Coal: The Dirty Truth, a view from COP17

by Caroline Chisholm

November 30, 2011


Burning coal is driving climate change and Africa’s people are on the frontline. So, as the continent’s largest CO2 emitter, and the 12th largest in the world, South Africa is a major player on the global polluter’s stage. More than 90 percent of its energy is produced by coal, and less than 1 percent by renewable energy.

As the host of the climate negotiations, which began in Durban this week, it is a far cry from the climate leadership role the South African government is promoting.

Earlier this month, Greenpeace Africa held one of its first big direct actions, occupying a crane at the planned site of the Kusile coal fired power plant, operated by state owned energy agency, Eskom. As negotiators in Durban struggle to avoid catastrophic climate change, construction forges ahead on what is set to be one of the biggest coal-fired plants in the world.

Given the extraordinary political and social changes that have happened in South Africa, there should be hope for the climate at these negotiations. And yet expectations are extremely low. Polluting corporations, such as Eskom, are holding us back from action on climate change. Globally they spend the equivalent of the GDP of entire nations, to block progress on climate legislation, and ensure that fossil fuel subsidies continue to give unfair advantages to dirty energy, above the safe, clean renewable energy future the public demands.

South Africa has enormous potential for renewable energy, with its abundance of sun and wind. As our energy revolution scenario for South Africa shows, there is a real opportunity to embrace a clean, green economy. But we need to see this transition happen sooner rather than later, before our reliance on dirty energy causes an irreversible impact on our climate.

Polluting corporations are not only being economical with the truth when it comes to the true cost of coal. They are gambling on the future of the people, their livelihoods and our planet. It is possible to scrap Kusile, and produce 50 percent of South Africa’s electricity through renewables by 2050 2030. It is a win-win-win situation. It can create thousands of new jobs, deliver fair access to energy for the 10 million people lacking basic electricity needs, and benefit the climate.

So whatever decisions arise from the climate summit in Durban, one thing should be clear. Ending our addiction to coal should be non-negotiable.

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