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A groundWork Special Report


groundWork is a non-profit environmental justice service and developmental organization working primarily in Southern Africa in the areas of Climate & Energy Justice, Coal, Environmental Health, Global Green and Healthy Hospitals, and Waste. groundWork is the South African member of Health Care Without Harm and Friends of the Earth International.


Watchdog Group Uses GPS Trackers to Discover Illegal Electronic Waste Exports from Europe to Africa and Asia

Seattle, WA, USA. 07 February 2019 - The global environmental watchdog organization Basel Action Network (BAN) today released the findings of a two-year study in 10 EU countries that followed 314 old computers, printers, and monitors in which GPS Trackers had been secretly installed. This equipment was then delivered to places where consumers are expected to take their waste -- most often government-approved takeback stations. They found that 19 (6%) of the tracked scrap equipment was exported, including 11 very likely illegal shipments to the countries of Ghana, Hong Kong, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tanzania, Thailand, and Ukraine, outside of the EU. 

Following GPS signals across the globe -- here is the location where an LCD deployed in Germany ended up -- in a equipment smashing operation outside of Bangkok in Thailand. Copyright BAN 2018.

The report, Holes in the Circular Economy: WEEE Leakage from Europe, estimates that the flows discovered with figures regarding WEEE generation in Europe, if extrapolated, would total 352,474 metric tonnes per annum, moving from the EU to developing countries. This amount could fill 17,466 large-size intermodal shipping containers. If they were loaded onto trucks, the trucks would stretch back-to-back for 401 kilometers.

"It appears that we have discovered a very significant stream of illegal shipments of hazardous consumer electronic scrap to vulnerable populations," said BAN Director Jim Puckett. "This flies in the face of EU claims to make continuous efforts to implement a circular economy which can only responsibly exist by eliminating externalities and leakage from the system."

Of the 10 countries studied (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Spain, and the UK), all countries excepting Hungary were involved in exports. The UK was clearly the worst violator with 5, with most of those going to Africa. Italy, Germany, Spain, Ireland, and Poland were also implicated in allowing shipments to developing countries. BAN subsequently visited some of the destinations.

Read the full media release here.

The myth of clean coal

Cover of

07 February 2019 - We’re recirculating our report “The Myth of Clean Coal” in view of Minister Jeff Radebe’s comments at the Mining Indaba yesterday that government is “investing in research to develop clean coal technologies”. Earlier, Minister Gwede Manatashe had called for investment in "clean technology" to counter the "siege on the coal industry".

Unfortunately, coal can never be “clean”.

The report investigates the coal cycle and demonstrates the extent and severity of the various impacts associated with the mining, beneficiation, and combustion of coal, and demonstrates that there are no solutions which are able to completely mitigate coal’s enormous resource consumption and harm to health and the environment. 

Download the full report here.

CER calls on Minister Mantashe to address mining company’s attempts to silence activists

Some of the defendants in the defamation suits by Australian mining company MRC meeting in Cape Town in 2018Some of the defendants in the defamation suits by Australian mining company MRC meeting in Cape Town in 2018

07 February 2018 - Ahead of Mineral Resources Minister Mantashe’s planned 8 February 2019 visit to Australian mining company Mineral Commodities Limited’s Tormin mineral sands mine on the West Coast, the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) has asked the Minister to take note of MRC’s coordinated campaign of litigation against activists, lawyers and the media to silence criticism of the company and its operations, in violation of Constitutional rights of freedom of speech, freedom of media, academic freedom and environmental rights.

Mineral Commodities Limited (MRC) is the mining company that has applied to open a new mineral sands mine at Xolobeni on the Wild Coast. In 2016, anti-mining activist Sikosiphi “Bazooka” Rhadebe was assassinated at Xolobeni. No-one has yet been arrested for his murder.

Read the full media release here.

Court orders government to disclose records on coal power plants

06 February 2019 -Yesterday, the High Court in Pretoria ordered government to deliver crucial records relating to the judicial reviews instituted by groundWork and Earthlife Africa, represented by the Centre for Environmental Rights, to set aside the environmental authorisations for the two preferred bidder coal-fired power stations – Thabametsi and Khanyisa – under the Coal Baseload Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (“the coal IPPs”).

