More Tips for Trevor - let's start a real energy revolution

Feature story - February 15, 2009
Like other South Africans, Saul Margolis of Johannesburg must be happy that Trevor Manual included his "Tips to Trevor" proposal to impose taxes on incandescent light bulbs in his budget speech.

Greenpeace flagship Rainbow Warrior staged a peaceful protest against the expansion of a Belgian-owned coal power plant in Mapthaphut, Rayong, 250 km's east of Bangkok.

Greenpeace flagship Rainbow Warrior staged a peaceful protest against the expansion of a Belgian-owned coal power plant in Mapthaphut, Rayong 250Kms east of Bangkok, July 15, 2008, anchoring a few meters off the coal wharf and unfurling banners saying "Quit Coal" and "Coal = Climate Change". The ship was greeted by tug boats and coal plant personnel who fired water cannons as it entered the coal port. Greenpeace has slammed the hypocrisy of European countries on the issue of climate change. The environment group demanded that construction of the new 660 MW GHECO-one coal power plant owned by GLOW Energy be stopped because it will increase Thailand's carbon emissions, which cause climate change.

Along with this proposal, the Finance Minister's climate protection list also had more expensive plastic shopping bags, higher carbon taxes for cars, and incentives for companies that deal in energy-efficient equipment.

With the word on the street being "credit crunch", this budget speech draws kudos for its fiscal reforms; but does it really do much for the environment in the short to medium term? How will we implement the taxes on new cars in a way that visibly links purchasing choice to environmental realities, and what about the tens of millions of carbon-emitting cars that currently choke us daily?

What about the regular power-cuts that affect all of us? Why can't these be sorted out immediately using resources such as the sun and the wind, instead of budgeting for mega engineering projects that will come online five to ten years from now? These are questions that need immediate and practical answers.

In his speech, the Finance minister also incentivized and urged South African companies to make use of clean development mechanisms, in line with the Kyoto Protocol. This call is timely given that South Africa is the 14th highest emitter of CO2 in the world. Most of its carbon emissions, and as much as 88 percent of its energy, come from coal. Worse, these emissions could rise sharply as the demand for power increases both at home and internationally.

A dramatic turn is needed to get South Africa running on sustainable and renewable energy, not something we witnessed in this budget. Something like 16bn Rand (US$1.6bn )has been spent on the research and development of nuclear power during Trevor Manual's reign, and we have yet to see an additional kilowatt-hour produced, while less that one percent of that has been allocated to developing alternative power sources.

More importantly, these alternative energy sources can be built quickly using readily available technology and tapped into immediately and with less investment costs per kilowatt-hour to the country. In turn, South Africans might actually see the affordable energy, jobs and the much-needed economic growth that our Finance Minister is so eloquently advocating for.

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