• Climate Change: Don't Look to South Africa for Leadership

    By IPS Correspondents

    South Africa is Africa’s largest economy and the continent’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. The country’s emissions per capita are on par with those of the United Kingdom, and more than twice as high as China’s emissions by the same measure.

    South Africa is presently responsible for about half of Africa’s emissions, with 80 percent of its estimated 400 million metric tonnes of CO2 coming from the energy sector alone.

    Africa is expected to be disproportionately affected by climate change, with a global rise of two degrees Celsius – the acknowledged worldwide target – resulting in a possible four to five degree rise in many parts of the continent. Changes in temperature, quantity and distribution of rainfall have enormous implications for farming, compounded by weak infrastructure and the vulnerability of impoverished populations.

    But going into negotiations at the U.N. Climate Conference in Cancun, it is likely that South Africa will align itself with other big developing economies, advocating an approach that prioritises poverty alleviation over any binding commitment to reducing emissions.

    Ahead of the last 15th Conference of Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change in Denmark in December 2010, South Africa announced a voluntary commitment to reduce emissions by 34 percent below ‘business as usual’ levels by 2020. This reduction is, however, conditional upon international support that is not certain to materialise.

    South Africa’s Minister for Water and Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa, will be representing South Africa’s interests at the 16th Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change in Cancun, Mexico.

    “We believe that it is quite important that as developing countries we also get an opportunity to allow development to happen because of poverty,” Molewa says. “We need to allow space for us to actually introduce those emissions [reductions] over time, because developed countries have gone through the processes.”

    The country experienced rolling blackouts in 2008, severely impacting the mining and manufacturing sectors, and causing the cancellation of big energy-intensive projects. Securing an energy supply to support economic growth and reduce high levels of poverty remains uppermost for planners.

    The government’s second Integrated Resource Plan seeks to map out long-term energy and technology options for the South Africa, taking into consideration sustainability, security of supply, accessibility, affordability, security of supply and environmental impact.

    The short-term answers are dirty: the coal-fired Medupi power station is expected to contribute 4,800 megawatts to the national electricity grid from 2012, and to emit around 26 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, despite employing supercritical coal technology, which is less polluting than older coal plants’. The subsequent Kusile station is projected to have similar outputs on both scores.

    In its draft energy plan, government expects that by 2030, 48 percent of the total energy demand will be met by coal, 16 percent from renewable sources and 14 from nuclear generation, including the construction of six new nuclear power stations, the first of which would come online in 2023.

    The draft plan also considers a “low-carbon scenario” which would involve an energy mix of 36 percent coal-sourced electricity, 32 percent renewables and 12 percent nuclear. But planners found that although this scenario would cut carbon emissions by 20 percent more, it would drive up costs by 50 percent than the “balanced scenario” the draft plan endorses.

    Richard Worthington from the Worldwide Fund for Nature says that in South Africa there is a perception that a sustainable pathway forward puts jobs at risk. “But the evidence is clearly out there that a low-carbon economy is a more labour intensive economy,” he says. “The less you rely on the concentrated energy of fossil fuels, the more likely you are to need more people working.”

    Greenpeace International and the European Renewable Energy Council have set out a vision for a low-carbon energy future involving increased efficiency, renewable energy sources and expanded reliance on combined heat and power generation. Greenpeace says its Energy [R]evolution scenario would secure power for economic growth while creating an additional 78 000 jobs in the energy sector by 2030. It would also reduce the country’s emissions – 2050 emissions would fall by 60 percent as compared to 2005 levels.

    An important challenge to green scenarios like this one is how quickly the cost to consumers per unit of renewable energy can be reduced to match the price of polluting energy: higher energy costs for either industry or the country’s poor are viewed as unacceptable.

    Although it is well-endowed with solar and wind energy resources, South Africa has not developed a robust renewable energy industry.

    The Copenhagen Summit failed to reach a binding agreement on reducing emissions, primarily because of developed countries were unwilling to sign up to new commitments without matching commitments from the rising developing powers. Little progress has been made on this front during 2010 and few expect the Cancun summit to achieve a breakthrough.

    But with South Africa hosting the 2011 round of climate change negotiations in Durban, Africa – and the world – will be looking for it to demonstrate leadership in reconciling development priorities and the drastic reductions in greenhouse emissions that the world needs.

    - This article was first published on Inter Press Service (IPS)  website. It is republished here with the permission of IPS.
  • Water Pollution: NGOs Urge Govt to Act

    Environmental organisations have called on the World Health Organisation (WHO) to appeal to the government to take action on the contamination of South Africa’s water resources, which they say could lead to environmental disaster and health problems for Witwatersrand residents.

