SA divided as billions of dollars pledged for climate fight

From the hip: Mantashe is unimpressed with the global push against coal
From the hip: Mantashe is unimpressed with the global push against coal

South Africa (SA) last week received a pledge of $8.5 billion from rich nations to help its transition from coal to clean energy, but its citizens are not united in approval of the deal.

Other coal-dependent developing countries such as Botswana have not scored similar levels of financial support, even though they are required to also move away from coal, as part of global climate change commitments.

In fact, on Monday in his State of the Nation Address, President Mokgweetsi Masisi revealed that Botswana had secured just $30 million from the Green Climate Fund earlier this year, to implement agriculture-related adaptation interventions. The Green Climate Fund was established after developed nations pledged to contribute $100 billion per year from 2009 towards helping developing countries’ climate change initiatives and the energy transition.

South Africa, a major continental polluter and the 14th largest producer of carbon dioxide emissions in the world are still largely dependent on coal and other fossil fuels. The deal struck at the global climate summit in Glasgow, will see South Africa receive loans and grants over five years to help it move away from coal-fired plants.

Not everyone is pleased with the deal or the pressure to wean off coal.

On Tuesday, popular celebrity, Sizwe Dhlomo hosted a live Twitter discussion attended by more than 500 people, including climate change activists, engineers and public policy experts, where at times, emotions boiled over in the debate.

Many ordinary South Africans feel railroaded by rich nations into ditching coal and view the $8.5 billion deal as a potential debt trap. In addition, many hold the view that transitioning quickly from coal to clean energy will worsen unemployment in that country, while the green energy transition will provide a market for Western technology and skills.

Locally, Batswana have to some extent expressed similar misgivings with the global pressure against coal, as seen in social media responses to articles this publication has posted.

Mmegi samples some of the views expressed during the discussion, particularly as Batswana grapple with the same issue. Botswana and South Africa were recently ranked among the top five most coal-dependent countries in the world.

“In this country, we have a tendency of importing problems because a lot of us have one foot in the US and the UK. We want to be cool kids. “Carbon emissions are a problem to the world and all of us in general, but ours are not so much that we should upend our economy. “It not a problem that we should have mass unemployment and doomsday projections about. “Some of us know what it is like to live in a township, having issues with access to power and water. We need to talk about the quality of life. “Let's not go too far down this rabbit hole of being economically responsible for this. Our part is a small one and we have to implement changes very slowly down the road.”

Another participant said the push for green transition was an unbalanced negotiation between the countries holding power.

“I was part of the negotiating teams for South Africa in the climate talks in Morocco and France and I should say right now, this talk about abandoning fossil fuels is at the negotiation stage. “Each country comes up with its particular demands and instruct their delegates to say come up with these points. “This issue of abandoning coal is coming from (US President) Joe Biden and they came up with it to see the reactions of the developing nations to devise how to coerce them towards an agreement. “Previously, these rich nations were saying they would pay carbon taxes and emit as they want, but that was not sustainable. That was a short term fix. “Now they want ways of a deal for countries to go the way they want. “We may not be emitting as much as them, but in terms of funding our power, we depend on them.”

Others said the transition to coal was inevitable given the global climate commitments and ageing power stations in SA. Rather than complaining about getting a raw deal from developed countries, South Africa should focus on enhancing its own technology and labour force to move into cleaner energy.

“We did not cause the problem and we are not the biggest culprits, but we are in the problem. In fact, for a country like ours with a population our size, we are a very large polluter. “As a country, we have not been able to repurpose workers and that’s because government and the private sector have not come up with solutions. “We have nine years until the first coal power station switches off and if we don’t repurpose our workers, we are going to face mass unemployment. “We have an opportunity to push for a just transition, and explore green technology and its value chain, not just solar but all the types available using the natural resources we have abundantly.”

Meanwhile, the country’s mines and energy minister, Gwede Mantashe, has railed against developed nations for closing off funding for coal and demanding a switch to cleaner energy. Addressing the African Energy Week conference in Cape Town on Tuesday, Mantashe had some strong words for the nations that pushed the coal transition at Glasgow.

“As we move from what we know, to the unknown. We navigate that transition pragmatically and systematically," he was quoted as saying by News24. "We don't jump, we don’t swing like a pendulum from one extreme to the other."

Mantashe has also called for African nations to unite against “the global pressure to rapidly abandon fossil fuels”.

Many in Botswana and beyond will be watching developments in South Africa, which is the regional powerhouse and a key supplier of coal-based electricity into the regional market.

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