No decisions about our energy future without transparency, says groundWork
28 July 2020 - Decisions about South Africa’s energy future must be made in a transparent and accountable manner. This is the basis for new court proceedings launched this week by environmental justice group groundWork against the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe and the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (NERSA).
In its court proceedings, groundWork is asking the North Gauteng High Court to order the Minister and NERSA to provide reasons for various decisions related to the Integrated Resource Plan for Electricity, 2019 (IRP).
groundWork has sought written reasons for the IRP from both the Minister and NERSA – which the Minister and NERSA are legally required to provide – since November 2019. The Minister and NERSA’s failure to provide reasons has forced groundWork to institute litigation to obtain the answers.
As South Africa’s electricity plan for the next ten years, the 2019 IRP – if implemented in its current form – has far-reaching social, economic and climate impacts. “The decision to include new coal, despite this not being part of a least-cost IRP, has severely negative implications for our health and well-being, our climate, our air and water resources, and electricity prices, says groundWork’s Robby Mokgalaka. “These kinds of decisions affect everyone, and cannot be made behind closed doors, with no explanation of the rationale, justifications or assumptions relied on. There must be full transparency and accountability for all of South Africa’s electricity decision-making.”
The long-overdue updated IRP, published in October 2019, provides for (among other things) 1 500 MW of new coal capacity and 3 000 MW of new fossil gas capacity in South Africa’s electricity future. At a time when the country – like the rest of the world – must immediately reduce its reliance on fossil fuels to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis, which government itself has warned poses grave risks for South Africa, there must be full transparency and accountability for a decision to include new fossil fuels in South Africa’s electricity plan.
International climate science and policy institute Climate Analytics confirms that global coal use in electricity generation must fall by 80% below 2010 levels in less than 10 years (by 2030) in order to meet the targets set by the Paris Agreement. This is echoed by the urgent appeal of the UN Secretary General António Guterres earlier this month that no new coal plants be built anywhere in the world, particularly given the need for climate-resilient, healthy COVID-19 recovery plans worldwide.
The significant proportion of fossil fuel energy generation planned for in the 2019 IRP will lock South Africa into expensive, obsolete infrastructure, which the country simply cannot afford – now, or in the future. South Africa is already ill-prepared for a transition from fossil fuels, and faces some R2 trillion (USD 125 billion) in transition risks, as a result of locking South Africa into fossil fuel infrastructure that will not yield the expected income or value due to major shifts in climate policy and market transformations.
“Now, more than ever, South Africa needs to avoid spending on unnecessary infrastructure that is not in the public interest,” says Mokgalaka.
“The make-up of South Africa’s electricity system has a material and direct impact on the Constitutional environmental rights of the people of South Africa. Both the cost of electricity and the devastating health impacts of air pollution from coal mining and power disproportionately prejudice Black women,” says Nicole Loser, attorney at the Centre for Environmental Rights. A recent report by WoMin and 350Africa.org confirms that “energy deprivation profoundly impacts African women who, by virtue of their socially-ascribed responsibilities for household care, predominantly provide for energy needs. Where energy is being generated through harmful fossil fuels…, it is peasant and working-class women and other frontline communities whose livelihoods are destroyed and their lives cut short and degraded with little or no benefit”.
“Because this exercise of public power by the Minister and NERSA has far-reaching impacts for the rights of members of the public, especially women, young people and future generations, groundWork - and the public – are, at a minimum, entitled to the reasons for the decisions to promulgate the IRP in its current form”, says Loser.
The Minister and NERSA have until 18 August 2020 to oppose the High Court application.
The Centre for Environmental Rights are the attorneys for groundWork in this court application. groundwork, Earthlife Africa and the Centre for Environmental Rights are members of the Life After Coal campaign.
 The IRP makes the “decision” that “South Africa should not sterilise the development of its coal resources for purposes of power generation, instead all new coal power projects must be based on high efficiency, low emission technologies and other cleaner coal technologies” and calls for 1 500 MW of new coal capacity. Yet the IRP also confirms that new coal-fired power is not required for energy security and does not feature in a least-cost electricity plan with unconstrained renewable energy (solar PV and wind) capacity. This in circumstances where the IRP is, by its own definition, “an electricity infrastructure development plan based on least-cost electricity supply and demand balance, taking into account security of supply and the environment (minimize negative emissions and water usage)”.
 The right to an environment not harmful to health or wellbeing (section 24 of the Constitution)
Court papers in groundWork's application
- Tsepang Molefe, groundWork, Friends of the Earth SA, +27 74 405 1257, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Nicole Loser, CER (Centre for Environmental Rights), +27 72 133 9394, email@example.com
- Robby Mokgalaka, Groundwork, Friends of the Earth SA, +27 73 774 3362, firstname.lastname@example.org