Mineral Resources and Energy minister Gwede Mantashe says that the South African government is committed to a ‘just transition’ away from harmful carbon emissions, but will not do so at the cost of economic growth.
Addressing the African Energy Week conference in Cape Town on Tuesday (9 November), Mantashe said that South Africa has a clear energy policy encompassing all sources of energy, including the Integrated Resource Plan 2019 which acts as a projection of energy infrastructure builds towards the year 2030 and beyond.
“While we are committed to low carbon emissions – even net-zero emissions – we do so within the reality of the energy that guarantees national economic growth, development, and industrialisation,” he said.
“In this context, all energy sources, concomitant technologies and minerals for low carbon emissions, and an industrial complex sensitive to our development needs, constitute the most appropriate agenda for a just energy transition.
“In our case, this debate should not further entrench the urban labour reserves that are the legacy of our past. Therefore, the present must not enslave us further.”
Mantashe’s comments come after the US, UK, France, Germany and the European Union last week announced $8.5 billion (R127 billion) of financing to help South Africa move away from coal and ensure those who work in the industry can find greener alternatives to make a living.
“If we say we must stop fossil fuels, we must find alternative livelihoods,” Mantashe told Reuters at the sidelines of the conference. “If we don’t have alternative economic activity… then we are going to see more ghost towns in Mpumalanga.”
Asked about the detrimental health impacts of coal mining and combustion in Mpumalanga, Mantashe said coal provides a livelihood to thousands of people.
“If we starve them to death, is that healthier?” he said.
The future is still coal
Mantashe also upped the ante in his battle to retain a plan to build more coal plants, saying a trip to court would be well worth the effort.
“I know that we’re going to end up in court for it,” he told Bloomberg at the Africa Energy Week conference in Cape Town on Tuesday. “Everything we do you end up in court, but I think we should.”
The former coal unionist is at the centre of a fight over whether the black rock should remain part of South Africa’s future energy mix rather than more climate-friendly options.
Envoys from the UK, US, and the European Union flew to the country last month to offer billions of dollars in concessional loans and grants to ditch the plans for coal, though Mantashe didn’t meet them.
The construction of 1,500MW of new coal capacity has been included in South Africa’s Integrated Resources Plan and should be retained, the minister earlier told reporters. That would allow for the development of cleaner coal technology that could prolong use of the fuel, he said.