By Tim Cocks
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Britain’s envoy to the U.N. Climate Change Conference plans to visit South Africa ahead of the November talks, a spokesman in Pretoria said, to discuss helping it end an over-reliance on coal that makes it one of the world’s leading carbon emitters.
South African Environment Ministry spokesman Albi Modise said discussions involving British envoy John Murton would focus on cooperation in the transition from coal to renewables ahead of the COP26.
Africa’s most industrialised nation uses coal for 90% of its power needs. That has made it the world’s 14th largest carbon dioxide emitter – pumping out 479 million tonnes equivalent in 2019 – two places above Britain, an economy eight times as big.
“The developed economies have a responsibility to fund the Just Transition to a low carbon economy and climate resilient society,” Modise said.
Eskom, the state power company and Africa’s single biggest greenhouse gas emitter, is pitching a $10 billion plan to global lenders that would see it shut the vast majority of its coal-fired plants by 2050 and embrace renewable energy.
South Africa’s government remains reluctant to give up coal altogether, which as well as supplying power also provides more than 90,000 jobs, according to the latest data from South Africa’s Minerals Council. Eskom is heavily indebted and struggles to keep the lights on, with frequent power blackouts.
Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe, who has made no secret of supporting the coal sector, has described giving it up as “economic suicide”.
But President Cyril Ramaphosa is concerned that dragging its feet on the transition to renewables – South Africa is blessed with plentiful sun and wind – could leave it shut out of global capital markets needed to harness these resources.
In July, he warned of the risks South Africa faces from a rapidly decarbonising global economy and called for international support to accelerate the transition.
A COP26 spokesman confirmed that senior UK government COP26 representatives and international partners were expected to travel to South Africa in coming weeks for talks on a just energy transition.
Clyde Mallinson, a renewable energy consultant based in Johannesburg, said donors could get greater emissions reductions per dollar spent in South Africa than almost anywhere else – because labour costs are low and power is so carbon-intensive.
“For every kilowatt hour of electricity you offset in South Africa, you get four or five times as much carbon reduction as you do in Europe,” he said.
“That’s a lot more bang for your buck.”
(Additional reporting by Elizabeth Piper in London; Editing by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo, Andrew Cawthorne and Nick Macfie)