Cape Town — Greenpeace Africa has criticised Minerals and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe, who at the opening of the Africa Energy Week conference in Cape Town called for “African solidarity” defended fossil fuels. Mantashe’s stance is based on the idea that developing nations are less inclined to adopt a just transition over developed ones as their economies are more dependent on investment in fossil fuels.
This comes after Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment Minister, Barbara Creecy, who attended COP26 in Glasgow, said that South Africa would not support a pledge signed by 40 nations and institutions to end coal financing by the 2030s for major economies, and the 2040s for poorer nations. “South Africa has not signed the move away from coal pledge. Our position in negotiations is that any decisions need to be made in the process of formal negotiations through the convention. And I think that we would be worried about situations where there’s an increase in tendency to set up platforms and pledges that are outside of the negotiation process. We think that it disadvantages developing countries,” Creecy said.
Creecy said despite the nation’s stance, there was an emphasis on a just transition and accessing the necessary financing to ensure that marginalised communities aren’t further disadvantaged in the move away from coal. The minister said if there were a rush to disinvest from coal, this was likely to result in stranded assets – infrastructure no longer able to earn an economic return.
This is despite an increasingly sound business case for cheaper power from renewable energy, while the cost of coal infrastructure continues to soar both in terms of facilities and the associated health costs.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called for the current climate crisis a ‘code red for humanity,’ and stressing the importance of an immediate and speedy transition away from fossil fuels. He also emphasised that the “old, carbon-burning model of development is a dead end – environmentally and economically”.
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Responding to Mantashe’s comments denying the urgency of a just transition at the African Energy Week conference, Greenpeace Africa Climate and Energy Campaigner Thandile Chinyavanhu said: “Minister Mantashe’s comments reflect the fossil fuel industry’s broader disregard of the daily realities of people living in coal impacted regions such as Mpumalanga. The fact that the Minister makes no mention of the ongoing negotiations at COP26 in Glasgow shows that the Minister, like the rest of the industry and its lobby, is out of touch. But the science is clear: we are in a climate emergency. We must take drastic action which favours people over profits. The more there is a delay in undertaking a just transition, the more people suffer unnecessarily, said Chinyavanhu.
In 2018, Greenpeace reported the air in the South African province of Mpumalanga to be the most polluted in the world. The highly detailed satellite data pointed to a cluster of twelve coal-fired power plants and South Africa’s “relatively weak” minimum emission standards as the main causes.
“The best and most immediate solution to South Africa’s problems – including load shedding and skyrocketing unemployment – is a just transition to renewable energy. It’s that simple. There is no more time for fossil fuels and South Africa can not be led by fossil fools,” Chinyavanhu said.