South Africa’s economy is based on an energy paradigm called the minerals-energy complex and this has led to it being one of the most energy and carbon intensive countries in the world. Its carbon intensity and high emissions result from two fundamental and related reasons: its reliance on coal as its primary energy source and its policy of supplying cheap electricity to industry. More than 75 per cent of South Africa’s greenhouse gas emissions stem from energy production, and more than 50 per cent of the energy is consumed by industries and mining activities.
The Coal Campaign began in 2013 and is a partnership between groundWork, Earthlife Africa Johannesburg and the Centre of Environmental Rights to challenge Eskom, South Africa’s parastatal energy producer, and government to change the country’s energy policies and practice due to the many impacts of coal on people’s health, the environment and of course, its major contribution to climate change. Whilst Eskom is an evident target, the campaign also looks at resisting the construction of new independent coal-fired power stations and coal mines.
The Air Quality Campaign has fallen away by name but the work done in this campaign will be incorporated into the other campaigns, and to a large degree into the Coal Campaign.
The tangible impacts of climate change are already being experienced on a global scale, including rising sea levels, crop failures, change in rainfall patterns, livestock death, less availability of water, additional health risks and potentially increased migration towards South Africa. Despite this, coal is not seen as a negative or controversial issue in the media and by the many South Africans generally, unlike either nuclear or fracking.
Therefore, a large part of this campaign deals with creating awareness and raising the profile of the negatives of coal in South African and the world, in order that people call on the government for a different energy future. A just transition from coal to renewable energy sources needs to take place in South Africa, where people are enabled to have control to accessible and affordable energy.
Currently, the people most affected live close to the operational coal-fired power stations and the open-pit mines supplying the power stations. People along the roads where coal is transported are affected by the increase in traffic and the deteriorating road conditions. Nevertheless, it needs to be a concern that all South African citizens take up and fight against. The financial costs of coal impact negatively on us all, as the State and taxpayer has to pay for those that fall ill due to carbon pollution.
In addition to the out-dated technology used by Eskom to generate most of our electricity, bank’s investment patterns are similarly out-dated driving fossil fuel companies to waste trillions of dollars in developing reserves and infrastructure that will be stranded as the world moves beyond 20th century energy. The money also comes from pension funds and from savings of millions of people.