    The National Water Forum, the Federation for a Sustainable Environment for the Olifants River and the National Taxpayers Union have, in a letter to Mary Anne Groepe of WHO in the country, describe the growing crisis as a ‘time bomb’.

    “With continued pollution by defunct sewage works and only three percent of waste treatment plants in working order, thousands of megalitres of untreated human sewage is being pumped into our rivers and dams.

    To read the article titled, “Water warriors turn to WHO to tame pollution,” click here.
    Business Day
    Article link: 
  • NGOs Criticise West Rand Environmental Disaster

    Press Release

    19 January 2010

    From: Earthlife Africa Johannesburg (Acid Mine Drainage Working Group)
    Endorsed by: Legal Resources Centre, Federation for a Sustainable Environment, The GreenHouse People's Environment Centre, Public Environmental Arbiters

    Contacts for further information:

    Rachel Adatia email: amd.workinggroup@gmail.com cell 082 420 1436
    Mariette Liefferink email: mariettel@iburst.co.za Tel: 011 787 7965 cell: 073 231 4893
    Latest acid mine drainage crisis calls for a constructive response from civil society
    Environmental disaster flowing from the West Rand

    Untreated acid mine water is currently flowing uncontrollably out of an old mine ventilation shaft on the West Rand, near Randfontein. The water is polluted with toxic heavy metals, including uranium. At another exit point the toxic water is only 1cm away from overflowing (as of measurements taken by Rand Uranium on 14 January 2010).  This acid mine water will further pollute the streams and rivers of both the Vaal and Limpopo river systems, threatening the health of all people reliant on these rivers and their tributaries. 

    The impact of acid mine drainage is far reaching and long-term. For example, research shows that acid mine drainage could not only affect our quality of water, but also poison food crops, destroy heritage sites, lead to a decline in agricultural production and related job losses. It could also lead to civil unrest related to conflict over resource use.

    Why was this disaster allowed to happen?

    This latest acid mine drainage crisis could have been avoided if the mining companies responsible especially DRD Gold and the government had worked together more effectively. It seems that Rand Uranium has acted responsibly and continued to pump and treat water from the Western Basin. However, once the other companies stopped pumping, Rand Uranium did not have the capacity to pump and treat enough water to stop the level of underground toxic water rising. The recent heavy rains added to the volume of water draining into the old mining area.

    It is not the first time

    Civil society groups have been alerting government and the mining companies to this danger since 2002 when it first became clear that the Western Basin was flooded. This meant that the water had to be continuously pumped out and treated if an uncontrolled overflow of acid mine water was to be prevented. However, this has not been done consistently, largely due to the inability of government and some mining companies to work constructively together. A key stumbling block is who will pay for the clean-up. Pumping and treating water is expensive. For example, it costs R2.5 million a month to pump and partially treat 25Ml of water. Yet such costs are far exceeded by the health and environmental costs to society of doing nothing.

    Civil society has a role to play

    The government and mining companies have made some progress in addressing the acid mine drainage issue, for example:
    • there is now a Remediation Action Plan for the Wonderfonteinspruit catchment area
    • a huge amount of research has been done on the issue of acid mine drainage (In 1996 scientists even predicted that the Western Basin would flood in 2002)
    • there are various proposals for a potential long-term solution to the issue, which require urgent response from the government and civil society.
    However, the pollution is ongoing and it could soon get much worse. There are only about 2.5 years left before acid mine water begins to flow uncontrollably out of the Central Basin, below Johannesburg, and only 18 months before the polluted water in that Basin reaches an environmentally critical level. Beyond that level the environment will be detrimentally and potentially irreversibly affected.

    It is imperative that broader civil society starts to engage with acid mine drainage because it appears that the government and mining companies cannot resolve this issue in isolation. There needs to be an open public debate so the issue can be addressed constructively.

