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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.


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Chasing Carbon Unicorns: The deception of carbon markets and "net zero"

22 February 2021 - Powerful actors are using “net zero” pledges to hide their climate inaction. Stopping the climate crisis requires us to stop burning fossil fuels – no magical thinking will solve this problem, just immediate action and system change. But transnational corporations and governments are hiding behind the “net” in “net zero” – claiming that they just need to pay someone else to remove carbon, through carbon offsetting, rather than taking action on their own.

This report unpacks the science behind “net zero” claims and how they are used to obscure climate inaction. It explores the new strategies to expand carbon offset markets, linked with new “net zero” demand for offsets. It also explains the roles played by various actors involved in the effort to “make offsetting great again”. These include less obvious players such as a few large mainstream conservation organisations, as well as the more obvious ones: the banks, the finance industry, and corporate interests behind maintaining the status quo of fossil fuel production and consumption.

 “Net zero” means that fossil fuel companies can continue to explore, drill, extract, and burn fossil fuels, while someone somewhere else sucks carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, magically balancing out emissions. But whose land, whose forests will be used to suck that carbon out? Fossil futures require carbon unicorns. 

The area of land required to sequester just 2 Gt CO2 through ecosystem restoration is estimated at 678 million hectares – about twice the land area of the country of India. Communities in the global south are already facing huge land and resource grabs, loss of livelihoods, and violations of their territorial rights. 

“Net zero” targets need to be transformed into Real Zero targets, including a complete phase-out of fossil fuels and industrial agriculture, keeping equity in mind, and support for rights for communities whose livelihoods are dependent on those ecosystems.

Download the full report here.

Gauteng residents given a whiff of Mpumalanga Highveld pollution

Image by: Daylin Paul

18 February 2021 - Over the past few days, unusual and persistent levels of sulphurous smells in the air have given residents of Gauteng a glimpse of what life is like for people who live in some of our country’s most polluted places on the Mpumalanga Highveld – one of the South Africa’s worst air pollution hotspots.

On Saturday, 13 February 2021, Gauteng Weather started reporting on the strong sulphur smell in Gauteng, and noted that southeasterly winds pointed in the direction of Mpumalanga as the source. Many residents of Gauteng noted complaints of breathing problems, burning eyes, blocked noses and bad chests on social media.

By Wednesday, the South African Weather Service issued an alert advising that air quality was “unhealthy” for sensitive groups, including children, the elderly, asthmatics, people with lung and heart disease.

According to air quality expert Lauri Myllyvirta, lead analyst at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, the rotten egg smell is a strong indicator that the pollutant in question is hydrogen sulphide, or H2S.

Sasol’s Synfuels facility in Secunda, Mpumalanga, is the main source of H2S in Mpumalanga.

Read the full media release here.

SAHRC Releases Final Report of the Gauteng Provincial Inquiry into the Sewage Problem of the Vaal River

17 February 2021 - The South African Human Rights Commission has today released its investigative report on the contamination of the Vaal River.

Samson Mokoena, the Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance (VEJA) Coordinator, commented on the report as follow:

As VEJA we welcome the report, it confirms the issues we have been raising especially relating to section 24 of the constitution. The report  confirms that the South African government has violated our rights. The state has not taken any action to solve this issue, and the report has confirmed today that law and regulation enforcement mechanisms are failing. By allowing sewage to flow in the Vaal River the government is also going against its international obligations as per UN assembly resolution of 2010, that water is a human right, the report was able to highlight that. The contamination of the Vaal River negatively impacts the environment, the well-being and also dignity of our people.

You can read the full report here.

New Year Message from groundWork Director, Bobby Peek.

How does one approach 2021?  Writing about our fears or predictions? Or seeking hope?  I finally settled on the latter.  I am not qualified to make predictions; there are many out there who are more informed.  But like millions of others who want a more sustainable existence with the earth, I am hopeful that ongoing activism worldwide can slowly chip away at the chains of power and greed.

As Pablo Solón, Bolivian activist and ex-diplomat, put it, “2020 wasn’t the worst year, it was just one of the beginnings of the systemic crisis.  Hope is not in the year that begins but, in our ability, to change and subvert the ‘normality’ that brought us here. The year 2020 brought to the fore with clarity the reality that system change is needed’.  Like Solón, my hope lies in our ability to change and subvert the old normal, and start creating a new normal, and we do this first by stopping the foolishness of the past, and through this, create the justice for the future.

Read the full text of the message here.

2020 groundWork highlights

Click here to read.

For earlier news and our news archives click here, or here to access our collection of media items.