Greenhouse gases from new coal power stations will add R28bn to emission reduction bill

The Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) says the proposed Thabametsi and Khanyisa coal-fired power stations would add R28bn to South Africa’s costs of keeping greenhouse gas emissions within the country’s international climate change commitments under the Paris Agreement.

The organisation says the design of the proposed power stations would result in greenhouse gas emissions that are 60% higher than those of Eskom’s Medupi and Kusile still under construction.

South Africa has one of the highest per capita greenhouse gas emissions in the world.

Environmental lobby groups and the Department of Environment Affairs have been butting heads over the department’s environmental authorisation of the proposed new coal power stations Thabametsi and Khanyisa for years.

The power stations are to be built by the private sector under the government’s independent power producers’ programme.

The CER, Earthlife Africa and groundWork have instituted two court challenges concerning the department’s authorisation for the power stations, one of which they won and one which is still continuing.

Now the CER is reacting to the late Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa’s written response to parliamentary questions about what the proposed power stations would mean for South Africa’s climate change commitments under the Paris Agreement.

In her reply Molewa defended her department’s decision, saying South Africa’s international climate change commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions had been made “within its national circumstances and priorities” that considered both climate change and development needs.

Molewa said South Africa had stated in its commitments under the Paris Agreement that up to 2025, any move to a low carbon society had to take into account the country’s “overriding priority to address poverty, unemployment and inequality”.

South Africa’s targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions – known under the Paris Agreement as the nationally determined commitments – had been drawn up within this policy context.

Molewa said the emissions from the proposed Thabametsi and Khanyisa power stations would therefore not lead to South Africa contravening the commitments it had made.

But the CER believes the minister is missing a crucial point.

One of the CER’s attorneys, Nicole Loser, says just because the high emissions from the two proposed power stations would fit into South Africa’s plan to reduce greenhouse gases, does not mean adding these extra emissions is okay  – particularly as South Africa’s commitments under the Paris Agreement have been criticised as being “highly insufficient” to meet the global target of limiting the average global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

And the Paris Agreement requires nations to make stricter targets every five years.

“So even if the Thabametsi and Khanyisa power stations are within South Africa’s nationally determined commitments now, they are unlikely to be in line with our revised, stricter international commitments in future.

“South Africa will have to ramp up its commitments and do more every five years. So locking South Africa into high emission projects with a 30-year lifespan at least, is reckless and dangerous,” Loser said.

A study by UCT’s Energy Research Centre had found that if Thabametsi and Khanyisa were built, it would cost the country R28bn extra to keep South Africa’s emissions within its Paris Agreement commitments.

“If government were to go ahead with the coal power stations and also comply with the commitments, it would require significant costs to reduce emissions in other sectors such as transport and agriculture – unlike electricity, where cheaper and feasible low emission alternatives already exist and can be rolled out relatively quickly,” Loser said.

The proposed power stations were selected by the Department of Energy as part of its Independent Power Producers’ Programme and are part of the electricity mix in the draft Integrated Resource Plan 2018 released for public comment last month.

Thabametsi (557MW), planned to be built in Limpopo, is largely owned by Japan’s Marubeni company and KEPCO from South Korea.

The largest shareholder of Khanyisa (306MW), to built in Mpumalanga, is Saudi-owned ACWA Power.

Energy Minister Jeff Radebe said at the release of the IRP last month that the addition of new coal-powered electricity into the future energy mix would add R20bn more to the cost of electricity compared to the least-cost option based mainly on renewables.

Climate Action Tracker, produced by three independent research organisations that track countries’ action against climate change, rates South Africa’s emission reduction commitments under the Paris Agreement as “highly insufficient”.

It says on its website if all countries’ targets were within the range of South Africa’s, the average increase in global temperature would reach between 2 degrees Celsius and 3 degrees Celsius.

The Paris Agreement is to keep global warming to a maximum of 1.5 degrees Celsius.

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