President Cyril Ramaphosa says that South Africa remains committed to environmental goals despite ‘upping the ante’ to tackle rolling blackouts.
Writing in his newsletter to the public, the president said that although the government is intensifying its efforts to address load shedding, it remains committed to reducing the country’s carbon footprint through the just transition.
“One of the issues widely discussed in light of the current electricity shortfall is the pace at which older coal-fired power stations that are coming to the end of their lives will be decommissioned,” said Ramaphosa.
“South Africa has committed to reducing its carbon emissions by 2030 to within a target range which, at its upper level, is compatible with limiting global temperature increase to 1.5ºC.”
The president said that the country remains committed to such environmental goals, provided that the way the country goes about reaching the goals does not compromise energy security or the immediate priority of reducing load shedding.
He said that it might even be necessary to re-examine the timeframes and the process of decommissioning coal-fired power stations to temporarily address load shedding.
The president went on to make the connection that a number of countries in Europe that had decommissioned or mothballed their fossil-fuelled power stations are recommissioning them to address the current energy shortage as a result of the conflict between Ukraine and Russia. Europe, however, faces a different energy issue than South Africa.
“The process of re-examining our timeframes is not a reversal of our position on the just energy transition. Other countries have had to do the same in recent years without deviating from their long-term shift to renewable energy sources,” Ramaphosa said.
“Any decision on decommissioning will be informed by a detailed technical assessment of the feasibility of continuing to operate older plants. It will also be informed by the timeframe in which we can expect new capacity from other energy sources and the impact on our decarbonisation trajectory,” he said.
“Our position is clear and principled: it is possible for us to prioritise our immediate energy needs without jeopardising our climate commitments, and we are determined to do so. In fact, we must accelerate the pace of investment in new renewable electricity generation as an important part of the plan to overcome load shedding.”
Ramaphosa’s letter follows a polarising week of discussion between influential ministers around the way forward for providing short-term relief to load shedding.
The new electricity minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa proposed that ageing coal-fired power plants should see renewed focus, going against the traditional plan of making a hard shift towards renewable energy – causing much debate between the energy minister, Gwede Mantashe, as well as the minister of public enterprises, Pravin Gordhan.
To squash the infighting, Ramaphosa was called on by the ANC secretary general Fikile Mbalula to ‘do his job’ and provide insight into the actual powers of the newly appointed minister of electricity.
Regarding the country’s climate change commitments, Ramaphosa wrote that the country faces a dual challenge – an electricity crisis and a climate crisis.
He said that work is underway to improve Eskom’s performance through returning units at the Kusile and Medupi power stations – adding 3,500 MW back to the grid, and the government is focusing on improving the quality of coal supplied to power stations.
“We’re adding new power sources to the grid and buying power from neighbouring countries to close the 6,000 MW deficit,” said Ramaphosa.
Meanwhile, Ramaphosa will be asked to speak to his counterparts in countries offering South Africa $8.5 billion of climate finance to close coal-fired power plants to explain why the nation will depend on the dirtiest fuel for longer.