groundWork is a non-profit environmental justice service and developmental organization working primarily in Southern Africa in the areas of Climate & Energy Justice, Coal, Environmental Health, Global Green and Healthy Hospitals, and Waste. groundWork is the South African member of Health Care Without Harm and Friends of the Earth International.


groundWork releases 2018 Report: Boom or Bust in the Waterberg - A history of coal mega projects

12 March 2018 - The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5oC leaves you with faint hope even as it waters down its messages. It warns of the urgency of addressing climate change and hope lies in the message that democracy is at the core of getting us out of the dark pit of the so-called realism that avoids real action.

Social justice and equity are important in how groundWork understands environmental justice. For us, it is about solidarity and equity. I do not have much faith in politicians taking the IPCC seriously but, even if they do, the report allows them too many loop-holes. They will take them as a free pass for business as usual.

So, reports such as Boom and Bust in the Waterberg are important. There are no loopholes. It makes it clear: get out of coal, get out of fossil fuels. But more importantly, this will not happen if there is no mobilisation by society, if there is no solidarity between workers and communities, if there are no linkages between the urban and the rural, between those who have and those who do not.

Mega projects have repeatedly failed society. The report picks up on the essence of how politicians and officials lie about the numbers to get these mega projects going. They over estimated the growth of energy demand to justify the decision to invest in Medupi and Kusile. The community did not ask for them, but energy poverty was used as a pretext. The reality is that the politicians, the Energy Intensive Users Group and Eskom itself pushed for it. They wanted big power stations designed to supply big industry. Now big industry does not want to acknowledge its role and responsibility in the meltdown but demands a cut price on power for industry.

You can read the media release here.

You can download the full report here.

CER condemns State Security Agency spying on civil society organisations

The Centre for Environmental Rights condemns in the strongest terms the “active monitoring” undertaken by the State Security Agency (SSA) of civil society organisations, as reported in the December 2018 Report of the High-Level Review Panel on the SSA released by the Presidency over the weekend.

“While many civil society organisations now take standard precautionary measures to protect our organisations, our work and our staff from all forms and sources of surveillance and attack, it is chilling to see official confirmation of the use of state resources to spy on and interfere in the work of civil society organisations,” says Melissa Fourie, Executive Director of the Centre for Environmental Rights. “It is important to remember that the organisations named in the SSA report work in the public interest to promote Constitutional democratic objectives like free speech, open democracy, a healthy environment and a safe climate. These Constitutional values and rights should be objectives shared by and actively realised by the state. The SSA report suggests that state machinery was used to undermine Constitutional principles so fundamental to our democracy.”

Next month, the Centre for Environmental Rights, groundWork, Earthjustice and Human Rights Watch will publish a report on the threats faced by environmental rights defenders in South Africa from both the state and corporates.

For queries, contact CER Executive Director Melissa Fourie on mfourie@cer.org.za or CER Deputy Director Wandisa Phama on wphama@cer.org.za.

Big polluter Eskom regularly exceeds air pollution limits – damning new report

25 February 2019 - A new international expert report commissioned by the Life After Coal campaign shows that pollution from nearly all of Eskom’s coal-fired power plants persistently and significantly violates the air pollution limits in its licences. This is not only illegal, but also means that Eskom is continuously endangering the health and violating the human rights of millions of people affected by this pollution.

The international expert report was based on Eskom’s own monthly reports of the emissions from its coal power plants, which Eskom submitted to authorities.

A new report by U.S. coal plant expert Dr Ranajit Sahu has found that, over a 21 month period until December 2017, Eskom’s coal power plants exceeded its already-weak licence conditions close to 3200 times.

The exceedances relate to all three regulated pollutants for coal plants, namely sulphur dioxide  (SO2), oxides of nitrogen (NOx), and particulate matter (PM) – including soot and ash.

The offending plants with the most frequent licence exceedances were Lethabo, Matla, Matimba, and Kriel.

Read the full media release here.

Watchdog Group Uses GPS Trackers to Discover Illegal Electronic Waste Exports from Europe to Africa and Asia

Seattle, WA, USA. 07 February 2019 - The global environmental watchdog organization Basel Action Network (BAN) today released the findings of a two-year study in 10 EU countries that followed 314 old computers, printers, and monitors in which GPS Trackers had been secretly installed. This equipment was then delivered to places where consumers are expected to take their waste -- most often government-approved takeback stations. They found that 19 (6%) of the tracked scrap equipment was exported, including 11 very likely illegal shipments to the countries of Ghana, Hong Kong, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tanzania, Thailand, and Ukraine, outside of the EU. 

