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South Africa’s response to COP26 tempered by reality

Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment Minister Barbara Creecy believes the intention of the Glasgow Climate Pact made at COP26 to accelerate phasing down unfiltered coal to low-carbon energy should be done in a way that takes into consideration national interests and availability of resources in developing nations.

Creecy was briefing the media on South Africa’s response to the recently concluded COP26. The final text of the cover agreement at the end of the two-week climate negotiations specifically contained wording about “the phase-down of coal”.

“There is also wording there that talks about the recognition of national circumstances and the importance of a just transition.

“And I think that what that language is all about … is saying that for developing countries, there is a recognition of the enormous cost that transitioning economies to lower-carbon growth paths and to climate-resilient societies is going to have.

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“I think that there has been an estimation by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) that developing countries will require in the region of $4 trillion over the next 15 years to achieve these transitions.

“And I think that text was really about saying that countries must be transitioning. Like our country, we have to do our fair share. But we have to be transitioning at a manner and at a pace that is determined by our national sovereign interests and by the availability of resources.

“We can’t be signing up to a situation that we are not ensuring that we have adequate financial support for the transitions that will be taking place,” said Creecy.

COP26 Just Energy Transition Partnership announcement needs unpacking

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced recently that South Africa secured a historic partnership with leaders of the world of R131 billion highly concessional climate financing to help SA transition from coal to low-carbon energy.

Referring to the proposed Just Energy Transition Partnership Creecy said the international community has united behind a shared objective of a greater sense of urgency to address the global climate crisis and to do so on the basis of international equity and the latest available science.

“We want to support a high-level financial team to interrogate the offer and understand exactly what is available in terms of the mix of concessional and grant funding. That team went to national treasury who will look at how the regulatory environment would allow us to utilise the money. Obviously, the regulatory environment would have to look at existing debt rules. Part of the intention of the money is to support Eskom’s just energy transition and part of what we need to look at in terms of borrowing capacity and other financial issues that pertain to Eskom’s balance sheet,” said Creecy.

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She said the concluded Paris Agreement Work Programme will assist Parties to fully implement the Paris Agreement, in the context of a Just Transition and Sustainable Development, leaving no one behind.

“COP26 sets the international community on the right track to addressing the existential challenge of climate change. For the first time the Governing Bodies of the Convention and Paris Agreement have agreed to the importance of supporting developing countries in financing Just Transition elements of their climate actions, and to support the implementation of Just Transitions that promote sustainable development and the eradication of poverty, the creation of decent work and quality jobs,” she said.

Effect of climate change on South Africa specifically

Specifically, her department is working on various responses to climate change and Creecy said studies into the effect on fishing and communities are worrying: “We are cognisant this is a serious challenge and ultimately one which will impact the question of food security in our country.”

In the last year, the DFFE has been working on the country’s strategic response to climate change “in relation to mitigation, adaptation and financing in our country”. South Africa’s Low-Emission Development Strategy identifies vulnerable sectors in the economy, including transport, mining, manufacturing, agriculture and tourism.

“Our energy sector is responsible for 41% of our emissions and we need to start with a transition on those [power] stations that are in terms of the IRP2019 identified for decommissioning,” said Creecy.

She pointed out there is still a lot of space in the IRP pointing to the use of more renewable energy to support the country’s NDCs. “We understand there is energy poverty in the country so there is lots of room for new generation. The IRP is always updated every two or three years so in due course the DMRE will look at that. As things stand we are behind the curve in terms of what contributions could make to the energy mix,” said Creecy.

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Theresa Smith
Theresa Smith is a Content Specialist for ESI Africa.

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