Ramaphosa Panel Urges South Africa to Show Climate Ambition

A panel appointed by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa urged the world’s 12th-biggest producer of greenhouse gases to adopt more ambitious plans to reduce its environmental footprint and commit to generating zero emissions on a net basis by 2050.

The consequences of not setting more aggressive goals would be less access to climate finance, the Presidential Climate Change Coordinating Commission said in its first report since Ramaphosa appointed its 22 members in December. It also warned that the nation’s export markets may shrink as countries impose tariffs on their carbon intensity.

The panel wants the government to set a 2030 target of emitting between 350 and 420 megatons of carbon dioxide equivalent, and the so-called net-zero goal as part of its Nationally Determined Contribution to be presented to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in November. The environment ministry has proposed an emissions goal of between 398 and 440 megatons by the end of the decade and didn’t include a net-zero target.

“A more ambitious NDC opens up the prospect of greater levels of international climate finance support,” the panel said in its report. Lower emissions targets would boost trade competitiveness, while a failure to adopt them would place South Africa “at risk of having its domestic exports subject to higher tariffs and non-tariff trade barriers,” it said.

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South Africa burns coal to generate almost all of its electricity, putting it at risk of punitive tariffs from trade partners such as the European Union. The government is taking steps to boost renewable energy and cut back on the use of coal, a main cause of air pollution in parts of the country.

“More ambitious emission reductions can be achieved by a faster rollout of renewable energy, with concomitant investments in storage and peaking power,” the panel said.

Modeling considered by the panel predicted South Africa’s emissions could be between 371 and 395 megatons by 2030 if current policies are implemented as planned. An upper limit of 614 megatons in 2030 was set in South Africa’s 2015 NDC.

Africa’s most industrialized nation may need to spend 2.9 trillion rand ($204 billion) to meet the target of net-zero emissions by 2050, a study conducted by the National Business Initiative, and considered by the panel, found. The NBI is a body financed by South African companies.

Opinion Range

Still, some members of the committee, which includes climate activists and representatives of major polluters such as Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd. and Sasol Ltd., feel that the country needs to more drastic steps.

If South Africa is to meet its “fair share” of commitments to keep rising temperatures in check it need to set a 2030 range of 274 megatons to 352 megatons of carbon dioxide equivalent, three panel members said in a letter to the deputy chairman and secretariat of the commission.

The commission also needs to take more account of projects that so far fall outside of national planning including a proposed 3,300 megawatt coal-fired power plant in a special economic zone in north east South Africa, the three panel members said.

The letter was signed by Melissa Fourie, the executive director of the Centre for Environmental Rights, Bobby Peek, the director of environment group groundWork and Makoma Lekalakala, the director of Earthlife Africa.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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