Following GPS signals across the globe -- here is the location where an LCD deployed in Germany ended up -- in a equipment smashing operation outside of Bangkok in Thailand. Copyright BAN 2018.

The report, Holes in the Circular Economy: WEEE Leakage from Europe, estimates that the flows discovered with figures regarding WEEE generation in Europe, if extrapolated, would total 352,474 metric tonnes per annum, moving rom the EU to developing countries. This amount could fill 17,466 large-size intermodal shipping containers. If they were loaded onto trucks, the trucks would stretch back-to-back for 401 kilometers.

"It appears that we have discovered a very significant stream of illegal shipments of hazardous consumer electronic scrap to vulnerable populations," said BAN Director Jim Puckett. "This flies in the face of EU claims to make continuous efforts to implement a circular economy which can only responsibly exist by eliminating externalities and leakage from the system."

Of the 10 countries studied (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Spain, and the UK), all countries excepting Hungary were involved in exports. The UK was clearly the worst violator with 5, with most of those going to Africa. Italy, Germany, Spain, Ireland, and Poland were also implicated in allowing shipments to developing countries. BAN subsequently visited some of the destinations.

Read the full media release here.

The myth of clean coal

Cover of

07 February 2019 - We’re recirculating our report “The Myth of Clean Coal” in view of Minister Jeff Radebe’s comments at the Mining Indaba yesterday that government is “investing in research to develop clean coal technologies”. Earlier, Minister Gwede Manatashe had called for investment in "clean technology" to counter the "siege on the coal industry".

Unfortunately, coal can never be “clean”.

The report investigates the coal cycle and demonstrates the extent and severity of the various impacts associated with the mining, beneficiation, and combustion of coal, and demonstrates that there are no solutions which are able to completely mitigate coal’s enormous resource consumption and harm to health and the environment. 

Download the full report here.

CER calls on Minister Mantashe to address mining company’s attempts to silence activists

Some of the defendants in the defamation suits by Australian mining company MRC meeting in Cape Town in 2018Some of the defendants in the defamation suits by Australian mining company MRC meeting in Cape Town in 2018

07 February 2018 - Ahead of Mineral Resources Minister Mantashe’s planned 8 February 2019 visit to Australian mining company Mineral Commodities Limited’s Tormin mineral sands mine on the West Coast, the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) has asked the Minister to take note of MRC’s coordinated campaign of litigation against activists, lawyers and the media to silence criticism of the company and its operations, in violation of Constitutional rights of freedom of speech, freedom of media, academic freedom and environmental rights.

Mineral Commodities Limited (MRC) is the mining company that has applied to open a new mineral sands mine at Xolobeni on the Wild Coast. In 2016, anti-mining activist Sikosiphi “Bazooka” Rhadebe was assassinated at Xolobeni. No-one has yet been arrested for his murder.

Read the full media release here.

Court orders government to disclose records on coal power plants

06 February 2019 -Yesterday, the High Court in Pretoria ordered government to deliver crucial records relating to the judicial reviews instituted by groundWork and Earthlife Africa, represented by the Centre for Environmental Rights, to set aside the environmental authorisations for the two preferred bidder coal-fired power stations – Thabametsi and Khanyisa – under the Coal Baseload Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (“the coal IPPs”).

The outstanding records, if and when received, should give an indication of the extent to which the Minister and Department of Environmental Affairs considered the extremely high climate change impacts of the coal IPPs.

Read the full media release here.

Eskom's latest attempt to avoid pollution standards met with vigorous opposition

06 February 2019 - Earlier this week, the Life After Coal/Impilo Ngaphandle Kwamalahle Campaign, and the Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance (VEJA) submitted a strongly worded opposition to Eskom’s latest round of applications for more time to comply with pollution standards – the minimum emission standards (MES) – and, in some cases, permission never to meet certain standards.

Eskom seeks this special treatment for ten of its polluting coal-fired stations despite: being granted leniency in the past; failing to meet the legally-required conditions to seek postponements of or suspensions from compliance; and failing to comply with their current air emission licences.

The law requires that these applications can only be sought where air quality in the area meets the health-based air quality standards. Despite this, all of the power stations for which applications have been made are located in areas with severely-degraded air quality and where South Africa’s weak standards are not met.

Eskom has also failed to demonstrate, as the law demands, that its air emissions are not causing direct adverse impacts – in fact, 2017 research conducted by UK-based air quality and health expert Dr Mike Holland found that Eskom’s air pollution is responsible for more than 2,200 deaths every year, and causes thousands of cases of bronchitis and asthma in adults and children annually.

Read the full media release here.

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