Green Drinks Sandton: a low-carbon energy future is possible!

For the last edition of Green Drinks Sandton 2016, the African Climate Reality Project invited a panel of environment activists and researchers to discuss the main takeaways from COP22 in Marrakesh, Morocco, and the implactions for South Africa’s low-carbon energy future.

The panel was moderated by Climate Leader Themba Xhamfu, who reminded the audience of the key points of the 2015 Paris Agreement that entered into force on 4 November 2016, days before the international climate negotiations in Marrakesh, Morocco.  He also highlighted that while Africa contributes only 7% of the global greenhouse gases emissions, it is heavily impacted by climate change – and its emissions are likely to increase if it pursues a development pathways similar to the one followed by ‘developed’ countries over the last century. This makes it all the more important for African countries t0 shift to a decarbonised future while adapting to changing circumstances.

Takeaways from COP22

Opening the panel presentations, Lydia Mogano, a Climate Leader and the Regional Coordinator of the Southern African Faith Communities’ Institute (SAFCEI), gave an account of the COP22 and the perspectives for the African continent. When the climate negotiations started in November 2016, 112 countries had ratified the Paris Agreement out of the 195 signatories: the speed at which the treaty entered into force was both unprecented and unexpected, and c0nfirmed a global commitment to addressing climate change. This was all the more critical that the election of Donald Trump in the USA casts a dark shadow on the future of climate action in that country – with possible implications worldwide.

Lydia explained that COP22 was mainly a technical round aimed at defining how the Paris Agreement will be implemented. The conference agreed to work out a rule boo by December 2018 at the latest. “Two years may sounds like a long time, but it took four to work out detailed rules for the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the Paris Agreement’s predecessor, which obliged only developed countries to cut their emissions,” she added. But many issues will have to be resolved over these next 2 years:

  • The question of the legally binding power of the NDCs was not resolved. Parties to the Paris Agreement must report on progress, but it’s still not clear whether they are legally bound by the Agreement to achieve the targets they set for themselves – despite of course their own domestic binding commitments as they incorporate the Paris Agreement and NDCs in their domestic laws.
  • It is still not clear how the Global Stocktake will take place.
  • No clarity has been achieved on climate finance yet. Only up to $11,25 billion of pledges have been earmarked so far.
    Still, in the Marrakesh Action Proclamation, developed countries committed to keep building towards a goal of providing $100 billion a year in climate finance for developing countries by 2020.
  • The reporting rules on climate finance are not clear so developped countries could resort to double counting. Ther is still lack of transparency on this matter.
  • Developping countries called for a 5 year review period instead of 10 years as preferred by some developped countries, to take into account the urgency of implementing mitigation and adaptation measures.

Developping countries called on developped countries to raise their emission cuts ambitions to limit global warming below 2°C.  At current level of nationally determined contributions (NDCs), the world is set on a worrying +3°C trajectory.  It was also during COP22 that 48 members of the Climate Vulnerable Forum – of which 16 African countries – announced their commitment to shift towards 100% renewable energy by 2050, in an effort to limit global warming below 1.5°C.

As for the Adaptation of African Agriculture (AAA) initiative launched by Morocco to reduce the vulnerability of Africa and its agriculture to climate change, it received the support of 25 African countries as well as the United Nations  Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

Despite some encouraging progress, COP22 didn’t bring all what African countries had expected. For one, adapation was not treated equally – still only 20% of climate finance – as many had expected, and despite Morocco’s efforts.

Another area of concern is the fact that nuclear energy was treated as a “clean” energy during COP22. “This energy source poses many challenges and doesn’t appear to be the best way to address energy poverty and other socio-economical issues rapidly”, highlighted Lydia – not to mention the environmental impact, and health & security risks.

As for South Africa, Lydia regretted a poor consultation process on energy and environmental issues in South Africa despite the country portraying itself as following due diligence.

Renewable energy are the cheapest option for South Africa’s electricity future

Jarrad Wright, Principal Engineer at the Council for Scientif and Industrial Research (CSIR) and Commissioner at the South African National Planning Commission, then presented key findings about the least-cost electricity mix for South Africa by 2040 – a recent study conducted by CSIR to help inform current and future sector orientations based on updated figures. This study came out as the Ministry of Energy is reviewing the country’s Integrated Resource Plan for the enegy sector.

He noted that the renewable energy market is becoming very mature worldwide, hence the prices are dropping. In South Africa, the price of solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind power came down to R0,62 (USD 0,04) per kWh within 4 years of the implementation of the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producers Procurement Programme (REIP4). In comparison, the tariffs for coal and nuclear are respectively at R1,03 (USD 0,07) and R1,17 (USD 0,08) per kWh. In fact, “renewable energies are already cheaper than the 2016 forecast made in 2010”, said Jarrad.

He added that S0uth Africa’s peak-plateau-decline trajectory for carbon emission reductions foresees that CO2 emissions will only decline from 2035 onwards. Jarrad insisted that “it needs to start much earlier” if we are to achieve the global targets of limiting global warming below 2°C.

According to the re-optimised scenario envisaged in the CSIR study, the least-cost option for South Africa would be to aim for an electricity mix that contains 70% of renewable energy by 2040. In this scenario, there is no need to build new coal capacity nor nuclear. It was calculated so as to be at least as reliable as the current trajectory dubbed ‘business-as-usual’, with a flexible model combining variable sources of electricity.

Jarrad highlighted that the proposed re-optimised mix would be almost R90 billion per year cheaper by 2040 than the business-as-usual scenario – the difference is over R100 billion per year when factoring in CO2 emissions.

It would reduce South Africa’s CO2 emissions by 55% compared to the current trajectory.  Furthermore, building out the required capacities until 2040 would provide a steady anchor offtake for a South African solar PV and wind manufacturing industry, which could then export into the African continent.

He insisted that the economic argument against renewable energy no longer stands; only an engineering problem remains… and it can be solved. “Avoiding CO2 emissions and least-cost is not a trade-off anymore. South Africa can decarbonise its electricity sector at negative carbon-avoidance cost”, he concluded.

Closing the panel presentations, Lindlyn Tamufor Moma, Programs Director at Greenpeace Africa, explained that the African continent is taking bold strides towards renewable energy in an attempt to address the widespread energy poverty. At COP22, 16 African countries members of the Climate Vulnerable Forum committed to seek 100% renewable energy as soon as possible.

Yet South Africa is failing to take the lead in this development. The country even announced the building of 2 new coal plants in the middle of COP22. It is all the more surprising that South Africa has a lot of expertise in terms of renewable energies – much of which gained from the REIP4 – and that the employment potential in this sector is considerable.

“We need to expose even more what is happening [in the energy sector] and the facts that will inform decisions”. She further argued for communication strategies focused on jobs, water, social benefits so as to turn the conversation and the politics of climate change around.

Lindly also explained that the DRC and Nigeria are key strategic countries when it comes to tackling climate change in Africa, and called for greater investment in the Congo forest  potential as a carbon sink.