A flesh-eating state in the making
Ten years ago, at the Copenhagen summit, South Africa made a commitment to reduce its massive carbon emissions by 42 percent by 2025. But two years later it started building two of the biggest coal-fired powered stations in the world, meaning that is has fell far short of the emission targets it set for itself. It built these stations at huge cost to the fiscus despite the lower cost options of reneweables.
It is now the 14TH biggest polluter in the world and remains in the top 3 when it comes to per capita calculations. This context and other sets of inaction is why Ramaphosa was refused a platform at the UN summit. The government has become part of the club of polluters and in doing so has lost its moral authority on the African continent, from a thought leader on climate change it has become an unashamed perpetrator. But the fact is that we also remain a victim, a climate hot spot that is highly vulnerable.
In Sweden the carbon tax is $132, in South Africa it is sate at 43 US cents. It is now to get real and unless we are able to shift it to at least $63 US dollars it will not generate nearly enough for the illusive just transition President Ramaphosa and Minister Mantashe states we as country we are committed to. In short, the present Carbon tax will not provide the necessary capital to assist a shift over renewables
We need our government to tell the truth about how climate change is creating droughts and floods in the here and now and how these will be exacerbated in the next few years. What increased temperatures in our region will mean for our rivers, soil, dams, food production and the increased health risks, that floods and droughts will become our new norm.
At present, whole chunks of the planet, particularly in Africa are on the verge of becoming wastelands, the continent is set to burn. Famine is again ravaging Zimbabwe again, grazing land that is critical for the survival of poor black farmers is being lost. In our equatorial regions deadly conflicts have become commonplace among competing tribes, whose migratory patterns in search of water are now escalating ethnic and national rivalry over borders that were previously accepted as highly porous.
It needs to inform the public that the present business as usual scenario will mean that we will not meet the 1.5 celcius cap set by the Paris Accord in 2015, itself a dangerously high increase, that we are on course to take us to 2 celcius that threatens to turn the planet into a hot house state by triggering more tipping points into an active state. It needs to inform the South African public what the scientific community is telling us about the Artic Circle now and how that is radically set to
But wait a minute South African seems to be brewing on the horizon. Meeting the challenge laid down by the UN, Ramaphosa President have announced the ‘boldest transition programme worldwide’ following the news about South Africa being denied a platform to speak at the summit.
2030 will require a bold programme which targets our key emissions source, the electricity sector, and goes beyond current plans to invest further in renewable energy.
To this end, a proposed 11 Billion US dollar Just Transition Transaction is being developed under the auspices of the Eskom Sustainability Task Team. The 11 billion dollars would consist of a blended finance facility and would be the largest climate finance transaction to date, having a significant emissions impact.
The plan is contingent on carrying out the “unbundling” of Eskom according to Meridian, a UCT think tank who prior to this statement claimed authorship of what government is now presenting. In short private finance will not come to the party without whole scale privatisation. Meridian state
Implementation of the plan would be contingent on the government following through on a commitment to break up Eskom into generation, transmission and distribution units under a state holding company and reorganizing its debt to place it on a more sustainable footing.
Sean Sweeney from the International Trade uuions for Energy Democracy wrote an important piece in this regard, recently published in Business Day and other South African publications stating:
First, unions and their allies in SA are correct: unbundling is about privatisation. It is a policy that comes straight out of the privatisation manuals of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Whatever claims are made to the contrary, unbundling is not an end in itself, but a means to “engage the private sector”.
Electricity is foundational for our economy, it is not like water; an electrical system must be actively managed, within extremely tight tolerances, in order to function at all: An out-of-balance electrical system isn’t an electrical system; it’s an explosion.
The closing of coal plants and scaling up of renewables as envisioned by the meridian plan that is now embraced by our government. The fundamental problem is to do this rapidly – 5-10 years it must happen in a close, planned, integrated coordination. Decarbonizing any economy means scaling up storage, upgrading grids, retrofitting building stock, expanding electrified public transport, etc. — and these all need to be done in tight coordination.
The only possibility for that is with public ownership of the full spectrum of electricity assets that tie it all together. In this light the government’s plan is yet another green wash, that buys into the tide of green liberalism that there is money to be made out of the climate crisis, that transitioning away from carbon opens endless opportunities for profit. This notion must be rejected with the contempt it deserves.
Tito Mboweni will continue his massive subsidisation of fossil fuels in his medium-term budget speech when what is required is the exact opposite. These industries have to be heavily taxed through a credible carbon tax in order fund the just transition our government says, rather than following the prescripts on the World Bank and others. Surely it is time to stop kicking the ball into the long grass, waiting for some magical panacea from the markets to resolve our country’s contradictory location in the context of global heating, climate crisis, environmental and ecological collapse.
The beginning of what this transition could look like is admirably researched and laid out in the One Million Jobs campaign supported by numerous trade unions inside our country. It is plan that argues for a socially owned renewable energy sector amongst other things so that we can play our rightful part in mitigation and adaptation.
South Africa‘s relatively unique position as both a victim and perpetrator of climate change opens up the possibility of breaking its present mould. We can become part of the solution and regain our international moral authority, or we can continue to punt false solutions and remain part of the problem that will guarantee our return to our country to its former hyena status. They have to be bold and break the states deep ties with the fossil fuel industry.
Rehad Desai day is a documentary filmmaker, he is a socialist activist that is active in Extinction Rebellion in South Africa