SA one of two sub-Saharan Africa countries pursuing new coal projects - report

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Global trends show countries are reducing the pipeline of new coal plant projects.
Global trends show countries are reducing the pipeline of new coal plant projects.
  • Globally the pipeline for coal power plants has reduced by more than three-quarters or 76% since the signing of 2015 Paris Agreement.
  • In sub-Saharan Africa, the pipeline has nearly halved; however, South Africa is one of two countries in the region still pursuing the construction of new coal plants.
  • Scrapping the planned coal power projects could give South Africa access to international finance to decommission existing coal plants and transition to renewable energy.

The sub-Saharan African region has nearly halved (47%) its pipeline of coal power plants since the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015, but South Africa is one of two countries in the region still pursuing the construction of new plants.

A research report by climate change think tank E3G, released on Tuesday, highlights that globally proposed new coal power has declined by more than three-quarters or 76% since 2015.  

Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 5% or about 15 000 MW of the global new coal projects. Particularly, South Africa's Integrated Resources Plan of 2019 makes provision for 1 500 MW of new coal projects. This, while seven countries on the rest of the African continent - which includes Zambia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea, Ghana and Namibia - decided to scrap new coal projects.

"… South Africa risks becoming an outlier in the global community if it pushes ahead with plans to develop new coal-fired power plants," the report read.

According to the report, China is the main funder of coal projects in Africa. Chinese financial institutions are involved in 13 projects of 11 400 MW in eight countries, in the region. That is 76% of the total pipeline in the region.

"Just 13 countries in the region are still considering coal, and only South Africa and Zimbabwe are currently constructing new plants," the report read.

The report suggests that if South Africa done away with plans to build new coal plants, it would be able to access international finance needed to decommission its existing coal fleet and support the transition to renewable energy.

Currently, South Africa accounts for 95% of Africa's coal operations. Reliance on coal has also contributed to Eskom's financial challenges - this due to ballooning costs of new coal-fired plants Medupi and Kusile - and operational challenges as a result of unreliable power plants contributing to load shedding.

"The two [Medupi and Kusile] 4.8 GW [4 800 MW] plants are a central driver in Eskom’s financial crisis, with massive time and cost overruns and corruption associated with the plants. Major design and construction defects are also causing operational challenges," the report read.

Eskom in turn is pursuing a target of net zero emissions by 2050. It has also proposed a Just Energy Transition Finance Facility to source funding that would speed up the transition from coal to cleaner energy sources, Fin24 previously reported.

Reducing new coal-fired power plants can contribute to the Paris Agreement goal on keeping global temperatures from rising beyond 1.5 degrees celsius, according to the report. Global warming is a major contributor to climate change - and extreme weather events which is now impacting all regions in the world.

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