News / South Africa / Government

Nica Richards
Deputy online news editor
3 minute read
22 Oct 2021
1:29 pm

SA must transition to clean energy – but it’s too broke to do so

Nica Richards

At current estimates, hundreds of billions of dollars are needed every year for South Africa and other African countries to transition fast enough.

A wheelbarrow containing refilled bottles of water stands on a road towards the Bezuidenhoutville informal settlement in Adelaide on November 28, 2019. Picture for illustration by Guillem Sartorio/AFP

Lack of finances to transition to a low-emissions economy is one of South Africa’s, and Africa’s, most significant challenges. 

This was reiterated during a media briefing delivered by Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries Barbara Creecy on Friday. 

South Africa will be participating in the upcoming 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), taking place from 31 October 12 November in Glasgow, Scotland. 

The COP26 is a platform for leaders from around the world to meet and discuss climate change and goals set out in the Paris Agreement

Transition journey different for developing nations 

Developing countries such as South Africa have an unhealthy reliance on fossil fuels. 

According to the latest assessment conducted by Climate Transparency International, South Africa has the highest carbon intensity of any G20 nation due to our coal addiction, which supplies 74% of the country’s total primary energy. 

The G20 average is 31%. 

ALSO READ: How SA’s addiction to coal is sacrificing the planet to try keep the lights on

This means our transition to cleaner energy sources such as solar and wind power is not happening fast enough.

In fact, South Africa’s overall rating in terms of ambition in moving towards a renewable energy future has been deemed “inefficient” by the Climate Action Tracker

Part of the reason for this is that the country needs more significant financing solutions, to meet challenges posed by climate change, Creecy explained. 

The country also cannot simply scale down its coal operations and have renewables take over, as this would exacerbate existing high rates of unemployment, affecting the wellbeing of workers and communities. 

Communities already affected by climate change also play no role in carbon emissions, “and must be protected”, Creecy said. 

Creecy cited article 2.1C of the Paris Treaty, which states all parties must make financial flows consistent. She said there had not yet been any guidelines issued on how financial flows would be made constant. 

She hopes COP26 will discuss how to ensure existing financial commitments are honoured. 

Transition ‘critical but underfunded’ 

At current estimates, hundreds of billions of dollars are needed every year for South Africa and other African countries to transition fast enough to help contribute positively to the fight against climate change. 

ALSO READ: SA is breaking temperature records at a rapid rate – Why you should worry

Wealthy nations had previously agreed to deliver $100 billion of climate finance a year – but under-developed nations have yet to see that money. 

There is also limited time to act, especially considering South Africa’s vulnerability.

The country is water scarce and already experiencing an array of extreme weather conditions linked to climate change. 

This threatens lives, livelihoods, food security and infrastructure. 

Renewable energy currently only accounts for 7.6% of the country’s power generation, according to the Climate Transparency Report. This is well below the G20 average of 28.7%.

Experts recommend that in order to reduce the risk of severe climate events, the share of fossil fuels in the global primary energy mix must fall to 67% by 2030, and 33% by 2050. 

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