportunities for greater efficiencies, improved technologies, and new markets for goods and services.

The world has a small window of opportunity in which to respond to climate change. While it is unlikely that developing countries such as South Africa will have fixed emission reduction targets in a post-2012 climate framework, the developed world is going to expect at least some mitigation action from us. South Africa cannot deny that it has one of the highest figures for carbon emissions per capita in the world. We therefore have a responsibility to act.

Government now knows what needs to be done. The longer government and the private sector delay action, the more costly and difficult the response measures will become.

I suspect that the Minister of Environmental Affairs will formally launch the LTMS during his budget speech in Parliament on 20 May. Hopefully it will create much debate. And hopefully it will formally put us on a path of less coal-fired power stations, greater diversification, and far more renewables.


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