International Convention Center Occupation. © Shayne Robinson
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Centurion, 16 February 2020 — This afternoon, at least six Greenpeace Africa activists wearing superhero costumes leapt onto the SuperSport Park cricket field during the international T20 match between England and South Africa. Their mission was to hand the Proteas captain Quinton de Kock and his team an air pollution mask. This follows the release of a new study[1] by Greenpeace Southeast Asia and the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) on 12 February, which highlighted the global cost of air pollution from burning fossil fuels, including a shocking 13 000 premature deaths in 2018 in South Africa alone. 

“The players on the field and the fans in the stands alike are being poisoned as we speak – simply by being outside. Burning fossil fuels continues to be a strain on our health, our money and ultimately our lives. Sports enthusiasts know that perfect health is paramount for performance, and the same is true for our sporting heroes.  Fighting for the right to clean air is critical to protect ordinary South Africans’ health, the health of our children, and even the health of the teams that we support. Today, activists from Greenpeace Africa are standing up for the right of all South Africans to breathe clean air,” said Nhlanhla Sibisi, Climate and Energy campaigner for Greenpeace Africa.

Another team of activists dropped a banner from a floodlight in the stadium next to the scoreboard that read: “Toxic air is not just a game #BowlOutAirPollution,” highlighting the danger that air pollution poses, even to our sporting heroes. The activists aimed to spotlight the devastating impacts that air pollution can have on people’s health. Earlier in the week, Greenpeace Africa delivered packages to the team doctors of South Africa’s major sporting teams containing air pollution masks and an ask for the doctors to take the threats of air pollution seriously. [4]

“Greenpeace Africa believes that our right to clean air is constantly being undermined by mega coal polluters like Eskom and Sasol who have driven South Africa into an air pollution crisis. Nobody is immune to South Africa’s toxic air – not even superheroes. The cost of air pollution is high, and we are paying the price with our health,” continued Sibisi. 

The extent of South Africa’s air pollution crisis is consistently being exposed by civil society. In 2018 and 2019 successive Greenpeace studies identified Mpumalanga as a hotspot for NO2[2] and SO2[3] pollution. These findings were highlighted against the backdrop of the escalating climate emergency across the globe. Greenpeace Africa believes that both crises share the same solution: an urgent shift away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy in a Just Transition. Greenpeace Africa currently has a petition calling on Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, Barbara Creecy to take urgent action to tackle South Africa’s toxic air.

“To make sure there is never a day when we can’t run outside anymore, we must make our air safe again. We cannot accept dirty air as our daily reality anymore. Greenpeace Africa demands that Minister Barbara Creecy takes urgent action to put an end to the pollution that is increasing our risk of stroke, lung cancer, asthma and even premature death,” ended Sibisi.

Greenpeace Africa demands:

  1. Eskom must commit to full compliance with the Minimum Emission Standards.
  2. Absolutely no further postponements from complying with Minimum Emission Standards for Eskom’s coal-fired power stations in South Africa can be granted. If coal-fired power stations don’t comply, they need to be decommissioned.
  3. South Africa’s National Air Quality Officer, Dr Thuli Khumalo, must ensure that there is full compliance with South Africa’s Minimum Emission Standards by both Eskom and Sasol, the country’s two biggest emitters.
  4. Under no circumstances should the SO2 limits be weakened. The Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, Barbara Creecy, should instead be looking to strengthen our Minimum Emission Standards.
  5. The Minister must exercise her constitutionally mandated powers, and take action to stop the airpocalypse in South Africa.

Notes to the editor:

  1. The report can be found here and the South African media briefing can be found here.

Key findings from the report include:

  • An estimated 62 000 asthma-related emergency room visits in South Africa are attributable to PM2.5 (fine particulate matter) and ozone exposure.
  • An estimated 14 000 preterm births in South Africa are attributable to PM2.5 exposure.
  • An estimated 13 000 premature deaths were attributable to fossil fuel-related air pollution in South Africa in 2018.
  • An estimated 40 000 children die before their fifth birthday globally because of exposure to PM2.5 pollution from fossil fuels, primarily in low-income countries. 
  • NO2, a byproduct of fossil fuel combustion in vehicles, power plants and factories, is linked to roughly 4 million new cases of asthma in children each year, with approximately 16 million children worldwide living with asthma due to exposure to NO2 pollution from fossil fuels. 
  • PM2.5 air pollution from fossil fuels is attributed to roughly 1.8 billion days of work absence due to illness each year worldwide, equating to approximate annual economic losses of R1.5 trillion.
  • Greenpeace and CREA also created the first-ever live cost of air pollution counter, which uses real-time Air Visual data to calculate the cost of air pollution in cities around the world.
  • The estimated total cost of air pollution from fossil fuels in South Africa is a staggering R94.7 billion every year.

2. The NO2 report can be found here.

3. The SO2 report can be found here.

4. The petition can be found here.

5. The letter sent to team doctors can be found here. We sent these packages to the team doctors for the following teams/athletes:Chiefs, Pirates, Sundowns, Boks, Proteas, Banyana Banyana, Bafana, Lions, Stormers, Sharks, Blue Bulls, our SA women’s hockey team, our SA women’s netball team, our SA women’s cricket team, Wayde van Niekerk, Gerda Steyn, Moses Mothibi.

Contact details:

Chris Vlavianos, Communications Officer: Greenpeace Africa, 079 883 7036, [email protected]