The Cape Town water crisis which has resulted in a threat of a “Day 0” has raised awareness of the South African population on the effects of climate change. In fact, climate change is no longer a distant threat but a reality and we need to take action now! However, South Africa is also one of the most unequal country in the world with 55,5% of its population living below the poverty line in 2015. The transition needs to happen, but taking into consideration the needs of marginalized communities.
#1 South Africa is an energy intensive country
South Africa is one of the most energy and carbon intensive country in the world. Its economy relies on cheap electricity generated by large coal fire power plants installed across the country. The latter are responsible for half of South Africa’s carbon emissions but they also contribute to water insecurity in already arid regions and they carry heavy health costs.
Moreover, the traditional energy production model, mainly relying on coal, has proven to be unreliable especially when, in 2008, due to a set of converging factors, South Africa faced a crisis of electricity generation which resulted in rolling blackouts. Despite these side effects, new coal fire power plants are on the verge of being installed in South Africa. However, organizations from the civil society are mobilizing to stop their construction. Among others, campaigns such as Life after Coal campaign or #Thumamina (350.org) have contributed to raise awareness on the detrimental effects of these coal plants.
Watch this ! A bliss of ignorance, a 30 minutes documentary, by Simon Waller, looking at the impact of South Africa’s coal-fired power stations on air pollution, public health and the wider climate change debate . This short movie won the award for best South African short documentary at the 2017 Jozi Film Festival.
Moreover, the traditional energy production model, mainly relying on coal, has proven to be unreliable especially when, in 2008, due to a set of converging factors, South Africa faced a crisis of electricity generation which resulted in rolling blackouts.
#2 Cities are the main source of greenhouse gas emissions
South Africa, like many other African countries, experiences rapid urbanization with approximately Cities are responsible for about 59% of greenhouse gas emission of the whole country. In cities, GhG emissions are mainly emitted by electricity supply, the industrial sector but also transports. In fact, public transports are under developed in South Africa, which means most of the population uses its own car or private mini-buses causing among other things, very long traffic jams…
#3 Energy poverty is an important issue.
Even if in South Africa, almost 90% percent of all South African households have access to electricity, When a household spends 10% or more of its income on energy, it is regarded as energy poor. This is the threshold where people start making trade-offs between their energy needs and other household demands. In South Africa, 13, 6% of the live in informal settlements (also called shacks) where the number of “energy-poor” is the highest. These households suffer from a wide range of impacts, from increased risk of premature death due to indoor pollution, malnutrition (energy is needed for cooking) as well as lower quality of life.
#4 South Africa has a great wind and solar potential
The country is endowed with some of the best solar and wind resources in the world. In fact, the total technical theoretical potential for wind power in South Africa amounts to 6 700 GW. Which would be enough to supply the entire world’s electricity demand (CSIR in Forder, 2016). Moreover, South Africa has some of the highest solar irradiance in the world and experiences some of the highest levels of yearly horizontal solar irradiation globally.
Moreover, the costs of energy technologies especially solar, wind and battery storage have dropped significantly in recent times and have now become cost competitive with conventional fossil fuel alternatives. Consequently, since 2010 South Africa has slowly started to invest more and more in renewable energy technologies, which is partly due to the success of their renewable energy independent power producer procurement programme.
#5 Energy transition has to be fair, and balanced with other priorities
But since the end of apartheid, the system of institutionalized racial segregation that lasted from 1948 until the early 1990s, the South Africa political priority has been to tackle the challenges of poverty, high unemployment rates and inequalities. This is why more and more people in South Africa are advocating for a “just energy transition” that would not only take into consideration the technical aspects of the transition but that would also emphasize on the social implications of this long-term transformation.
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