South Africa backs global climate deal to kiss fossil fuels goodbye

 ·14 Dec 2023

The South African government has welcomed a deal struck at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai, where nearly 200 countries have agreed to begin moving away from fossil fuels by ramping up renewable energy to counter the impact of climate change.

“This is a big step forward,” said Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment Barbara Creecy.

“For the first time, we have language which calls for transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems in a just, orderly and equitable manner so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science,” she added.

This deal was struck after two weeks of negotiations, with a “global stocktake” seen as the central outcome of COP28. This is a five-year rotational process that appraises progress countries have made towards meeting their climate targets.

The stocktake includes all the topics that were discussed during the negotiations. Countries are encouraged to use it to create stronger climate action plans by 2025. It calls for countries to cut global greenhouse gas emissions by 43% by 2030 to limit global warming to 1.5°C but notes that countries are not on track to meet their Paris Agreement goals.

In addition, it urges countries to take action towards:

  • Tripling renewable energy capacity;
  • Doubling energy efficiency improvements by 2030;
  • Accelerating the phase-down of unabated coal power;
  • Phasing out fossil fuel subsidies;
  • Transitioning away from fossil fuels in an equitable manner.

“Whilst we didn’t turn the page on the fossil fuel era in Dubai, this outcome is the beginning of the end,” said UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Simon Stiell in his closing speech. “Now all governments and businesses need to turn these pledges into real-economy outcomes, without delay.”

Creecy stressed that “throughout our facilitation of the global stocktake, South Africa emphasized that climate ambition must be balanced across mitigation, adaptation and means of implementation. We also emphasized that equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities should underpin all asks on developing countries”.

In 2019, South Africa piloted its Just Energy Transition Partnership at COP26, aimed at helping developing countries transition towards renewable energy. The South African government later announced its Just Just Energy Transition Investment Plan (JET-IP), which planned for a R1.5 trillion (US$80 billion) investment into renewable energy, green hydrogen, and new energy vehicles.

However, the plan has faced resistance from civil society and coal, oil, and gas lobbies.

“These decisions are in line with our national framework on Just Transition, in particular the recognition of a country’s right to pursue its climate resilience path in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication,” argued Creecy.

Researchers at Wits University, Yashila Govender, Katrina Lehmann-Grube, Sonia Phalatse, Julia Taylor and Imraan Valodia, said that the “South African government hopes the JET-IP will ‘catalyse’ more financial commitments from donors… particularly as South Africa faces an acute energy crisis that has shown no signs of abating soon”.

“At stake is a financially moribund coal-dependent energy provider, Eskom, that is in debt of more than R400-billion, and the surrounding coal communities that will be affected by governments’ planned transition towards a decarbonised energy sector,” they added.

Read: R160 billion not enough for South Africa

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