Mantashe ordered to release records on how 1 500MW of coal ended up in SA's energy plan

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A high court recently ruled that the poor air quality in the Highveld Priority Area in Mpumalanga and parts of Gauteng violates constitutional rights.
A high court recently ruled that the poor air quality in the Highveld Priority Area in Mpumalanga and parts of Gauteng violates constitutional rights.
Richard Du Toit/Gallo Images
  • Minister Gwede Mantashe has to release records explaining the reasoning for including new coal in the 2019 Integrated Resources Plan, a court ruled.
  • The youth-led case was lodged in 2021 and seeks to have government abandon plans for new coal as it goes against climate commitments.
  • Accessing the records is expected to bolster their case against government.
  • For climate change news and analysis, go to News24 Climate Future.

Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe has to release records that explain why government opted to include plans for new coal in the country's Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), a high court has ruled.

The North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria delivered the ruling on 9 December. It forms part of a case lodged against government in November 2021 by three civil society organisations - African Climate Alliance (ACA), the Vukani Environmental Justice Movement in Action (VEM) and groundWork. They are represented by the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER).

They want the government to abandon plans for 1 500MW of new coal in the country's energy mix – as outlined in the IRP and the subsequent 2020 ministerial determination for new coal.

Mantashe had not provided the documents the applicants originally sought for their case, and they felt they had to launch a new application to have them released.

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The required documents include meeting minutes, memoranda, electronic and physical correspondence and recordings related to government's deliberations to include new coal in the 2019 IRP. The applicants also want records pertaining to the minister's consideration of public comments and submissions for the IRP, as well as modelling and datasets used to prepare the plan, and details on coal power technologies considered.

They also want access to any assessments on climate change and environmental impacts related to the procurement of the new coal capacity.

The aim of accessing the documents is to derive a better understanding of what informed the minister's decision to develop new coal power, explained Michelle Sithole, an attorney from the CER.

"The applicants will then have an opportunity to supplement their court papers in the constitutional challenge and review of the plans to develop new coal power," Sithole said.

Acting judge Reinard Michau found in the applicants' favour. He explained that the documents sought by the applicants may "shed light on the reviewability of the IRP 2019".

"For that reason, I would be inclined to make an order that those documents be provided," he added.

The court is also of the view that the documents may be relevant to the decisions the applicants want to set aside – that being the decision to include new coal capacity in the 2019 IRP and the 2020 ministerial determination.

Mantashe has until 28 February 2023 to release the documents.

Failure to do this means the applicants will be able to return to court, and they will be able to strike out government's opposition to the case, the CER explained in a statement. Government was also ordered to pay costs for the application.

READ | Mantashe, Shell allowed to challenge blocked Wild Coast seismic survey at SCA

"The fact that the court provided clarity and compelled government to release information sends a strong message that the youth of South Africa's right to transparency and information that affects their future is essential," said Sibusiso Mazomba from the ACA.

The youth-led case has raised concerns that the inclusion of coal goes against the country's climate commitments.

"We are no longer talking about signs of climate change – we are already experiencing the effects of climate change in our everyday lives – and yet government seems to love coal while failing to recognise the impacts of climate change," VEM secretary-general Ronald Mhlakaza said previously.

"The burning of coal is the biggest contributor to global climate change, in addition to unacceptable health impacts caused by air and water pollution," ACA youth coordinator Gabriel Klaasen said in November, ahead of the hearing of the matter.

Government's current plans to build 1 500MW of new coal-fired power in South Africa would have major implications for the people of South Africa – contributing to increased electricity costs, harmful health impacts and irreversible climate impacts. Records and processes that informed these decisions are therefore of the utmost public importance.
- Gabriel Klaasen, ACA

The CER pointed out that apart from coal power causing pollution and worsening climate change - it is cheaper and quicker for Eskom to rely on renewable energy resources from wind and solar, as opposed to coal.

The Department of Mineral Resources and Energy is yet to respond to News24's request for comment.

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