    The problems related to acid mine drainage are going to be with us for decades, if not hundreds, of years to come. ItÕs time for us all to learn about acid mine drainage and start working out how to deal with it. Such action includes:
    • raising awareness of the dangers of using the polluted water (even for irrigating vegetables) or disturbing the mud at the bottom of polluted dams and streams
    • undertaking further research into the long-term health impacts of the pollution
    • planning and implementing projects to rehabilitate the most affected areas
    • taking preventive action to avoid acid mine drainage resulting from future mining operations.
    In addition, there needs to be open debate around one of the key stumbling blocks that has influenced a lack of action on the part of mining companies and the government up to now the question of who pays. For example:
    • Is it realistic to expect current mining companies to pay for the legacies of other mining companies in the past?
    • Should mining companies offer a public apology for the environmental and social damage of the past, as a first step in corporate accountability?
    • Should the commercial enterprises, including multinational companies and local elites, that gained from mining on the Witwatersrand be expected to make reparations?
    • How effective are current laws and regulations in safeguarding our long-term health and environment from inappropriate mining operations?
    Background notes

    Water continuously seeps into old mine shafts. The water becomes acidic and contaminated with metals from the rocks. Once it reaches a certain level it flows out uncontrollably the overflow cannot be plugged. The only way to avoid the surface flow of acid mine water is to continuously pump out and treat the water before discharging it into streams and rivers.

    The death of Robinson Lake

    In 2002, the mining companies did not have the capacity to pump and treat all the water before it overflowed on to the surface of the ground. In August 2002 a huge volume of partially treated mine water was allowed to flow out into the Robinson Lake, near Randfontein. This killed all the remaining fish in the lake. The lake was already contaminated as it had been used as a storage and settling facility for water pumped from the mines when they were still operating in the area. The levels of radioactive uranium in Robinson Lake are 40 000 times higher than the natural uranium levels for the area. Rand Uranium was going to clean up the lake, but due to the latest crisis it will now have to discharge yet more untreated acid mine water into it. Water from the Robinson Lake flows into the Tweelopiespruit which flows through the Krugersdorp Nature Reserve and into a tributary of the Crocodile River, upstream from Hartbeespoort Dam. According to the Department of Water Affairs, the Tweelopiespruit is a Class V river a very high acute hazard.

    The danger below ground

    An unqualified volume of acid mine water is flowing below ground, into the Zwartkrans Compartment which hosts the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site. In this area, more than 11 000 people are dependent on borehole water for drinking water, domestic use and to grow food. Studies have already proved some borehole water supplies in the area to be polluted. In addition, the pollution extends to the soil and can get into people's food. In this area, over 2500 Ha are irrigated with borehole water, and nearly 500 Ha with river water.

    Threats to health from high levels of uranium

    As well as the radiological risks related to uranium, it is also a chemical poison that can accumulate in the body and cause many diseases, including cancer. It accumulates through the food chain[1]. In the Northern Cape, high levels of uranium have been linked to increased incidences of leukemia.
    Uranium levels in the Wonderfonteinspruit (which flows from Gauteng into Northwest Province near Carletonville and then into a tributary of the Vaal) are similar to those in the Northern Cape areas. [2]
    Mining companies’ liabilities for acid mine drainage DRD Gold has an almost 44% share of the liabilities but has never accepted its apportionment of the liabilities. Rand Uranium has a 46% share of liabilities.

    Mintails continues to pump and treat its 0.4% share of liabilities.

    References and further sources of information

    [1] Advanced Biochemical and Biophysical Aspects of Uranium Contamination  paper by Chris Busby and Ewald Schnug  http://www.ccamu.ca/areva/busby-appendix-b.htm
    Radiological hazards from uranium mining  paper by Bruno Chareyron of CRIIRAD, May 2009 http://www.uranium-network.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article...
    [2] Uranium Pollution of Water Resources in Mined-Out and Active GoldFields of South Africa  A Case Study in the Wonderfonteinspruit Catchment on Extent and Sources of U-Contamination and Associated Health Risks, Frank Winde, North-West University, School of Environmental Sciences and Development, Potchefstroom. Abstracts of the International Mine Water Conference 19th 23rd October 2009 Proceedings ISBN Number: 978-0-9802623-5-3 Pretoria, South Africa
    Federation for a Sustainable Environment website: http://www.fse.org.za
    Earthlife Africa Johannesburg website, includes fact sheets on acid mine drainage, and a paper about the impact of uranium on the environment: www.earthlife.org.za
    Facebook site, search for: Stop Acid Mine Drainage
    ÔLegal issues concerning mine closure and social responsibility on the West Rand, paper in The Journal for Transdisciplinary Research in Southern Africa
    Draft Council for Geoscience Report: Sustainable development through mining, Summary of the Regional Closure Strategy for the West Rand Goldfield www.geoscience.org.za
    DWAF EIA Report 16/2/7/C221/C/24 entitled Impact of the discharge of Treated Mine Water, via the Tweelopies Spruit, on the receiving water body Crocodile River system, Mogale City, Gauteng Province. (www.dwaf.gov.za)
    Date published: 
    Earthlife Africa Johannesburg
  • Greenpeace Sets Sights on South Africa

    South Africa can cut its annual greenhouse gas emissions by more than 200-million tonnes by 2050 without sacrificing economic growth if it uses energy more efficiently and increases wind and solar power production, according to Greenpeace.