The outstanding records, if and when received, should give an indication of the extent to which the Minister and Department of Environmental Affairs considered the extremely high climate change impacts of the coal IPPs.

Read the full media release here.

Eskom's latest attempt to avoid pollution standards met with vigorous opposition

06 February 2019 - Earlier this week, the Life After Coal/Impilo Ngaphandle Kwamalahle Campaign, and the Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance (VEJA) submitted a strongly worded opposition to Eskom’s latest round of applications for more time to comply with pollution standards – the minimum emission standards (MES) – and, in some cases, permission never to meet certain standards.

Eskom seeks this special treatment for ten of its polluting coal-fired stations despite: being granted leniency in the past; failing to meet the legally-required conditions to seek postponements of or suspensions from compliance; and failing to comply with their current air emission licences.

The law requires that these applications can only be sought where air quality in the area meets the health-based air quality standards. Despite this, all of the power stations for which applications have been made are located in areas with severely-degraded air quality and where South Africa’s weak standards are not met.

Eskom has also failed to demonstrate, as the law demands, that its air emissions are not causing direct adverse impacts – in fact, 2017 research conducted by UK-based air quality and health expert Dr Mike Holland found that Eskom’s air pollution is responsible for more than 2,200 deaths every year, and causes thousands of cases of bronchitis and asthma in adults and children annually.

Read the full media release here.

MEC will not exclude properties from Mabola: Protected Environment remains intact

29 January 2019 - The members of the coalition of civil society organisations who have been challenging mining company Atha Africa's proposed new coal mine inside a Mpumalanga strategic water source area welcome the decision of Mpumalanga MEC Vusumuzi Shongwe to withdraw his notice of intention to exclude the area proposed for mining from the Mabola Protected Environment.

MEC Shongwe had published his intention to exclude the proposed mining area from the Mabola Protected Environment in October 2018, and had called on the public to submit their comments and objections. The coalition submitted a comprehensive objection to the proposed exclusion in December 2018.

The intended exclusion would not have been legally defensible, and the coalition would have been obliged to apply to the High Court to set aside such a decision. The coalition is reassured by the MEC's decision not to go ahead with the exclusion, and relieved that it does not have a further legal challenge on its hands.

Read the full media release here.

High Court refuses mining company's leave to appeal in the Mabola case

22 January 2019 - In another victory for the civil society coalition defending a Mpumalanga strategic water source area, the North Gauteng High Court today refused mining company Atha Africa leave to appeal the court's decision to set aside permissions for a new coal mine inside a declared protected environment.

In 2016, without public consultation and without notice to the coalition, the two Ministers gave their permission for a large, 15-year coal mine to be built inside the Mabola Protected Environment.

In November 2018, the Court set aside the permission and referred the decision back to the two Ministers for reconsideration on the basis that the Ministers did not take their decisions in an open and transparent manner or in a manner that promoted public participation, and that the decisions were therefore procedurally unfair. The High Court also ordered the Ministers and MEC to pay the coalition's legal costs on an attorney and client (punitive) scale.

Today, the court heard Atha Africa's application for leave to appeal the November decision to a full bench of the High Court or the Supreme Court of Appeal. The High Court refused Atha's application. The court also ordered Atha Africa to pay the legal costs of the coalition of civil society organisations who successfully opposed the application for leave to appeal.

Read the full media release here.

Highlights of 2018

groundWork is always a 'crazy' busy place. 2018 was no different. It has been an exciting year with a new strategy developed for the next three years to challenge for environmental justice, under the themes of Open Democracy and a Just Transition.

We have chosen these thematic framing areas as we are bearing witness to violence against civil society by government and corporations, the use of 'divide and rule' by corporate power.

Undemocracy presently rules. In this context the Transition is happening now, as workers and families lose their livelihoods and the elite make off with the profits of a decaying coal industry. We have to fight to make it a Just Transition!

Read the full highlights of 2018 here.


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