Coal lobby in South Africa is resisting a green transition

Coal lobby in South Africa

Coal lobby in South Africa is resisting a green transition

The coal lobby in South Africa is encountering increasing opposition and challenges to its traditional supremacy as the world grapples with the urgent need to address climate change and migrate towards renewable energy sources. South Africa is a country historically powered by coal, is at a turning point as the world seeks a greener and more sustainable future. The coal business has long been a source of both wealth and controversy since it is so ingrained in the economic and social framework of the nation.


Coal has always been essential to South Africa’s energy industry since it offers a dependable supply of energy for industrialization and electrification. It has been essential to the nation’s economic prosperity and has provided power for households, companies, and mines. However, this reliance on coal has come at a great environmental cost, increasing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions to dangerous levels. 


Global efforts to mitigate climate change have stepped up in recent years, with an increased emphasis on cutting carbon emissions and switching to greener energy sources. Like many other countries, South Africa has committed to the Paris Agreement’s objectives, which include keeping global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels. The nation is under pressure to review its energy mix and lessen its reliance on coal because of this pledge. 


The coal lobby in South Africa, which is made up of coal mining firms, trade organizations, and even certain government officials, opposes the country’s efforts to make the transition to a greener economy. These organizations contend that coal still plays a crucial role in the nation’s energy security and economic stability, generating hard-to-replace employment and income. They claim that a hasty transition away from coal could have negative socioeconomic effects. 


An $8.5 billion cooperation between South Africa and a group of wealthy nations, including the US, UK, and EU, is at the center of one of the most ambitious energy transformation agreements in the history of the planet. By 2035, the Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP) wants to completely phase out coal in the nation. However, the country’s coal industry has actively opposed this strategy, working with lawmakers to weaken or delay important laws like the Climate Change Bill and the Carbon Tax Act.  


At present, the nation produces 70% of its electricity entirely from coal. The nation also ranks among the top five exporters of coal, and it is home to a significant coal mining sector. Numerous significant businesses with interests in the coal industry continue to plan for the use of fossil fuels. According to its 2021 sustainability report, South Africa’s state electricity utility Eskom promises to “repower” stations using gas, while the petrochemical giant Sasol, for instance, pledges to be at the forefront of the development of a “gas economy.”  


The phase-out of 14 current coal-fired power units and a faster adoption of renewable energy are necessary for South Africa’s energy transformation to proceed. However, the coal industry has so far resisted this change.  

According to research by climate think tank InfluenceMap, at least four groups, including the nation’s own Eskom—made attempts to lessen penalties for polluters during deliberations on South Africa’s Climate Change Bill, a significant piece of climate legislation still undergoing public hearings. 


According to the research, the mining sector backed coal with the most vigor, as South32 and Anglo-American both took part in lobbying efforts to weaken climate legislation in South Africa. Eskom, a major player in the country’s effort to shift its energy system away from fossil fuels, was one of the organizations that campaigned for maintaining current coal and gas use while increasing renewable capacity, the research reveals.  


Industry lobbyists lobbied for a modest charge on greenhouse gas pollution in the Carbon Charge Act, which was approved in 2019 at a rate of about $8 per ton of carbon dioxide. This is considerably less than the $40–80 per ton suggested by the climate research tank Carbon Market Watch to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement. The Minerals Council South Africa, which at the time represented mining businesses with 450,000 workers, called the tax “the wrong approach at the wrong time.”  


Industry executives have similar opinions on coal’s future significance. The CEO of Seriti Resources, which owns six coal mines in Emalahleni that feed Eskom, Mike Teke, justified the company’s decision to grow its coal business while investing in renewable energy. A 155MW wind farm is being developed by one of its subsidiaries, Seriti Green, and is expected to be operational by 2025. However, the project will provide almost 75% of the electricity needed in its own coal mines. 


The complicated problem posed by the South African coal lobby’s opposition to a green transition reflects the larger worldwide conflict between economic interests and environmental imperatives. Although the country’s economy and energy sector have relied heavily on the coal industry for many years, it is urgent that we confront climate change and make the switch to greener energy sources. The opposition from the coal lobby serves as further evidence of the necessity for a just transition that is well-planned and takes into account the livelihoods of coal workers and impacted communities.

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