South Africa's High Carbon Emission Negotiators, UNFCCC Failing - Earthlife Africa Jhb, groundWork

15th June 2011 - The UNFCCC international climate change intersession currently underway in Bonn is showing very little progress. The chances of a climate change deal in COP17 that will actually seal a deal that will do something about the problem of rising global greenhouse gas emission are becoming increasingly remote by the day. Why? It seems that vested high-carbon emission interests are capturing the process. In effect, those who financially benefit from high carbon emissions, such as energy companies, are involved in the actual negotiations to reduce emissions.

This is only too evident in the South African negotiating team, where both petrochemicals giant Sasol and national electricity utility Eskom are official representatives. This simply boggles the mind: How can the two companies who together account for the majority of South Africa's emissions and who do so profitably, be tasked with charting a low-carbon future for the country? With plans to launch new coal-to-liquids and gas-to-liquids plants across the globe (including in India, China and Indonesia), lobbying for coal-to-liquids in the US Congress, and spying on Greenpeace, Sasol is spending its revenues on polluting the planet with even more carbon dioxide. Eskom is currently under a major coal-fired generation expansion project, backed by the South African Government, and is also spending billions on warming the planet.

Precisely because of these high-carbon business practices, South Africa's emissions are now higher than previously modelled (about 542Mt of CO2-eq), and are set to rise to over 600Mt of CO2-eq in 2020. This will make a mockery of any plans to reduce emissions, including the vague and weak commitments made in Copenhagen, and will defy the South African government's own research into what would be required to keep to two degrees (470Mt of CO2-eq in 2020). As a result of the future trajectory of emissions set out by these plans, SA will not meet any of its very weak commitments made in Copenhagen.

These two companies have a direct financial stake in lax global and national rules on emissions reductions, and there is no better way to ensure that by being part of team that writes those rules. This then begs the question, is the South African government serious about doing something about climate change and living up to its constitutional mandate to ensure a clean and safe environment for all? Or, does it fundamentally see the UNFCCC as a threat that needs to be twisted and turned to benefit short-term monetary gain at the expense of the global good?

Of concern to South African civil society organisations participating in the Bonn meeting is what criteria guides South Africa in constructing its delegation. This is not publicly available nor open to scrutiny, and like much of South Africa┬╣s decision making on its carbon future, is void of meaningful participation with South African civil society. There is no civil society representative on the negotiating team.

Last year, the SA government set up a special task team to draft the country┬╣s electricity plan (and thus its emissions pathway) for the next 20 years which included significant industry lobbyists and no civil society or labour representatives. When challenged on the matter (after civil society made an access to information request) on the composition of the team the government glibly responded that industry representatives were chosen for their technical expertise. They also refused to consider reconstituting the team and including other representatives.

As the host country and the Presidency of COP17, the South African government needs to free itself of corporate influence and those lobby groups from carbon intensive industry. The South African government has a duty and obligation to protect the global environment and every individual, not to protect energy companies like Sasol and Eskom and their love affair with coal.

For more information contact-

In Bonn, at UNFCCC meeting:

Bobby Peek
Cell: +27 82 464 1383

Trusha Reddy
Senior Researcher
Institute for Security Studies
Cell: +27 82 795 3135 (available via text)

In Johannesburg:

Tristen Taylor
Project Co-ordinator
Earthlife Africa Jhb
Tel: 011 339-3662
Cell: 084 250-2434