“The greatest existential threat.” This was how President Cyril Ramaphosa described the global climate crisis in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Thursday.
As he outlined plans to turn around South Africa’s faltering energy supply, Ramaphosa said work is “under way to fundamentally restructure our electricity industry; we will achieve a secure supply of reliable, affordable and, ultimately, sustainable energy”.
“We undertake this decisive shift in our energy trajectory at a time when humankind faces its greatest existential threat in the form of climate change,” Ramaphosa said.
He explained how he met Ayakha Melithafa, a young climate activist from Eerste River in Cape Town, who attended the World Economic Forum in Davos this year to call on world leaders to stand firm for climate justice.
“Ayakha asked me to make sure no African child is left behind in the transition to a low carbon, climate resilient and sustainable society; and it is a promise I intend to keep.”
Ramaphosa said the Presidential Commission on Climate Change will “ensure that as we move towards a low carbon growth trajectory, we leave no one behind”.
He said the Climate Change Bill will be finalised.
The Bill “provides a regulatory framework for the effective management of inevitable climate change impacts by enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience and reducing vulnerability to climate change – and identifying new industrial opportunities in the green economy”.
International climate lobby group Greenpeace described SONA as a “light bulb moment” for Ramaphosa.
Greenpeace Africa’s political advisor Happy Khambule said they welcomed Ramaphosa’s announcement that the climate crisis is being taken seriously.
“Recognising the difficulty and complexity of the situation brought on by Eskom’s self-imposed years of decay, the President has displayed leadership and a commitment to safeguard South Africa’s future by prioritising rooftop solar. It is also commendable that the president has highlighted the voice and brave action of Ayakha Melithafa in his address,” Khambule said in a statement.
“Restructuring the electricity supply industry away from a polluting monopoly is a step in the right direction. However, it falls short of solving Eskom’s addiction to dirty coal, which is creating our current ‘managed’ blackouts while devastating communities with toxic air and grotesque water wastage.
“The proposal could do more to centre the utility’s future on renewable energy rather than reckless extensions of Eskom’s ageing fleet of highly polluting coal-fired power stations.”
Khambule said a just transition to renewable energy needs to be at the core of Eskom’s new business plan and “it is good that the president has seen the light in this regard”.
“However, Greenpeace Africa believes that extreme caution must be applied to the utility’s debt restructuring proposals; throwing people’s pension money at a utility in a death spiral is risky, especially without any evidence that it is on a healthier trajectory,” he said.
“We now need to see bold action for people and the climate. Keeping his promise to Ayakha – and all young South Africans – means the president must take a decisive stand to phase out coal. Coal kills, and only exacerbates the air pollution and climate crises,” Khambule said.