Rich countries should not compel South Africa to restrict new coal-power projects and impose other requirements as a condition for assistance to help lower the country’s environmental imprint, according to the country’s energy minister.
Gwede Mantashe missed a meeting last month with climate envoys from the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany, France, and the European Union, when an initial figure of about $5 billion in concessional loans and grants was discussed. South Africa’s environment and public enterprises ministers, as well as the deputy finance minister, were present at the negotiations.
The envoys hope to strike an agreement with South Africa on emissions reductions that will be unveiled at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow later this month and serve as an example for other countries looking to shift to green energy.
“They cannot impose limitations on us because they are developed countries,” Mantashe said in an interview on Tuesday. “Because we are a developing economy, they must consult with our program.”
Mantashe has consistently emphasized the importance of power supply security, supporting coal, nuclear, and natural gas as sources of generation to replace outdated coal-fired plants. South Africa is experiencing a record year of blackouts, which are used to prevent a total grid collapse when the state power utility is unable to fulfill demand.
The country is the world’s 12th-largest producer of greenhouse emissions, with wind and solar energy accounting for only around 6% of supply and coal accounting for more over 80%.
Mantashe’s stance is seen as at odds with President Cyril Ramaphosa, who spoke of the need to reduce emissions and secure climate help in a message to the nation this week. The implications of failing to do so, according to the president, will eventually affect South Africa’s ability to trade, since taxes on carbon-heavy goods may be imposed.
Rushing into renewables at the expense of coal might have negative implications, such as the present power disruptions in China, India, and the United Kingdom, according to Mantashe.
Transition with Caution
“If we swing like a pendulum from one extreme to the other, we’ll wind up in the same place,” he explained. “We must have a well-defined plan.” We must negotiate the shift carefully and methodically.”
Mantashe supported the country’s 2019 energy plan, which calls for the construction of 1,500 megawatts of new coal capacity. This, he claims, will allow South Africa to test innovative technology that could reduce pollution when the fuel is burned.
“If we learn that they are useful, we can expand them,” he remarked. “We are not recommending that you use current technologies.”
The plan also calls for the construction of 3,000 megawatts of gas-fired power generating. TotalEnergies SE’s 2019 announcement of a discovery of around 1 billion barrels of oil equivalent at its Brulpadda field off the country’s south coast fueled that ambition.
“It’s a game changer,” said Mantashe. “We’re making significant gas discoveries.” We must make use of them.”
Gas will be needed as a transition fuel until renewable energy is ramped up, according to Environment Minister Barbara Creecy and the country’s two largest coal consumers, Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd. and Sasol Ltd. The government recently raised its share in a pipeline that transports fuel from Mozambique, and Mantashe has asked for faster action to facilitate the entry of liquefied natural gas.