South Africa will never reach its greenhouse gas emissions targets if its citizens do not change their attitude towards energy use, says the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism's air quality management & climate change chief director Peter Lukey.
Speaking to Engineering News about government's long-term mitigation scenario (LTMS) for lowering South Africa's greenhouse gas emissions, Lukey says the only way to meet a ‘required by science' target is to combine new technologies with a change in peoples' behaviour.
Cabinet's call to decarbonise South Africa's economy is easily proposed, says Lukey, however it requires dramatic changes in the way the country operates.
"If people do not reconsider their energy usage, any new technologies will not be fully effective at lowering carbon emissions. This requires a significant change in culture, such as an SUV no longer being considered a symbol of success and the smallest electric vehicle holding that accolade instead," says Lukey.
He offers South Africa's poor response to its power crisis as an example of the country's lack of commitment to becoming more energy efficient and aware of its effect on climate change. Government's request for a 15% reduction in energy use has been met with a voluntary 1,5% to 3 % reduction.
Some companies have changed their business processes to decrease their energy use, however, he says this is very much the exception.
He adds that the country needs to be more positive about the few efforts it has made to reduce its GHG emissions levels.
"The Gautrain is widely criticised as transport for the rich and not for the poor. The reality is that the rich contribute to emissions through private transport. Encourage them to leave their cars and move into a quality public transport that provides less stress and makes their lives better. It is unlikely that the minibus taxi will catch on as the mode of transport for all South Africans," says Lukey.
Government's Long-term Mitigation Scenario
The LTMS is a multistakeholder research process that examines GHG emission reduction scenarios for South Africa, says Lukey.
The research team responsible for the scenario included government departments, industry, national government organisations and academic institutions.
The LTMS offers scenarios that examine what is possible with current technology, irrespective of the cost or environmental consequence, which ensures that the scenarios tell South Africa what it is able to do, rather than what it should do.
It is a theoretical exercise based on the science, research and methodologies supported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The LTMS research process began by identifying two scenarios for South Africa's GHG emissions.
The first GHG scenario that was modelled was one in which South Africa experiences economic growth without constraints, which is in line with government's policies, but carries no carbon constraints, such as global pressure for GHG emissions reductions.
This scenario could see a fourfold increase in South Africa's carbon emissions by 2050, says Lukey.
The LTMS scenario building team deemed this an unacceptable trajectory for South Africa's GHG emissions and the scenario was labelled as a worst case scenario.
The team then examined the reductions required by science to stabilise the earth's temperature increase at below 2º C.
However, a move from an unacceptable GHG emissions trajectory to one required by science is very ambitious, especially with South Africa's coal-based electricity supply, says Lukey.
The LTMS research process documented all intervention technologies that are currently available, such as renewable and nuclear energy, more fuel-efficient vehicles and subsidies for solar water heating systems and biofuels initiatives.
The potential of each intervention to reduce carbon emissions was determined along with the cost of doing so.
Mitigation strategies were identified that could reduce South Africa's carbon emissions by a substantial amount at a low financial cost as well as others that offer a small emissions reduction at a high cost.
However, it also identified interventions which would cost nothing, or where money could actually be saved if these interventions are implemented.
This is owing to South Africa's cheap electricity rate, which is one of the lowest in the world, a "privilege which its citizens have abused to become one of the most energy inefficient nations in the world", says Lukey.
A great deal of South Africa's industries are energy inefficient and the study found this to be one significant area in which companies could reduce their carbon emissions at a profit.
The study found that these no-cost or cost saving interventions have the potential to lower South Africa's carbon emissions by 33%, relative to the completely unacceptable trajectory identified earlier.
The study found that introducing government regulation into this group of interventions has the potential to lower South Africa's carbon emissions by 50%, relative to the completely unacceptable trajectory.
A Carbon Tax Regime
A tax on carbon emissions is seen as the easiest way of putting a price on carbon because tax is understood, it is transparent and can charge a fixed amount that can be changed as the tax system evolves.
However, debate exists around the proposed structure of the tax and how it should be administered.
