groundWork (Friends of the Earth South Africa)


Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, 05 August 2013 – The impacts of climate change are coming on harder and faster than anyone anticipated. This week, fires are burning across Siberia as the Arctic region experiences an unprecedented heat wave. This signals the threat of runaway climate change as huge quantities of carbon dioxide and methane are frozen in by northern permafrost and are released as it melts. It is a sign of the developing catastrophe that will leave much of this country uninhabitable by mid-century.

This is an emergency which can be addressed only by radical and sustained cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. It requires the transformation of the economy, and the energy system in particular, towards sustainable development based on people’s needs not industry’s profit margins.

A tax on carbon emissions could contribute to such a response to climate change but Treasury’s Carbon Tax Policy Paper doesn’t cut it. It is framed by the National Climate Change Response Policy and, like that policy, it is a work of prevarication.

It says South Africa will make a ‘fair contribution’ to meeting the internationally agreed target of keeping global warming to less than 2˚C above pre-industrial levels. This can no longer be represented as a ‘safe’ target. As climate scientist James Hansen says, it is a recipe for disaster.

And even if the 2˚C target is accepted, South Africa’s ‘pledge’ does not represent a fair contribution to getting there. It allows increased emissions through to 2025 and sustains them at that level for another decade before there is any real reduction. Whether even this will be achieved is doubtful since government’s economic, energy and infrastructure policies aim to expand demand along with exports of commodities starting with coal. 

On Treasury’s own reckoning a tax of R200 per tonne of carbon dioxide is required to get serious reductions. The proposed tax does not come close. It starts at R120 per tonne but the big polluters are given huge discounts so that Eskom will pay R36 in the first year, Sasol and the crude oil refineries will pay only R24 and cement makers and coal miners will pay just R18.

And where price drives change, as Treasury believes, it may be destructive. For example, Eskom is looking at burning trees with coal, ostensibly to reduce its carbon count but also to compensate for declining coal production. If the ‘business case’ proves viable, it aims to replace 10% of coal burned by 2026.  At present burn rates, that is over 12 million tonnes of wood a year – nearly three times South Africa’s total pulp and paper production. The impact on land use and indigenous forests across southern Africa will be devastating.

South Africa justifies its continued promotion of coal and energy intensive industry in the name of development. This kind of development delivers profits to the big corporate shareholders in London and New York but does little to enable people to meet their social and economic needs.

In its submission today to National Treasury on the Carbon Tax Policy Paper, groundWork [1] proposes the carbon tax be seen as a transitional arrangement on the path of change. It would need to be accompanied by a range of measures that have little to do with price [2]:


[1] groundWork is an environmental justice organisation working with community people from around South Africa, and increasingly Southern Africa, on environmental justice and human rights issues focusing on Air Quality, Climate and Energy Justice, Waste and Environmental Health. groundWork is the South African member of Friends of the Earth International.
[2] See groundWork’s submission on the Carbon Tax Policy Paper here ...


Megan Lewis
Media, Information and Publications Campaigner
Tel (w): 033 452 5662
Mobile: 83 450 5541

Siziwe Khanyile
Climate and Energy Justice Campaigner
Mobile: 073 830 8173