South Africa is abuzz with plans to meet a more ambitious climate target it recently set, centered around how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants.
The easiest first step could be not to build new plants. South Africa’s national Integrated Resource Plan, published in 2019, would add 1 500 megawatts of coal-fired generation by 2030. Cutting emissions to 350 megatons of carbon dioxide equivalent, the lower end of the range of the country’s revised target, or Nationally Determined Contribution, would require the earlier retirement of some of the fleet of 15 coal-fired plants along with no new builds, according to a note by Meridian Economics.
Recently proposed coal projects have already encountered opposition from environmental groups that challenged the plans in court. Local banks have also announced plans that would restrict funding for their construction.
Halting new coal developments would be the easy part.
About 90 000 people are employed at coal mines, and tens of thousands more at power plants and coal transport companies.
Aside from a massive build out of renewable energy plants, meeting the lower emissions range of the target the earlier than planned closure of coal-fired plants would be “politically and socially challenging,” according to Meridian.