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Centre for Environmental Rights – Advancing Environmental Rights in South Africa

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Statement: South Africa must walk the talk at COP26

13 October 2021 at 8:58 am

The Life After Coal campaign (comprising the environmental justice groups groundWork and Earthlife Africa, and public interest environmental law group the Centre for Environmental Rights) calls on South Africa to meet the lower bound of its new climate target range by accelerating the coal phase-out and renewable energy build, and to lead on demanding increased financial support from wealthy nations for adaptation and loss and damage at this month’s climate meeting in Glasgow.

Last month, Cabinet approved an updated Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) in terms of the Paris Climate Agreement. This NDC includes the greenhouse gas emissions limits that South Africa has committed to adhere to – for 2025 and 2030.

Only the lower bound of South Africa’s Updated NDC target range (of 350 to 420 Mt CO2eq) is broadly consistent with the 1.5°C pathway the world needs to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. To meet that lower bound target within the timeframes set, urgent action must start now. The most pressing actions are:

  • Cancelling all new coal projects. This includes the 1500MW of coal still present in the 2019 Integrated Resource Plan for Electricity (IRP) (projected to cost SA 23 billion compared to a least-cost optimised electricity system, and 25 000 job losses economy-wide by 2030), and extra-IRP plans like the proposed 1320MW to 3300MW coal power plant planned for the Musina Makhado Special Economic Zone (MMSEZ).
  • Avoiding massive new gas infrastructure projects that modelling has shown we do not need in the future. Gas is still a fossil fuel, with high greenhouse gas emissions all along the gas value chain, as well as high negative climate impacts that would move us further away from meeting national obligations. In its Net Zero by 2050 report released in July 2021, the International Energy Agency stated that, in order to reach net-zero by 2050, no new oil or gas fields can be developed as of the date of the report. There is currently 25 000MW worth of new gas-fired power projects for which license or authorisation applications have been made.
  • Accelerating the retirement of our coal fleet at a rate faster than that prescribed by the timetable in the IRP 2019. The Life After Coal campaign calls for zero fossil fuels in electricity generation by 2040 at the latest, and a zero fossil fuel economy by 2050. Coal pollution is killing our people and destroying their health. This is a gross Constitutional and human rights violation that cannot continue.
  • Accelerating a broad and inclusive just transition from coal and other fossil fuels. In August, the Life After Coal campaign launched a Just Transition Open Agenda which sets out the key tenets of such a just transition. We want a transition that not only secures a coal phase-out, but does so in a way that achieves a fair outcome for workers and communities, including in particular women and youth; that gives effect to Constitutional rights, including the right to equality; and that makes our country and our communities more climate resilient. A credible, supported Just Transition Plan also increases our prospects of getting the finance we need.
  • Dramatically scaling up and accelerating our renewable energy build: We are currently far behind the timetables for the already constrained renewable energy plans put forward in the outdated 2019 IRP. Modelling shows that we need to build at least 4 GW of renewable (wind and solar) capacity per year for the rest of the decade in order to meet our committed emission reduction targets. There are many positive spin-offs for economic development and job creation from such a big renewable build.

South Africa needs both transition and climate finance to support the transformation of our economy from one that is heavily reliant on coal, to one that is free of fossil fuels, over the next 30 years. Such finance must address climate mitigation and adaption, Eskom debt, and the just transition – but cannot include any funding for new fossil fuels, including new gas. Gas is often touted as being a necessary “transition fuel” for a just energy transition, but it is, in most cases, as greenhouse gas-intensive and harmful to the climate as other fossil fuels.  We also know that South Africa is extremely vulnerable to climate impacts and can expect to see disastrous consequences in the coming years, including for areas already suffering the effects of extreme weather events and droughts, poverty and pollution.

Any transition and climate finance deal must be transparent, and must be the best deal for South Africa. It must put coal communities and coal workers first, and help address inequality, poverty and unemployment in keeping with Life After Coal’s Just Transition Open Agenda.

Globally, we call on the South African government to play a strong and leading role at COP26, stand in solidarity with developing countries, particularly those on the African continent. We call on our government to advance the following objectives at COP26:

  • Holding all countries – in particular major emitting countries like the United States, EU member countries, Australia, India and China – to account under their commitments to avoid exceeding 5 degrees. What is currently on the table in terms of global NDCs is wholly insufficient to keep us to 1.5 degrees, and many countries continue to grant new rights for coal, oil, and gas projects. For the Paris Agreement and COP26 to have any legitimacy, such flagrant disregard of the survival of millions of people must end.
  • Supporting a dramatic scale-up of climate finance commitments, and delivery against those commitments by developed countries, for low- and middle-income (LMIC) countries. Many LMIC countries do not have the fiscal space to deal with their existing debt burden, in addition to the cost of the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change impacts.
  • Prioritising and putting into operation a Global Goal on Adaptation. The intensification of the climate crisis has brought issues of adaptation and loss and damage to the front and centre, and these issues must be dealt with at the COP. We have lost the luxury of dealing with mitigation first, and adaptation after.
  • Securing long-term finance for adaptation in developing countries. Adaptation finance currently accounts for just 25% of total climate finance from developed to developing countries. The reality is that adaptation is already costing developing countries $70 billion per annum, and this is set to quadruple over the next 30 years.
  • Addressing the crucial issue of loss and damage – the costs that LMIC countries already have to bear as a result of past and existing impacts of global climate change. Much of these impacts are the less visible impacts of climate change, such as the slow onset through sea level rise and prolonged drought. At COP26, we need to see developed countries providing the scale of funding needed for LMIC countries to address these costs.

At this point, the science is unequivocal that climate change is happening faster and with greater intensity than what has been predicted, underpinning that increasing global ambition is a matter of life or death for many millions of people on the planet.

Finally, we recognise that global vaccine inequity is impacting directly on LMIC countries’ participation in COP26, and we support the position and efforts of global organisations like the Climate Action Network and Friends of the Earth International for addressing vaccine inequity in global climate negotiations.


Life After Coal/Impilo Ngaphandle Kwamalahle is a joint campaign by Earthlife Africa JohannesburggroundWork, and the Centre for Environmental Rights that aims to discourage the development of new coal-fired power stations and mines; reduce emissions from existing coal infrastructure and encourage a coal phase-out; and enable a broad and inclusive just transition to sustainable energy systems for the people.



Alexis Scholtz-Wheeler, [email protected], +27 (0)827398687