    Greenpeace’s Brad Smith points out that South Africa could find economic opportunity, becoming the continent's hub for green technologies now more commonly found in North America, Asia and Europe.

    However, South Africa has said it, along with other developing nations, will argue that those that grew rich on polluting technologies now need to pay to help the poor get clean technologies.

    To read the article titled, “Greenpeace sets sights on South Africa,” click here.
  • Carbon Emission Targets Unrealistic – Sonjica

    It is unrealistic for developing countries to commit to carbon emission targets because of their economic status. This is according to Environment Minister, Buyelwa Sonjica.

    Sonjica says the government will not sign any deal at the upcoming climate change conference that will compromise the country’s economic development chances.

    “We know we are culprits in emitting carbon because we generate our energy from coal (but) South Africa is a country with socioeconomic issues. A sizeable amount of our population is without electricity so you have to factor all those issues before you can move away from coal completely,” argues Sonjica.

    To read the article titled, “Sonjica takes tough SA message on emissions to Copenhagen,” click here.
    <br /> Business Day
    Article link: 
  • ZNRI Embarks on Clean-up Exercise in Harare

    The Zimbabwe’s National Revival Initiative (ZNRI), a coalition of churches, NGOs and government has taken a bold stand in which the organisation attempts to get rid of the garbage in Harare.

    ZNRI project manager, Aaron Mushoriwa, says that the project aims to keep the environment clean while improving the image of Zimbabwe prior the 2010 World in South Africa.

    Director in the Ministry of Media, Information and Publicity, Sylvester Maunganidze, argues that the initiative will contribute to the attraction of visitors in Harare.

    To read the article titled, “Churches, NGOs embark on clean-up exercise,” click here.
    <br /> All Africa
    Article link: 
  • Sasol Blamed For Climate Change Crimes

    Environmental organisations have staged a mock trial, asking petrochemicals group, Sasol to answer for climate change crimes.

    Earthlife Africa, which led the protest, says Sasol produces 21 percent of South Africa’s total yearly greenhouse-gas emissions. The organisation argues that Sasol alone emits 75.4 million tons of greenhouse-gases each year.

    Earthlife Africa energy policy officer, Tristen Taylor, states that the organisation also wants Sasol to put plans for a new plant in the Waterberg on hold.

    About 300 people, many from communities surrounding Sasol’s plants in Sasolburg and Secunda, gathered to witness the trial, which featured Sasol as a bespectacled character in khaki shorts and a shirt, with Death as a black-robed executioner standing by.

    To read the article titled, “Sasol urged to put new plant on hold,” click here.
    <br /> Business Day
    Article link: 
  • Climate Change Hearings, Sasol on Trial

    Press Release

    7 September 2009

    On Thursday the 10th of Sept. 2009, a trial on Sasol's climate change crimes will be held outside of Sasol's Rosebank headquarters (1 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg). The trial will begin at 10:00am and end at 2:00pm. Spectators will be pouring in from all across Gauteng and surrounds to witness Sasol being charged and prosecuted for contributing to climate change.

    The charge sheet is lengthy, and witnesses from communities adjacent to Sasol's plants will present evidence to a panel of judges. In particular, Sasol will be charged with the following:

    1) Producing 75.4 million tonnes of greenhouse gases annually – about 21% of South Africa’s total greenhouse gas emissions per year

    2) Owning the single largest emitter of CO2 at its Secunda plant

    3) Lying to obtain CDM funding - Sasol applied for CDM funding for their plans to build a natural gas pipeline from Mozambique and use that gas in its CTL plants. As there was credible evidence that the plant would have converted to natural gas regardless of benefits under the CDM system. There were plans before the 2000 cut off date required for applications for CDM funding - on 30 March 2009 - the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) methodologies panel, which reviews Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) project applications, rejected Sasol’s application to register its feedstock conversion project.

    4) Wanting to increase GHG emissions rather than decrease - Sasol is planning to build a new 80,000 barrels/day coal-to-liquids plant in South Africa. This would add an estimated 23 to 37 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere on an annual basis.

