South African ministers will meet in the coming days to discuss an investment plan for billions of dollars pledged by rich nations for a transition to green energy, aiming to complete it before November’s COP27 climate summit, the environment minister said.
At talks in Glasgow last year, the European Union, Britain, France and Germany promised $8.5 billion to help the country kick start a shift from carbon-intensive coal to cleaner energy.
Talks are meant to conclude before the COP27 in Egypt starting October 31. If successful, it will serve as a model for other emerging economies to wean themselves off coal.
But South Africa, one of the world’s most carbon-intensive economies, has yet to produce a plan to show donors, while the terms of the funds – four-fifths of which is in loans, not grants – haven’t been agreed.
“I think that we had under-estimated how complicated it is when you have four partners, and each … has their own budgetary issues (and) development agencies,” Environment Minister Barbara Creecy, who heads up the negotiations, told Reuters in a video call interview late on Monday.
“There was this chicken-and-egg situation where we were saying ‘give us chapter and verse on the deal’, and they were saying ‘let’s have a look at the investment plans’,” she said, explaining why it has not been finalised nearly a year later.
She added that the plan and discussions over terms were now happening concurrently, which had sped things up.
South Africa is the world’s 12th biggest carbon emitter, pumping out 430 megatonnes of CO2 in 2019, according to the latest data, more than Mexico or Brazil and five places ahead of Britain, an economy eight times the size.
“The investment plan is now … ready for ministerial consideration. We are having that meeting this week or next week,” Creecy said.
“We are still trying for that (COP27) deadline.”
‘Trillions, not billions’
The priority is transitioning state power utility Eskom from coal – which provides 80% of power – to renewables, then later turn South Africa into a hub for green hydrogen and electric vehicle manufacturing.
Creecy said the grants part was for elements of the plan that would not generate revenue, such as feasibility studies and re-skilling workers. Vastly more would be needed in total.
“For South Africa to get from where it is now to net zero in 2050, you’re … talking trillions, not billions (of rands),” she said.
Energy transition still faces opposition from factions within the ruling African National Congress, especially union leaders who fear the loss of 90 000 coal mining jobs.
“Organised labour … (doesn’t) want to share the risks of the transition while somebody else carries the benefits,” she said, so the transition must tackle “high rates of economic exclusion”.
South Africa’s pro-coal energy minister Gwede Mantashe frequently makes sceptical remarks about renewable energy, and has noted Europe’s reversion to burning more coal in the wake of the Russian gas crisis as proof it is “no saviour”.
“Europe has lost some of its moral authority,” Creecy said, adding that South Africa was criticised at the COP26 for citing domestic circumstances as a reason to keep burning coal.
“The same countries that criticised us are now themselves citing domestic circumstances (to burn more coal),” she said.
“It’s a bit hypocritical, isn’t it?”