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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.


Call to action: Despite its coal power stations harming thousands every year, Eskom now wants even more time to continue polluting

16 August 2018 - Eskom has once again announced that it will not meet pollution standards for 14 of its coal power stations.

Although Eskom has already been given permission to postpone its compliance with the Air Quality Act’s minimum emission standards, and despite overwhelming evidence of the devastating health impacts of its emissions, it now plans to ask the Department of Environmental Affairs for even more time to meet standards – in other words, to continue with its pollution. In several cases, Eskom says it does not ever intend to meet emission standards.

Eskom is now asking to defer compliance at 11 coal power stations on the Mpumalanga Highveld, and one in the Vaal Triangle. Both the Vaal Triangle and the Mpumalanga Highveld were declared air pollution priority areas under the Air Quality Act in 2006 and 2007, requiring urgent action to clean up the air in those regions in order to protect human health. Despite more than a decade having passed since the Highveld and the Vaal Triangle were declared priority areas, widespread air pollution, with dangerous health impacts, remains. This is a clear violation of the Constitutional right to an environment not harmful to health or well-being.

Read the full media release here.

Wheels come off the Eskom offset

14 August 2018 - Eskom is the biggest air polluter in the land through its intensive coal fired power stations. This makes Eskom not just a producer of energy but also a manufacturer of illnesses and deaths. The power utility has failed to comply with the minimum emission standards (MES) set by a democratic process, which included all role players and led by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), which is aimed at reducing outdoor pollution from coal fired power stations, in order to protect the lives of the people who are already suffering from respiratory diseases and dying from the pollution from coal facilities. It is also important to mention that the standards set by the DEA are less protective of health compared to those of the WHO (World Health Organization).

Instead of meeting these standards, Eskom opted to start an offset programme in a few Highveld communities aimed to reduce outdoor air pollution by addressing indoor pollution by improving the insulation of the houses and providing LPG gas stoves, heaters, wall insulation, and ceiling to the communities. Their basic idea and intention is to cut domestic emissions by switching households to cleaner energy sources, low emission appliances, and insulation as an offset to the millions of kilograms of pollutants they emit from their fleet of coal fired power stations.

groundWork staffer Tsepang Molefe spoke to Sunnboy and Petunia Skhosana, residents of KwaZamokuhle township, Hendrina in Mpumalanga about their experience of the Eskom programme.

Read his full account here.

Life After Coal Campaign comments on Climate Change Bill 2018

08 August 2018 - The Life After Coal Campaign (LAC) today submitted a comprehensive response to the Department of the Environment on the Climate Change Bill 2018.

The general thrust of the comments is that whilst supporting the Bill, the LAC is highly concerned that the Bill, in its current form, does not go far enough to address the severity and urgency of the threat of climate change. Instead of responding urgently to the need to address climate change, and making adequate provision for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and for holding emitters and government accountable, the Bill's focus is on creating a bureaucracy of government bodies, plans, and processes.

The LAC further points out that at present, South Africa is not on track to meeting the Paris Agreement target of holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels, and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C. This means that South Africa is continuing to expose itself and its people to devastating temperature increases and other climate impacts that will cause irreversible harm, as acknowledged in the White Paper and NDC. This is not consistent with the Bill of Rights in the Constitution, in particular, the rights to life, dignity, access to food and water, and to an environment not harmful to health or well-being.

Read the full submission by the Life After Coal Campaign here.

SDCEA meeting

The importance of community activism

03 August 2018 - Addressing the 23rd Biennial General Meeting of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA), groundWork Director Bobby Peek observed that the work of community activists at the SDCEA "is never about self. It was, is, and always will be about the community of south Durban. From that very first protest against Engen on the 25th March 1995 till today, 23 years later, the defence of the people of south Durban has been at the forefront of the struggle. With the odds still stacked against us, there is no choice but to stand with each other, support each other, and make sure through this we recognise that the work we do is not for ourselves."

