Climate Justice and Energy Campaign

The world is in crisis. The ecological crisis is globally debated through the lens of climate change, the energy crisis is understood through peak oil and the depletion of other fossil fuels. As the global hegemony of the US weakens we have growing political and economic instability. The crisis needs a global governance solution that is rooted in democracy and community dialogue that places pressure on national and global leaders to be accountable to the peoples they claim to represent.

Global temperature rise is now about 0.85˚ Celsius. By 2020, global temperature rise will have exceeded 1˚C. In Africa, temperature rises at 1.5 times the global average and already exceeds 1˚C. As peak oil is reached and energy prices soar, the search and utilisation of heavily polluting unconventional fossils, such as coal, tar sands and gas fracking, increases. Politically, there are clear patterns of troubled democracies in oil rich nations, where oil has been a curse often fuelled by corporate interests and strong global governments who seek to entrench their global influence for resource capture.

South Africa’s apartheid regime was dependent on the cheap extraction of coal, to provide cheap energy for the export focused mining industry. This has been Eskom’s – the South African state owned energy utility – mandate ever since 1928. South Africa is the 11th largest emitter of greenhouse gasses globally, producing 42% of Africa’s carbon dioxide (CO2). The result is that industry, commerce and transport consume about 75% of all energy produced in South Africa, and in particular BHP Billiton, the multi national mining giant, consumed 11% of South Africa’s electricity produced in 2006 at below cost.   

Whilst residential use in South Africa accounts for only 16% of electricity consumed, most is used by the richest 40% of the populaton and 20% is ‘energy poor’ without access to electricity. An estimated 4 million homes burn coal, paraffin and biomass indoors. The pollution from SA’s energy system results in a R4 billion health cost to the state and a loss of 9 working days per worker each year. Residents pay up to seven times more for their electricity than major corporations.

The South African government has gone to the world’s financial institutions to expand their carbon economy. These include loans of more than $5 billion from the World Bank and the African Development Bank (with European support), and recently $800 million from the Export-Import Bank of the US. This is to build Medupi and Kusile, two of the world’s largest coal fired power stations, further entrenching South Africa’s coal economy, adding up to 70 million tons of CO2 per annum produced by South Africa, and increasing the global impacts of climate change. This will place strain on the South African economy and especially the poor as Eskom seeks to service this debt over the next decades. If Eskom was serious about energy poverty and provided all its customers with 200 kwh free basic electricity, South Africa would only need 17% of Medupi and would not need Kusile at all. 

South Africa is a powerful African global role-player. Disappointingly, it is not using this power to secure a fair climate – and energy – deal for Africa globally. South Africa was at the table when the Copenhagen Accord was undemocratically agreed upon between the US, Europe and the BRIC, making mandatory reductions proposed by the Kyoto Protocol (KP) unlikely.