JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – National Planning Commission (NPC) commissioner Tasneem Essop has highlighted a growing global movement against the continued use of coal as a source of energy, telling a panel discussion on Monday that South Africa’s coal-fired power station build programme and continued reliance on fossil fuels was, to some extent, the result of the entrenchment of the interest of large mineral resources firms in government.
“The introduction of democracy [in 1994] was not the end of entrenched interests of those that control the mineral resources and we [still] don’t know how to structure our economy in a way that we can evolve away from a dependence [on coal],” she commented during an energy forum in Johannesburg organised by policy think tank Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and the South African Civil Society Information Service.
This argument was reiterated by international environmental organisation 350.org regional team leader Ferrial Adam, who averred that South Africa’s official energy agenda remained informed by a “politically and economically powerful” mineral industry.
“Government is so close to the mining sector and to those in the fossil fuel sector, [and] this influences policy,” she told delegates.
Essop, who was also the head of the World Wide Fund for Nature-South Africa’s low carbon frameworks unit, further acknowledged contradictions in the NPC’s energy plan for South Africa, which supported investment in coal-fired energy but called also for a transition away from carbon fuels.
“The plan does have contradictory elements, but when it was adopted in 2011 things were different…and there is now no future for coal. Hopefully the new [NPC commissioners] will take up these issues again and see that a coal future is meaningless,” she asserted.
According to Essop, South Africa’s current energy policy was misguidedly focused on how best to add immediate capacity to the grid rather than considering the longer-term climate change and environmental impacts of a coal-reliant South Africa.
Noting that there was “a bit of movement” from government in terms of the promotion of renewable energy through the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme, she argued that this was not at sufficient scale.
“I’m certain that a crisis is one of the best ways to catalyst short-termism; we’re seeing reaction by the government and public for a solution, [but] we don’t care how [we arrive at the solution], we just want load-shedding to stop,” Essop said.
She further believed that South Africa lagged a global trend that saw movement away from the use of fossil fuels as a long-term energy source and a divestment by companies of their coal assets.
South African civil society also remained largely unengaged on this issue and did not adequately lobby government towards a more renewable energy-focused policy, she added.
“Civil society needs to do something in this space. When looking at the [global] trends related to coal, there are more and more financial institutions that have signalled they will no longer invest in coal, so why are we not seeing this trend reflected back home?” she posed.