Calls for Sasol to make feasible plans and take urgent action for a shift away from dirty fossil fuels 

Sasol plant in Secunda, Mpumalanga                                                                                                   Image: Daylin Paul

Civil society organisations, shareholders, environmental activists, and affected communities are set to confront Sasol at their annual general meeting on Friday 19 November 2021. Sasol, one of the biggest climate culprits in the country, has previously failed to provide clear and detailed plans to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and transform its operations. Sasol is also accused of bullying and showing total disregard towards communities where it operates.  

Sasol has asked shareholders to endorse, on a non-binding, advisory basis, its climate change ambition, strategy and actions during the 19 November AGM. Given the multiple concerns with Sasol’s plans, shareholders should vote against Sasol’s plans.

For over a decade, Sasol has avoided compliance with air pollution standards and delayed meaningful reductions of climate-changing GHGs. Sasol’s new target to triple (to 30%) emission reductions by 2030 is highly unlikely to be achieved. It has not set any short-term decarbonisation milestones until 2026 (other than its plans to procure 200 MW of renewable energy) and there is very little prospect of accountability for Sasol’s current management team, if the targets are not met. 

Sasol has never met any of its past GHG emissions reductions targets. In fact, its emissions have increased in the two years (2020 and 2021) since it first set an emission reduction target in 2019, despite the urgency to reduce GHG emissions to limit the worst impacts of the climate crisis. In 2021, Sasol emitted 57, 352 Mt at its Secunda operations alone.

The petrochemicals giant’s newly proposed plans to “transform and decarbonise” its operations do not provide the necessary detail to enable stakeholders to fully assess the feasibility of the plans and whether they address the urgency of the climate crisis. For instance, Sasol’s current plans depend on it being able to access, and afford, fossil gas and the infrastructure required to transport it. Sasol does not address the cost nor the source of this gas, and does not provide any detail about the timelines for its procurement.

It is, however, clear that the world’s biggest single point-source emitter of greenhouse gases (GHGs) will continue to use fossil fuels to transition from coal, intends to dramatically increase its use of fossil gas, and has not committed to a firm date for phasing out its use of coal. 

Sasol refuses to acknowledge the science which shows clearly that gas is not a transition fuel, and in a short-term period of 20 years, is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Its proposal to move to gas flies in the face of recommendations from Meridian Economics and the Rocky Mountain Institute that the least-cost pathway to meet South Africa’s energy requirement demands a fast build out of renewable energy to feed into the existing grid infrastructure and that no new gas power or infrastructure needs to be considered for at least 10 years. The Meridian study notes that, “the option to delay this decision has immense value for the country – we do not need to lock into long term gas commitments for the power sector now.” 

The International Energy Agency’s Net Zero by 2050 scenario states that there must be no new oil and gas production (beyond projects already committed in 2021). Moving to gas contradicts the urgent need to transition to a low-carbon economy and to meeting the objectives of the Paris Agreement and Glasgow Pact on climate change. It will also create fewer and less sustainable jobs than renewables. 

Sasol’s long-term climate ambitions and emission reduction plans also hinge on variables which are highly uncertain, and potentially damaging to South Africa’s ability to achieve its national climate ambitions, including the availability, affordability and acceptability of fossil gas, and the commercial viability of green hydrogen. 

Its net zero by 2050 target relies largely on its ability to produce green hydrogen and sustainable carbon feedstocks cheaply enough, and soon enough. This green hydrogen pathway relies on largely untested, expensive technology and will require vast quantities of water, significant land, and a massive buildout of renewable energy. There is simply inadequate detail provided by Sasol in its disclosures to enable a meaningful assessment of these plans.

To overcome the uncertainty, Sasol wants to use more gas over a long-term period as a “transition feedstock” which will have financial implications for gas infrastructure and will lock us into gas – with its attendant GHG emissions. Building new gas infrastructure also risks crowding out the policy and financing space for the mass construction of least-cost renewable energy. In its climate plans, Sasol fails to properly address this risk, and the stranded asset risk of fossil gas investments.

And while Sasol claims to be reducing reliance on coal over time, it has failed to disclose concrete coal phase-out commitments which include plans to ensure coal mine rehabilitation, support workers and the communities affected by potential mine closure and its proposed reduced reliance on coal fired power. Instead, it appears that the company will continue to rely on coal until 2050, casting doubt on the credibility of its plans.

At most, Sasol’s sponsoring of COP26 – along with other major fossil fuel providers – was to provide a platform for greenwashing, to influence COP commitments that limit climate action. 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change declared in its latest climate report – Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis – a “code red for humanity” emphasising the urgency of the climate crisis and for polluters to address climate change as fast as possible. 

A recently-leaked CSIR report, prepared for the South Africa government, showed that more than 5000 people in South Africa die annually in SA’s Highveld Priority Area because of government’s ambient air quality standards not being met. It also confirmed that almost a quarter of these households include children with persistent asthma, which is double the national rate.

Communities are frustrated with living alongside polluting industries that are impacting on their health and failing to decarbonise and meaningfully transform their businesses for a low-carbon future. These communities will bear the worst impacts of climate change and plan to have their voices heard ahead of the AGM on Friday – 19 November 2021. 

