Ramaphosa says SA will be part of just transition from coal to low-carbon energy

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Extinction Rebellion activists hold a sign during a protest, as the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) takes place, in Glasgow, Scotland. Photo: Reuters/Hannah McKay
Extinction Rebellion activists hold a sign during a protest, as the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) takes place, in Glasgow, Scotland. Photo: Reuters/Hannah McKay


Coal-fired power stations appear to be at the top of South Africa’s list of high-emission fossil fuels that the country plans to do away with in a bid to save the world from the climate crisis.

On Thursday, President Cyril Ramaphosa gave a virtual address in the energy session at COP26, which is currently under way in Glasgow, Scotland. In it, he emphasised South Africa’s plans to gradually consign coal, which is among one of the world’s biggest polluters, to history.

Thursday was themed “energy day” at COP26, where a number of states, including G7 member states, agreed to decarbonise their coal power systems by 2030. Other developed countries agreed to end international coal financing this year – South Korea and China being the latest to join this year.

READ: World leaders under pressure at COP26 to put their previous commitments and pledges into action

Meanwhile, Ramaphosa made it clear that the success of the country’s ambitious plan to decarbonise its energy sector and make the just transition to a low-carbon economy was going to depend highly on financial support by richer countries.

Ramaphosa said this following Tuesday’s announcement of a partnership with Germany, France, the UK, the US and the European Union, through which the partner countries committed to mobilising mobilise R131 billion to help South Africa’s just transition to a low-carbon and climate-resilient economy.

READ: SA scores R131 billion in major boost to move from coal

He explained why the move from coal was necessary for the country’s just transition:

There is no longer any doubt that climate change presents a critical and urgent threat to humanity. This is so because it will have devastating consequences for our economies and societies if we do not take action now.

The president went on to emphasise the need to move away from dependence on coal.

“Bold action must start with accelerated decarbonisation of our energy systems. This involves harnessing new technologies to reduce our dependence on high-emission fossil fuels, including unabated coal power,” he said.

“It requires that we move to more sustainable and cost-effective energy sources. While the energy transition is necessary for reducing global carbon emissions, this transition must also be fair and just.”

He said:

For many developing economies this requires massive investment in alternative energy sources and other infrastructure.

Ramaphosa said the just transition “requires substantial support for workers and communities throughout the coal value chain who stand to lose their jobs, as well as their livelihoods”.

The just transition emphasises moving to a low-carbon economy without leaving anyone behind, including includes workers and communities in affected sectors such as coal.

READ: COP26 is off to a good start, with money flowing in

This means that, when the transition from coal to cleaner energy is implemented, those from the dying coal industry coal need to be skilled and readied to take on alternative jobs in the clean energy sector, among other sectors.

The South African government set this out in its nationally determined contributions, which outline the country’s plans towards emissions reduction and how it further plans to adapt to the effects of the climate crisis.

“A just transition requires finance and support from wealthier nations to enable low- and medium-income countries to protect employment and to promote development. In South Africa, we have committed to ambitious emission-reduction targets [and] achieving these targets will require the transformation of our energy system at an unprecedented speed and scale,” Ramaphosa said.

READ: SA to call on rich nations at climate meeting to do more

“This will include the decommissioning, the repowering and the repurposing of coal-fired power stations and the roll-out of renewable energy. But our ability to do so will be determined by the extent of support that we receive from developed economies.”

Opening the energy session earlier today, COP26 president Alok Sharma said the global coal-to-clean-power transition statement was being published, which he said was a “commitment to end coal investment [and] to scale up clean power”.

Sharma said there was a commitment for “just transition and to phase out coal in the 2030s by major economies and in the 2040s elsewhere.

“I do believe that the end of coal is in sight,” Sharma said.


Poloko Tau 


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