South Africa’s first climate change lawsuit heads to court

South Africa’s first climate change lawsuit will begin in the Pretoria High Court on Thursday, 2 March 2017 when Earthlife Africa Johannesburg (ELA) will challenge the decision of the Minister of Environmental Affairs to uphold the environmental authorisation for the proposed Thabametsi coal-fired power plant.

This will be the first time that the South African judiciary will be required to consider the importance of the climate change impacts of a coal-fired power station, as a necessary consideration in deciding whether or not to grant an environmental authorisation.

According to ELA, the Minister of Environmental Affairs required that the Thabametsi Power Company conduct a climate change impact assessment. However, she subsequently upheld the authorisation despite the climate change impacts not having been assessed.

This caused ELA to institute proceedings in the Pretoria High Court last year to challenge the minister’s decision. According to ELA, the minister should have set aside the authorisation, pending an adequate assessment of the climate change impacts.

Thabametsi, the minister, and the department of environmental affairs have opposed the application arguing that there is no specific requirement in South African law for a climate change impact assessment to be conducted and that the climate change impacts had already been adequately assessed as part of the environmental impact assessment (EIA) process.

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