SA welcomes important climate guests

Eskom can no longer punish citizens by cutting off their electricity because municipalities owe the utility, following a ruling by the ConCourt this week

Another week, another electricity crisis, right? But there are major opportunities afoot for SA, if our authorities would take them. 

We could score billions in “concessional financing” to accelerate the retirement of our coal-powered stations in favour of green alternatives. 

Who would give us this money? 

The world’s annual meeting on climate, COP, has agreements from wealthy countries and investors to mobilise $100bn a year until 2025 to support the energy transition in developing countries. 

So this week, some high profile International climate envoys visited SA to sound us out about a deal, ahead of COP26 in Scotland. 

SA is the 12th-largest carbon emitter in the world which is scary considering our size. 😬 We’re also well-positioned for renewables given our sunny conditions, wind and green hydrogen. 

It sounds like a dream solution to our energy crisis, Eskom’s debt plus doing our badly needed bit for the environment. But the issue, as always, is politics. 

There’s still no concrete deal on the table and the finance ministry and mineral resources minister Gwede Mantashe – long a roadblock on this issue – weren’t particularly present during discussions with the envoys. 

As Carol Paton put it in Business Day: “Energy policy in SA is highly contested and political, and the issues related to Eskom’s capacity, especially its heavy debt burden, make it a complex environment in which to strike a deal.”

SA also doesn’t have a just energy transition plan – this means a plan to switch to green energy in a way that limits social impact to workers and communities reliant on work at mines. 

In the interim, as Paton notes, Eskom has proposed its own modest energy transition, looking for about R180 billion in concessional finance so its coal-fired plants can head into “early retirement”.

Even China will no longer fund new coal-powered projects globally. About 70% of all coal plants being built today involve Chinese state finance, according to The Economist, so this is big news.The winds are shifting. Mantashe and others need to come to the (green, sensible, sustainable) party.

This article appeared as part of The Wrap, 30 September 2021. Sign up to receive our weekly updates.