"Today, too often, successful groups who started with resistance fall into the trap of being NGOs taking on a different persona and position to that into which they were born. It is community groups or fence-line formations like SDCEA and its sister organisations such as the Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance, the South African Waste Pickers Association, the Karoo Environmental Justice Movement and the recently launched Sekhukhune Environmental Justice Network that reminds us that people living on the fence-line and their struggle is most important", he added.

You can read the full address here and also Bobby's thoughts on the current state of environmental justice in his column From the Smokestack in the groundWork June 2018 Newsletter here.

Tackling climate change is a health issue and we need the health sector to be a leader

27 July 2018 – This was one of the points made by groundWork Director Bobby Peek during an address to health care professionals at the Middleburg Provincial Hospital today.

“For us, be it groundWork or the community people we work with, environment speaks to our health foremost.  We see environment from a justice perspective and by this we mean we have to have decent basics of life such as nutrition;  services such as water, energy and health; a safe and decent working environment; and an area where can live as a community in the knowledge that our children can play in an environment that will foster their growth”.

The gathering was part of an ongoing interaction between groundWork and healthcare professionals through the Global Green and Healthy Hospitals (GGHH) partnership. Peek pointed out that the GGHH programme has played a fundamental role in ensuring that Clinics, hospitals and health care systems around the globe are already taking innovative steps to reduce their own carbon footprint, invest in clean renewable energy, develop resiliency strategies, educate their staff and patients, and advocate for policy that protects public health from the impacts of climate change and promotes environmental health.

 “The Western Cape and KwaZulu Natal Departments of Health, the Johannesburg Health Department, the Free State and Northwest hospitals have all joined these GGHH initiatives. Membership from other parts of the continent include one hospital in Kenya, one in Morocco and 12 hospitals spread out across Ghana, Tanzania and Madagascar” he added.

You can read the full text of the address here.

Comment from the Life After Coal campaign on Eskom financial results

 Eskom infrastructure

Image: Voice of the Cape FM

23 July 2018 - The Life after Coal campaign (LAC), which comprises the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), Earthlife Africa, and groundWork, has issued a media release commenting on the latest Eskom financial results.

Amongst the points made, the LAC states that:

"We call for immediate action by the Department of Public Enterprises and other government departments to accelerate the phase-out of old, expensive, and non-compliant coal-fired power stations, and to stop building the last over-priced units at Kusile".

You can read the full media release here.

Sekhukhune Environmental Justice Network launched

sejn banner19 July 2018 - The Sekhukhune Environmental Justice Network launched today. Delivering the keynote address at the inaugural meeting of the SEJN, groundWork Director, Bobby Peek said the following:

I want us to reflect on what Madiba left us. What have we done with this freedom? What have we done with this hope? What have we done with this courage, the courage that we can take on the world and succeed? There are many Madiba stories about how he influenced people to take actions. Indeed, I want to at the outset say that one of the oldest community environmental justice networks in South Africa, the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, emerged from a chance encounter with Madiba in 1995. It is this network and the very many more community environmental justice networks around South Africa that SEJN is now a part of, that keeps the true meaning of freedom, hope and courage alive. From the Highveld Environmental Justice Network, to the Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance, from the Karoo Environmental Justice Movement to the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation, in all parts of South Africa community people are starting to organise as SEJN is doing. I bring solidarity and well-wishes from all of them!

You can read Bobby Peek's full address here.

Water costs, impacts of coal-fired power grossly underestimated in electricity planning

16 July 2018 - Mining coal and burning it in power stations uses large amounts of water, and pollutes even more water. It imposes massive but uncounted costs on society and particularly on poor people who live in the coal regions. A new report from the Life After Coal campaign calls for these costs to our water resources to be accounted for in the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) – South Africa’s plan for the future electricity system.

The Life After Coal campaign partners Centre for Environmental Rights, groundWork and Earthlife Africa, together with Greenpeace Africa, have indicated that they will have no option but to challenge an IRP that fails to adequately take the costs of coal into account, in court.

Life After Coal spokesperson Saul Roux says: “The Draft IRP (2016) provides cost estimates for different energy technologies but does not include externalities of critical importance for electricity planning. This means that the costs of coal-fired power generation are significantly under-counted. South Africa is a dry country and cannot afford this.”

Read the full media release here.


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