Government’s electricity plan (the Integrated Resource Plan, IRP) will result in thousands of South Africans dying prematurely because of pollution from coal fired power stations, fan the fires of climate change with increases in greenhouse gas emissions, and make electricity unaffordable for millions of poor South Africans who are already excluded from the economy. This is groundWork’s oral and written submission to the IRP, which is supported with our Coal Kills report to parliament tomorrow, 23rd October. The Coal Kills report is a first ever compilation of local research highlighting the damage that coal causes. Based upon this evidence - Another IRP is necessary!
In 2015, at a groundWork (a partner of the Life After Coal Campaign) community meeting and toxic tour of the Mpumalanga Highveld, then Chair of the Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs, Mr. Jackson Mthembu requested for local research to highlight the evidence of the social and environmental impacts of coal rather than focusing on international studies. The Coal Kills report responds to that request and is produced for submission to the Department of Energy as local evidence of the damage coal has done to people’s social fabric, their health and their environments.
groundWork will be joined at the IRP Hearings by community people who are affected by coal developments. Community members from Ermelo, Mpumalanga, representing the Khuthala Environmental Care Group; from south Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, representing the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance; and from the Vaal Triangle, the Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance, will present their everyday struggles. The affected people will testify about the impact of dirty energy to their health, their air, their lands, their water and the fact that coal based energy is too expensive for the more than half of South Africans who live in poverty.
The IRP refuses to recognise that South Africa needs a change of economy that responds to people’s needs, but further entrenches the mineral and energy complex and supports cheap extraction of minerals for the local and global elite while trashing people’s environments and well-being. The value that the IRP puts on the externalised cost of pollution that will result in people dying prematurely or living with debilitating diseases caused by emissions, is much lower than that of the European Union. This indicates that European lives are valued up to 36 times more than South African lives. This repeats the logic of the Northern Elite as articulated by Lawrence Summers, ex Chief Economist of the World Bank, when he said that “the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest-wage country is impeccable …”.
South Africa is the world’s 14th largest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHGs). Our IRP 2018 avoids the urgency of responding to climate change by including additional coal into the energy mix. The most recent scientific evidence on climate change presented by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), on 8 October 2018 urgently calls for much more ambitious reductions in CO2 emissions to avoid unprecedented irreversible damage to our climate. The climate imperative is to reduce to zero emissions by 2040 not just for the power sector but for the whole economy. The IRP does not do this.
As with various of our government positions on climate change, there is a presentation to the public that it is taking action, but in reality no action is taken. The IRP 2018 makes energy more expensive with the ongoing reliance on coal by completing Kusile and Medupi. R4 billion can be saved by not completing the last two units of Kusile. And it includes two new privatised coal plants, which are not needed but will add around R5 billion a year to the cost of the power system. This amounts to a subsidy taken from consumers and given to the transnational corporations that will build them.
South Africans can create another energy future based on renewables or we can go down tied to the old energy model. This is the model of the ‘minerals energy complex’ that has shaped South Africa’s development for over a century. It is based on cheap coal, cheap labour and heavy duty pollution. It is unsustainable economically and is socially and environmentally catastrophic. It is now collapsing. Coal Kills provides the evidence.
In sum, if government wants to 1) uphold people’s constitutional rights, 2) supply the energy needs of its people, 3) avoid catastrophic climate change while ensuring a just transition to clean energy, 4) clean up air pollution to let people breathe, 5) conserve land and water and prevent the further destruction of whole watersheds, and 6) avoid bankrupting itself, it is imperative to focus national resources on developing renewables under democratic control while shutting down coal plants.