Old King Coal is not such a happy old soul after Eskom con …

Emissions increase from Eskom Holdings cooling towers. (Photo: Waldo Swiegers / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The soot-stained South African national power company has signaled its intention to quickly move away from its primary reliance on coal as part of an ambitious decarbonization strategy known as the Just Energy Transaction plan. .

Eskom, the single largest source of greenhouse gas pollution in Africa, confirmed it was in talks with multilateral banks and development finance agencies to fund a major shift to “energy” options. cleaner ”and the early shutdown of several coal-fired power plants. .

South Africa’s industrial economy was built on coal, and the country’s dependence on this cheap fuel took root in the 1970s with massive investments in infrastructure in many areas. new coal mines, coal-fired power stations, plants for converting coal into liquid fuel and a massive increase in coal exports. However, that could finally change with the news that Eskom is developing a Just Energy Transaction Plan (JET) to move the country away from its unenviable status as one of the most carbon-intensive nations in the world.

The power company responded on Thursday to reports that it was offering a $ 10 billion plan to global lenders such as the World Bank and the African Development Bank, which would see Eskom shutting down the vast majority of its coal-fired power plants in ‘by 2050 and adopt renewable energy.

Mandy Rambharos, managing director of Eskom’s Just Energy Transition office, said in an interview with Reuters: “It’s a lot of money, so what we’re putting on the table is to say to donors: South Africa can offer you the greatest point source of carbon emission reductions in the world.

Rambharos also indicated his intention to align some of the funding ahead of the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow in November and said Eskom was already considering “repowering” its Komati coal plant using solar and battery storage. and could present this project to COP26 to show that it was serious about reducing emissions.

Photo: Tony Carnie

In response to requests from Our planet on fire, Eskom confirmed that the utility is “currently in discussions with various lenders and foreign governments to confirm their interest and appetite for different cleaner energy projects” and that funding could come from a variety of sources, including funding institutions. development and multilateral banks.

South Africa is the 12th largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, with the 38th highest number of emissions per capita (higher than those of China and India, and well above global average), said Robyn Hugo, director of climate change engagement at shareholding organization Just Share.

“At more than double the world average, ours is the most carbon-intensive G20 economy, with the greatest dependence on coal,” she said, noting that Eskom and Sasol were the two most major emitters of greenhouse gases in Africa and that Sasol’s emission plans were “desperately insufficient”.

“As the climate agenda intensifies, our carbon-intensive economy poses a significant risk to South Africa’s competitiveness, trade and exports,” and this would be compounded by a failure to cut sky-high emissions of the country internationally.

“It is obvious that Eskom needs to decarbonize, and do so in a way that ensures that its workers and coal communities are not in a worse situation, and that energy security is not affected.

“What is also clear is that any plan that allows Eskom’s extremely harmful air pollution to continue – at its current lethal levels – in the meantime, will be strongly opposed by environmental justice organizations and civilians. communities affected by coal. “

The United Nations scientific advisory group, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has stressed that humanity has a rapidly shrinking window for action to limit the rise in global temperature and avoid the worst effects of climate change. This would require a drastic 45% reduction in global emissions by 2030 from 2010 levels, and net global CO2 emissions by 2050.

In South Africa, the carbon-intensive electricity sector alone accounts for around 42% of South Africa’s emissions, mainly from Eskom.

Assmang Manganese Plant at Cato Ridge. Photo: Tony Carnie

But although the plan for the rapid transition to lower emissions has been widely welcomed by several civil society groups, significant concerns remain about the ramifications for reliable power supply amid Eskom’s continued blackouts; securing employment or alternative employment for thousands of coal workers, and the broader financial and social costs of borrowing money from multilateral lending agencies with conditions.

Along with the focus on clean energy alternatives such as solar and wind power, Eskom’s JET transition plan also appears to include plans for a “temporary” transition to new gas-fired power generation.

Matthew Parks, parliamentary coordinator of the national labor federation Cosatu, insisted that Eskom’s decarb plan could not result in “any layoffs” among the company’s approximately 44,000 employees.

Eskom is also expected to become a “direct” supplier of renewable energy.

“Renewable energy must not become a monopoly for the private sector alone,” Parks said, stressing the need to manufacture renewable energy components and infrastructure (including wind turbines and solar panels) in South Africa.

“If South Africa was capable of making nuclear bombs, there is no reason why we could not also manufacture wind turbines and advanced solar power technology. With nearly 40% of our workforce unemployed, why leave the great job creation opportunities in this sector to countries like China or India? There is nothing we cannot do.

As the mining sector moved more and more towards the automation of deeper mines, there were also great opportunities to retrain and re-employ former miners in a local renewable energy industry, which should also include projects. of energy production owned by workers and the community.

Parks has advocated strongly for green energy manufacturing projects to be implanted in areas, such as Mpumalanga, which are heavily dependent on coal-related jobs.

“We should not wait for lending banks to set conditions. We have to set our own conditions. Many green energy finance initiatives may sound attractive – but are not necessarily favorable to workers’ interests, so we need to be careful. “

Hugo from Just Share also highlighted the potential for a “massive post-Covid green stimulus, based on accelerated investments in clean energy, locating value chains and addressing chronic power shortages in South Africa” .

Eskom said: “A crucial part of our strategy is the ‘right’ element. We have conducted socio-economic impact studies related to the closure of coal plants and will continue to do so by plant.

“Staff will continue to be employed in Eskom projects. Resupplying and reallocating our factories will go a long way in ensuring this. Stimulating job creation through industrialization and local manufacturing linked to our decarbonisation plan is a priority.

Glen Tyler-Davies of the climate justice activist group 350Africa.org, who developed a political position on President Cyril Ramaphosa’s ‘Just Transition Transaction’, said: “We are excited about how this deal could accelerate the ambitious change required to shift our electricity system to clean, renewable energy.

But 350Africa.org feared there was not enough transparency about what this deal would fund and how it would be funded.

“Various sources of funding have been mentioned in connection with this agreement. We would like to see the companies and governments responsible for climate change pay off their climate debt by funding these kinds of decarbonization steps.

“It has the potential to be one of the biggest climate deals in the world and, as such, should not come with onerous conditionalities, but harness the climate finance promised by the rich world.

“This proposal has been under discussion for several years now, so we expect an announcement on it soon – hopefully before COP26. If this is to have the desired impact on tackling climate change, it must happen soon. “

Eight Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs) have committed $ 66 billion for climate finance in 2020, according to a joint report released this week by the African Development Bank.

Of that amount, 58% – or $ 38 billion – went to low- and middle-income economies.

“Accelerating the transition to low-carbon, climate-resilient economies through climate finance is a key part of MDB efforts to align their activities with the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement to keep global warming in good shape. below 2 ° C, with efforts to limit it to 1.5 ° C, along climate-resilient development pathways. DM / OBP

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