    5) Fixing prices of its goods, both in South Africa and Europe - In May 2009, the SA Competition Commission announced that Sasol must pay a fine of R250.68 million as a penalty for price fixing in the fertiliser and phosphoric acid sectors. Internationally, Sasol was fined €318 million by the European Commission last year for its role in a paraffin wax price-fixing cartel.

    6) Investing in Carbon Capture and Storage – Instead of investing in renewable energy, Sasol has been exploring the development of CCS at many of its plants. CCS does not provide a log terms solution to GHG emissions as it creates a false belief of “CO2 out of sight out of mind”.

    Please join us at this climate change hearing. The future of our planet is dependent upon organisations like Sasol changing their errant behaviour. Please see background below.

    For more information, please contact:

    Makoma Lekalakala
    Programme Officer
    Earthlife Africa Jhb
    Tel: +27 11 339 3662
    Fax: +27 11 339 3270
    Cell: +27 82 682 9177
    Email: makoma@earthlife.org.za
    Website: www.earthlife.org.za

    Tristen Taylor
    Project Co-ordinator
    Earthlife Africa Jhb
    Tel: +27 11 339-3662
    Cell: +27 84 250-2434
    Email: tristen@earthlife.org.za
    Website: www.earthlife.org.za

    Background on Sasol and Climate Change

    Sasol is one of the worst emitters of GHG on the African continent. Sasol is a South African company involved in mining, energy, chemicals and synfuels. In particular, they produce petrol and diesel from coal and natural gas. The company not only has plants at Sasolburg and Secunda in South Africa, but also extend their area of influence all across the globe – and extends to more than 20 countries and exports to over 100. In addition the company has pursued international partnerships with some of the worst polluters on the planet including Qatar Petroleum, Chevron and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.

    Given that South Africa is the world’s most carbon intensive economy and Sasol’s Secunda plant is the world’s single biggest emitter of CO2, one would expect a greater commitment by Sasol to reduce its GHG emissions. Sasol’s turnover as at June 2008 was R129,943 Million. The marketing and distribution budget was R6,931 Million and GHG management was a mere R60 Million. In terms of a percentage of turnover, Sasol’s response to GHG emissions was a mere 0.04%. It seems that it is more important for Sasol to market itself as doing good rather than actually doing good.

    Date published: 
  • Fossil Fools Day 2009, Sasol to Get An Award

    Press Statement

    31 March 2009

    In the midst of a declining global environment due to rising greenhouse gas emissions, April 1st has become Fossil Fools day. Across the global, activities and companies that contribute significantly to global warming are highlighted. In South Africa, activists from Earthlife Africa Johannesburg and allies will be highlighting the role Sasol plays in warming our planet.

    From 12:00 to 14:00 on the 1st of April 2009, protestors will converge on Sasol’s Corporate Headquarters in Johannesburg (1 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank) to present Sasol with the “South Africa’s Fossil Fool of 2009” award. 

    It takes hard work, years of application, and significant capital investment to win a Fossil Fool Award. The decision to award Sasol the 2009 title was based upon:

    1) For producing 72.6 million tonnes of greenhouse gases annually; total annual greenhouse gas emissions for South Africa are 446 million tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent.

    2) For planning to build a new 80,000 barrels/day coal-to-liquids plant in South Africa. This would add an estimated 23 to 37 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere on an annual basis.

    3) For fixing prices of its goods, both in South Africa and Europe.

    Happy Fossil Fools Day!

    For more information, please contact:

    Makoma Lekalakala
    Programme Officer
    Earthlife Africa Jhb
    Tel: +27 11 339 3662
    Fax: +27 11 339 3270
    Cell: +27 82 682 9177
    Email: makomaphil@gmail.com

    For more on Fossil Fools Day Globally go to: 

    Date published: 
  • Moving ahead with REDD

    Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) is based on a core idea: reward individuals, communities, projects and countries that reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from forests. However, many difficult questions must be addressed before mechanisms that fully exploit the potential of REDD can be created: How can we measure reductions in emissions when data are poor or do not exist?; How can we raise the billions of dollars needed to put a REDD mechanism in place?; How can we make sure that any reductions in deforestation and degradation are real (additional), and that they do not lead to more trees being chopped down in other forest areas (leakage) or next year (permanence)?; How can we make sure that the poor benefit?

    Moving ahead with REDD: Issues, Options, and Implications discusses these questions, and discusses the design options for REDD in a global climate regime. Each chapter looks at a question that UNFCCC negotiators and others involved in the global REDD debate must address.

    For more information, click here.
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