Coal provides more than 75% of South Africa’s energy supply, but in the wake of global warming, there is increasing pressure to replace it. Protests were witnessed across the country last week and now the proposed Chinese-backed coal power plant could be scrapped.
This is what keeps the lights and industries running.
But South Africa’s coal power sector is facing increasing pressure at home and abroad to end its use of coal for its own good.
Frustrated by regular blackouts and the effects of pollution, citizens of the mineral-rich country rallied last week to demand cleaner, more reliable and affordable alternatives.
Urika Paes was also among the protesters in Soweto.
“Electricity has always been a problem in our community. So, the members of the community went ahead and fought for the power. But when electricity came, it came at a very high cost. We know that solar power is a better solution and it will be cheaper too.”
South Africa is one of the world’s top 15 largest emitters of carbon dioxide. Its dependence on coal stems from the vast amount of resource being underground.
This week, however, South Africa’s government told the United Nations it was setting more ambitious climate targets.
While environmentalists welcome the commitment, they say the change in the energy sector is not happening fast enough.
Nicole Loser is an attorney with the Center for Environmental Rights.
“We have to drastically reduce our emissions and reduce our dependence on coal by about 80% in the next 10 years, in less than 10 years. We don’t see those changes happening fast enough. We also know that we need to essentially double our renewable energy to build our plants – that’s not even happening,” said Loser.
As the rest of the world races to tackle climate change, analysts say pressure from trade and foreign governments could force a rapid green transition in South Africa.
Chris Yeland is an energy analyst with EE Business Intelligence.
“If we do not reduce our dependence on coal, we will be punished by our trading partners who will set up cross-border tariffs. And ultimately, South Africa depends on trade with the rest of the world,” he said.
China announced last week that it would no longer fund foreign coal projects. This means a Chinese-backed coal project to power a new industrial complex in South Africa’s northern province of Limpopo may not materialize.
Analysts such as Chris Yeland say China’s decision will have long-term repercussions.
“China was probably seen as the last outpost of finance that could be available for new coal. And there’s no one else to lift the ball on how to finance this new coal-fired power. So, I think the days of new coal in South Africa are over,” he said.
The prospect of canceling coal is a major victory for protesters who want to see South Africa embrace renewable energy in a big way.