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Applicants head to court in landmark youth-led #CancelCoal climate case 

15 November 2022 at 2:53 pm

Youth Climate Strike 2021 | Photo: Chris De Beer-Procter
Youth Climate Strike 2021 | Photo: Chris De Beer-Procter

Applicants in South Africa’s first youth-led climate change case, represented by the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), will be appearing in the Pretoria High Court on 16 November 2022. The court will hear their application to compel the Minister of Mineral Resources & Energy to release records relating to the Minister’s decision to include new coal power in the 2019 Integrated Resource Plan for Electricity (IRP), and the Ministerial determination for new coal issued under the IRP.

The applicants in the case, the African Climate Alliance (ACA), the Vukani Environmental Justice Movement in Action (VEM) and groundWork (gW), brought the application to compel the release of the documents after the Minister refused to make these available, as he is required to do under court rules.

The applicants are using a Rule 30A application. This process entails a separate, ancillary court application under the High Court Rules to force the Minister, by order of court, to provide the outstanding documents that have been requested, and that the Minister has refused to provide. The Minister is opposing this application, arguing that amongst other reasons, the applicants are not entitled to these documents.

“The youth have to have access to all the information about government’s plans, as the future is theirs and everything that is decided must include them,” says VEM Secretary General Ronald Mhlakaza.

This is the latest development in the #CancelCoal case, launched in 2021, in which three civil society organisations brought landmark Constitutional litigation against the South African government, demanding that the government abandon plans to build 1 500 MW of new coal-fired power on grounds that new coal-fired power poses significant unjustifiable threats to Constitutional rights, and to a safe climate.

“While world leaders gather at COP27, it’s sad to see that our government’s plans for new coal power in the IRP are not aligned with its wider climate commitments and stance on climate change. In fact, it seems like our government is playing hide and seek with our minds. We are no longer talking about signs of climate change – we are already experiencing the effects of climate change in our everyday lives – and yet government seems to love coal while failing to recognise the impacts of climate change,” says Mhlakaza.

Speaking before the hearing, ACA youth coordinator Gabriel Klaasen said: “The burning of coal is the biggest contributor to global climate change, in addition to unacceptable health impacts caused by air and water pollution. Government’s current plans to build 1500 MW of new coal-fired power in South Africa would have major implications for the people of South Africa – contributing to increased electricity costs; harmful health impacts and irreversible climate impacts. Records and processes that informed these decisions are therefore of the utmost public importance.”

“Government’s plans for new coal power pose threats of an unjustified violation of the section 24 right to an environment not harmful to health and wellbeing, along with other rights. It is deeply unfortunate that the applicants have to resort to litigation to access the records that informed these harmful decisions by the Minister,” says environmental activist and coordinator at ACA Sarah Robyn Farrell.

The Court will hear legal submissions from the Applicants and the Minister and will make a ruling on the applicants’ entitlement to the requested outstanding documents. It is quite possible that this ruling (the judgment) will be reserved – in other words, that the judgment will be handed down some days or weeks after the hearing.

 

BACKGROUND

The case was launched after government failed to respond to a letter of demand sent to Minister Mantashe on 17 September 2021 by CER on behalf of ACA groundWork and VEM, which demanded that government abandon its plans to build new coal-fired power as outlined in the Minister’s September 2020 determination for 1500 MW of new coal and the 2019 IRP.

Read expert reports documenting the unnecessary cost and job losses, climate harms and impacts on social, physical and mental health and well-being of coal-fired power for people living in South Africa, now and in the future.

MEDIA ENQUIRIES

Nicole Loser, CER Head of Pollution and Climate Change Programme, [email protected]

Michelle Sithole, CER Attorney, [email protected]