South Africa faces a myriad of challenges; an increasing and farcical rate of crime, political upheavals and tension in lieu of the forthcoming elections as well as the looming deadline and expectations of playing host to the FIFA 2010 soccer world cup with an expected 3 million visitors. In amongst these, jostling for position are the fundaments South Africa must face – achieving racial equality, sustainable development and tackling climate change.
The climate commitments implemented by Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, Marthinus van Schalkwyk to “stabilize” emissions by 2020 to 2025, “with absolute reductions in emission to begin ten years after growth was halted” will be tested this week in the National Climate Summit and Science Conference, being hosted in Midrand, close to South Africa’s largest cities Johannesburg between the 3rd and 6th of March. Van Schalkwyk will be under pressure to ensure the results of the Long-Term Mitigation Scenario (LTMS) study and stated emission reductions obligations are translated into strategic options. Expectations will focus on galvanising a clearer climate policy directive over the three day conference, in which key scientists and government officials will gather to discuss South Africa’ position with regard to Climate Change.
Top priority for climate policy needs to be a refocus, and a move away from, South Africa’s historical consumption of cheap coal for electricity. Options such as Carbon Capture and Storage technology need to be discussed at the National Conference as real and tangible options for future investment by Eskom, the national electricity service provider. South Africa’s near total dependence on the large domestic coal reserves, as the primary energy resource are principally responsible for high per capita greenhouse emission, among the top five highest within developing countries
The conference proceedings need focus on renewable energy especially in line with the renewable energy white paper which sets a target of 10000GWh as a contribution to total energy consumption by 2013. The National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) has promoted feed in tariffs, set for a minimum of 15 years, that would be pegged at a level that would allow investors to recover the cost of generation, plus get a fair return on their investment. These feed in tariffs are a contentious point for discussion as it is felt at present they are a major economic disincentive for renewable investment despite ample natural resources for hydro, wind and potential tidal and wave power. Nersa’s suggestion of Eskom Distribution as the renewable energy purchasing agency have also been hotly contested, especially in light of Eskom’s gross failings in electrical production and supply in the last 18 months.
If anything positive can come out of the National Summit this week , it will be for the scientists to educate the politicians on the grave consequences climate change will have for the country and the continent, and the integral role South Africa’s business and political leaders must play in implementing effective climate policy. However discussions are likely to stumble and falter with the mention of costs, for example the issue over compliance with Euro emission standards. South Africa is at level 2 and needs to more to Euro 4 by 2012, however the R40 billion estimated costs are protracting decision making and diverting from the real time issue of climate change.
The summit proceedings need to also effectively bring to the table other options for South Africa’s future climate policy for example the potential for a carbon tax and the need to implement stringent energy efficiency measures. However Climate policy discussions in South Africa are saddled under a nervous political regime which is set for a changeable year. Therefore a policy approach that is able to balance increasing demands for energy and the pressing need for sustainable development and equity, especially in relation to climate change mitigation will remain the core challenge for van Schalkwyk and the government.