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Sasol 2021 AGM Protest: Johannesburg  

Friday, 19 November 2021
11h00 am – 13h00 pm 
Assembly point: George Lea Park, Sandton
End point: Sasol Head Offices, 50 Katherine Street, Sandton


Quotes from organisations:

350.org: 

A lacklustre plan from Sasol leaves little confidence that a transition away from fossil fuels will be just, one that ensures workers and communities are not negatively affected. Their plans seem to exclude the concerns of those most affected as well as the science-backed evidence against using gas as a transition fuel. We need to ensure that Sasol, and those who fund Sasol, are aware of the risks of a poorly consulted and unambitious climate plan and that their actions don’t surrender us all to climate catastrophe.  

Centre for Environmental Rights (CER):

The absence of clear coal phase out commitments and a just transition strategy, to support workers and ensure its environmental obligations are met, casts doubt on the credibility of Sasol’s 2030 and 2050 Roadmaps. If Sasol is serious about its commitment to transition away from coal, it must disclose clear timeframes for the closure of its coal-fired power plants and steam boilers, coal mines and other coal infrastructure. This must include adequate provisions for mine rehabilitation. Workers, communities and the government must be made aware of timing in order for meaningful just transition plans to be adopted. 

Justiça Ambiental (JA!)

Sasol has been extracting gas in Mozambique for over 15 years, but has brought no large-scale social or economic benefit to the Mozambican people. The Pande and Temane projects in Inhamabane has brought the government millions less than promised in tax revenues, with Sasol inflating operating costs and benefiting from a financial setup where Sasol sells gas, in essence, to itself at a price of its choosing. And in the near future, Sasol will extract gas from the offshore gas fields of the Angoche Basin, even having seen the irreversible impacts the industry is having right now in Cabo Delgado, where lives, communities and homes have been destroyed and the climate impact directly violates the Paris Agreement. While the rest of the world is making the move away from fossil fuels, Sasol is undertaking massive new projects which history has shown will be nothing but devastating. 

Just Share:

Voting in favour of Sasol’s climate plan will constitute nothing more than an endorsement of incremental progress – and let us be clear: we are talking about progress in disclosure, not progress in emission reductions. Sasol’s emissions have increased in both the years since it set its first emission reduction target in 2019, and it has still set no emission reduction target until 2026. If shareholders vote in favour of this plan, it will send a message to Sasol that it has done enough, despite the glaring absence of detail about how the plan will be executed, how feasible it really is, what the cost implications are, and how it will impact on South Africa’s overall ability to finance and achieve a just transition to a low-carbon economy. 

Greenpeace Africa: 

Coal devastated-communities, such as Secunda, cannot afford to wait another year or decade for Sasol to decarbonise for people’s health to improve. The air quality in communities surrounding Sasol’s operations is directly impacting people’s health leading to a host of health problems, including lung diseases, heart diseases and premature births, to name but a few. On the other hand, greenhouse gas emissions released by Sasol are tailspinning the ecosystem and degrading the natural environment and worsening the climate crisis. We are in a climate emergency; Sasol must act like it.

Avena Jacklin, groundWork:

Sasol digs out 40 Mt coal a year, pipes in 1.8 Mt gas from Mozambique and imports 3.8 Mt of crude oil through Durban to the Natref refinery, consuming 110 million cubic metres of water and producing about 22 million cubic metres of liquid effluent. At the onset of the Covid lockdown, Minister Creecy relaxed the minimum emission standards for sulphur dioxide to accommodate Sasol while the communities of Sasolburg and Secunda suffer the effects of its pollution. The time for fossil fuels has ended and our survival depends on it.  We need a real transition to socially owned renewable energy and meeting real zero emission targets. Sasol continues to drag its feet in making real changes and needs to be held to account. 

South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA)

SASOL’s proposal to explore for oil & gas in our Indian Ocean will wreak havoc for poor and marginalised communities  who will be  impacted the most by climate change  and their health will be affected resulting in huge cost to families to pay up.There is an increase in the pollution  related deaths already and the situation will get worse . Protests by affected communities will take place in eThekwini Municipality , Richardsbay, and a number of small towns and beaches  along our coast will have fisherfolks and other beach users coming together to say unequivocally ‘’NO TO DRILLING FOR OIL & GAS ON OUR COASTLINE. We say yes to fishing, recreation, tourism, surfing  and healthy oceans!

Spokespersons: 

350.org:
Alia Kajee (South African Campaign Manager)
[email protected], +27 71 968 3339

Centre for Environmental Rights:
Leanne Govindsamy (Head: Corporate Accountability and Transparency), [email protected], +27 76 715 8270

Justiça Ambiental (JA!):
Daniel Ribeiro, 
[email protected], +258 86 620 5608

Just Share:
Robyn Hugo (Director Climate Change Engagement),
[email protected], +27 82 389 4357

Greenpeace Africa:
Nhlanhla Sibisi (Climate and Energy Campaigner),
[email protected], +27 82 614 2673

groundWork:
Avena Jacklin (Climate & Energy Justice Senior Campaign Manager), [email protected], +27 82 456 8886

South Durban Community Environmental Alliance:
Cassandra Schnoor (Environmental Project Officer- Oil, Gas and Energy), [email protected], +27 82 710 8320

Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance: Samson Mokoena, [email protected], +27 84 291 8510


Resources:

https://justshare.org.za/media/news/sasols-climate-change-report-2021-briefing-and-voting-recommendation-2

https://www.accr.org.au/research/sasol-sol-climate-vote/?utm_source=cspart&utm_medium=dircon&utm_campaign=solcv

Contacts: 

Tsepang Molefe
groundWork, Friends of the Earth South Africa
[email protected]dwork.org.za, +27 74 405 1257

Chris Vlavianos 
Greenpeace Africa 
[email protected], +27 79 437 4208

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