30 July 2008
The Cabinet has agreed on a progressive policy on climate change for South Africa, which will ensure that the country reduces emissions to become a “low-carbon” economy while also helping to limit the effects of global warming.
Speaking in Cape Town this week, Environmental Affairs and Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk said that one of the solutions was the possibility of a carbon tax being imposed on businesses – an idea first proposed by Finance Minister Trevor Manuel in his budget speech in February.
At the moment, South Africa has a per capita output of about nine tons of carbon dioxide, mainly because 90% of the country’s electricity comes from coal-fired power stations.
Carbon capture and storage
Van Schalkwyk said a process known as carbon capture and storage would probably become mandatory for all new coal-fired power stations in the country. While the technology is still in development, all new coal-fired power stations would have to display a readiness to implement the technology, he said.
Alternative market mechanisms besides carbon tax and carbon storage options were also being studied.
Van Schalkwyk presented a scenario – the result of over two years of work by his department – under which South Africa would see its greenhouse gas emissions gradually increasing over the next few years before reaching a plateau of about 550 megatons of carbon equivalent, just over 100 megatons more than the 2003 level of 446 megatons.
Once it had reached that level, there would be a decline in greenhouse gas emissions if action were taken now, while the transition toward a low-carbon economy would not cost the country any jobs.
He explained that while certain traditional jobs would be shed, new jobs in emerging industries would be created to make up for the earlier losses.
‘Progressive, ambitious and far-reaching’
Van Schalkwyk described the overall approach to climate change mitigation and adaptation adopted by the government as “progressive, ambitious and far-reaching”, adding that greenhouse gas emissions had to plateau and decline for the country to survive the onslaught of global warming.
“This means [greenhouse gas emissions] must stop growing at the latest by 2020-2025, stabilise for up to 10 years and then decline in absolute terms,” he said.
South Africa is taking strong steps, which it is not obliged to do as in terms of international protocols, since it is actually seen as a developing country with concurrent voluntary deviations from baseline emissions encouraged.
However, the country believed that “substantial deviations” below business-as-usual baselines [emissions] were required by developing countries.
For the developed world, South Africa has insisted that 1990 levels are the required baseline for their mandatory reductions in greenhouse gases, with greater action on emissions reduction expected, particularly from the United States.
Citing the International Panel on Climate Change report, Van Schalkwyk said that avoiding dangerous climate change required developed countries to reduce their emissions, compared to 1990 levels, by 80% to 95% by 2050, and by 25% to 40% by 2020.
Renewable, nuclear energy
South Africa, for its part, he said, would continue to strive towards usage of renewable energy and nuclear energy, while preventing new coal-fired power stations from going ahead without the requisite technology to minimise the damage the cause.
As such, nuclear energy is also seen as a vital component of South Africa’s energy planning.
“As government we strongly believe in the potential of nuclear [energy] to be part of the solution,” Van Schalkwyk said, adding that the government was keen to scale up the use of renewable energy sources as well, as long as the cost-gap between renewable, coal and nuclear energy production could be reduced.