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Progressive climate change strategy announced for SA

by Shaun Benton
on 01 Aug 2008
BuaNews Online
BuaNews Online

South Africa is making moves to become a low-carbon economy, says Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism Marthinus van Schalkwyk.

The minister announced on Monday that a progressive policy on climate change had been agreed upon by Cabinet that would help ensure that the country was helping prevent global temperatures from rising a further two percent.

The world is currently experiencing a mean global temperature rise of 0.7 percent above pre-industrial levels, measured from about the year 1750, this allows about 1.3 percent of leeway in which to make concerted efforts to halt the global rise of temperature.

One of the solutions is the possibility of a carbon tax being imposed on business.

At the moment South Africa's per capita output is about nine tons of carbon dioxide, said Mr van Schalkwyk.

The country is a relatively large emitter of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, largely because 90 percent of the country's energy comes from burning its large coal deposits.

The Minister of Finance, Trevor Manuel, introduced the country's first carbon tax in his Budget Speech in February. And now, Cabinet has mandated the National Treasury to study a further carbon tax as a potential option.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is likely to become mandatory for all new coal-fired power stations, said the minister.

While this technology is still in development, all new coal-fired power stations will have to display a readiness to implement this technology, reporters heard. Alternative market mechanisms besides a carbon tax or carbon storage options are also being studied.

Under the scenario planning presented by the minister, which is the result of more than two years of work by his department, South Africa will see its greenhouse gas emissions gradually increasing over the next few years before reaching a plateau of about 550 megatons of carbon equivalent.

Once a plateau of about 100 megatons carbon equivalent above the current level (measured in 2003) 0f 446 megatons of carbon equivalent is reached there will be a decline, towards a low-carbon economy, if action is taken now.

And this will not cost the country any jobs, said Mr van Schalkwyk.

Studies by his department have shown that there will be no net loss of jobs for the economy as it undergoes a transition to a low-carbon economy.

Certain traditional jobs will be shed, but new jobs in the industry will be created.

The minister described the overall approach to climate change mitigation and adaptation adopted by government as "progressive, ambitious and far-reaching".

The scenario outlined by the minister points to a ceiling of a maximum of two degrees Celsius in temperature rise above pre-industrial levels, around the year 1750, that government is working with.

Mr van Schalkwyk said greenhouse gas emissions must peak, plateau and decline for the country to survive the onslaught of global warming.

"This means it [greenhouse gas emissions] must stop growing at the latest by 2020-2025, stabilise for up to ten years and then decline in absolute terms," according to the department.

South Africa is taking strong steps as a developing country, which it is not obliged to do as in terms of international protocols. It is seen as a developing country with concurrent voluntary deviations from baseline emissions encouraged.

However, the country believes that "substantial" deviations below business-as-usual baselines [emissions] are required by developing countries.

For the developed world, South Africa is insisting that 1990 levels are the required baseline for their mandatory reductions in greenhouse gases, with greater action on emissions reduction expected particularly from the United States, said Mr Van Schalkwyk.

Citing the International Panel on Climate Change report, the minister said that avoiding dangerous climate change requires developed countries to reduce their emissions compared to 1990 levels by 80 per cent to 95 per cent by 2050, and by 25 per cent to 40 per cent by 2020.

South Africa, for its part, will continue to strive towards usage of renewable energy and nuclear energy, while preventing new coal-fired power stations from going ahead without the requisite technology to minimise the damage the cause.

Nuclear energy remains a central plank of South Africa's energy planning.

"As government we strongly believe in the potential of nuclear [energy] to be part of the solution," he said, adding that government is keen to scale up the use of renewable energy sources as well, as long as the cost-gap between renewable, coal and nuclear energy production could be reduced. - BuaNews

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