The carbon emissions tax system that has been modelled in the LTMS is one that would cause a decline in carbon emissions recommended by science, explains Lukey
An example system is one in which an initial carbon tax that is relatively low at R100 a ton of carbon is charged, to encourage a decrease in the rate of increase of carbon emissions. The tax would then escalate to R250 a ton to encourage a plateau or levelling-out in emissions. A dramatic increase to R750 a ton would cause a decline in emissions.
This type of system showed the biggest potential for GHG mitigation. A price incentive is very powerful, says Lukey.
The 2c levy on every kilowatt hour of electricity generated from non-renewable resources announced by the Finance Minister Trevor Manuel in November is essentially a carbon tax of about R20/t, says Lukey, which is a small fraction of what the LTMS aims to achieve.
As the tax on GHG producing technologies increases, technologies that were not financially viable become viable when compared with the tax. If electricity from coal fired stations is taxed, its price increases and the price of wind energy becomes cheaper, making renewable energy financially viable.
The study found that tax on carbon emissions has the potential to lower South Africa's carbon emissions by 75%, relative to the completely unacceptable trajectory, and it requires very little government intervention, other than administering the tax.
He says that the initial response from some CEOs of companies responsible for significant GHG emissions was for government to issue a carbon tax.
"They understand tax, it is transparent and it will be administered by an efficient department [SARS]. Industry leaders indicated to us that they like the idea," says Lukey.
However, industry did have some requests of its own, specifically a reduction in income tax if a carbon tax system is put in place. South African industry would like the opportunity to reduce its tax burden while still making profits, says Lukey.
However, taxes are not as popular as incentives, because incentives pay money to encourage action, he comments.
While he agrees that incentives are a valid financial instrument to lower carbon emissions, not every market mechanism is suitable as an incentive. He says there are ways of incentivising the carbon tax system, without actually offering money to organisations to lower their carbon emissions.
Subsidies, like the solar water heating subsidies offered by Eskom where the state-owned power utility pays a portion of the purchase price of a solar water heater, are useful direct incentives.
The LTMS also examined the removal of any tariffs on clean or renewable energy technologies, which would make clean technologies cheaper. Creating the opportunity for a company to save money is a more transparent incentive compared with actually giving the company money, says Lukey.
Government's plans for the coming year
Cabinet has said that South Africa must de-carbonise its economy, which is a positive indication of its commitment to lowering the country's carbon emissions and is also a stronger statement than many governments around the world have made.
"Such a statement shows that despite Africa only being responsible for 3% of global GHG emissions, South Africa acknowledges its responsibility for an estimated 50% of that 3% and that the country has a moral responsibility as a developing African state to cut its GHG emissions," says Lukey.
A policy development process will be launched at a climate change summit to be held from March 3 to 6, this year.
National government departments, provincial departments, key energy stakeholders like Eskom and Sasol and other energy intensive user groups will meet to discuss and formulate a framework for South Africa's climate change response in all sectors.
Sectors such as agriculture, minerals and energy, housing and departments involved in infrastructure development will begin working on policy specific to their fields, says Lukey.
Two GHG inventories have been compiled for South Africa, for 1990 and 1994. An inventory for 2000 will be presented at the March summit. South Africa's economy has grown substantially in this period and Lukey says it is likely that our GHG emissions will have grown similarly owing to industrial and transport emissions as well as electricity generation, all of which he says have increased drastically.
The Climate Change Negotiations in Copenhagen
Lukey says the outcome of the March summit will inform South Africa's negotiating position for Copenhagen.
"There must be agreement around a post-2012 mitigation regime. South Africa is willing to make measurable, verifiable and reportable GHG emissions reductions that still allow us the opportunity to develop and we would like commitments from developed countries, the historical emission producers, to make greater cuts," says Lukey.
Negotiators must be optimistic that there is a solution, especially since targets from last year will no longer be appropriate at Copenhagen as the time frames for emissions reduction have been brought forward owing to a perception of greater urgency. Climate change research indicates that emissions are escalating, says Lukey.