South africa energy [r]evolution scenario
South Africa is making crucial energy decisions at a time when humankind is at a critical crossroads. Since the industrial revolution, the planet has warmed by 0.74oC; a distortion of the climate system caused by human activities such as the burning of carbon-intensive fossil fuels1. The impacts we are witnessing are occurring far sooner than had been predicted. Droughts in many parts of the world, the near-total loss of the Arctic ice-cap and an additional 150,000 deaths per year2 indicate that we are already experiencing dangerous climate change. And it is the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people who will be affected first – that means that the African continent is on the frontline of climate change. The challenge humanity faces now is to avoid “runaway” climate change. Climate scientists warn that if we warm the atmosphere by more than 2oC from pre-industrial levels, we invite catastrophic climate change and trigger processes that will result in even more emissions being released, taking global warming beyond our control.
The warming we have already experienced, plus an additional degree expected due to the “lag” effect of greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere, takes us to the brink. If we pass this threshold, the economic, social, political, cultural and environmental impacts will be catastrophic. South Africa is the largest CO2 emitter on the African continent, and the 12th largest emitter in the world. As such, the country has a moral responsibility to act and implement a coordinated, coherent, efficient and effective response to the global challenge of climate change.
In presenting the greatest threat the planet faces, climate change also provides an opportunity for sustainable development. South Africa has massive renewable energy sources, from wind and marine energy to some of the best solar resources in the world. Harnessing these resources would not only make a huge contribution to averting runaway climate change, but would also create a green economy based on green jobs. We can and must create a much more sustainable society, using existing clean technologies. However, time is not on our side and the transition must begin immediately. Action is required both through the international United Nations climate negotiations (aimed at limiting greenhouse gas emissions), but also through concrete and immediate action domestically.
There is much South Africa can do to become a climate leader. Currently, South Africa’s greenhouse-gas emissions are still on a sharp upward trajectory, with more than 90% of South Africa’s electricity coming from coal, and two of the biggest coal-fired power stations in the world (Medupi and Kusile) under construction.
Renewable energy is forced to compete on an uneven playing field, as the majority of political and financial support is still enjoyed by the powerful fossil fuel industry, and Eskom enjoys a monopoly in the electricity sector. However, this can and must be turned around. With the political will and South Africa’s abundance of renewable energy resources, the country could become a renewable energy leader in Africa. It is also well placed to become much more energy efficient and reduce the costs of energy as well as emissions.
the advanced energy [r]evolution scenario: South Africa
This scenario is based on the global energy scenario produced by Greenpeace International, which demonstrates how energy-related global CO2 emissions can be reduced by 80% by 2050 based on 1990 levels. The South African scenario provides an exciting, ambitious and necessary blueprint for how emission reductions can be made in the energy and transport sectors and how South Africa’s energy can be sustainably managed up to the middle of this century.
our renewable energy future
This report demonstrates that renewable energy is mature, ready and can be deployed on a large scale. Decades of technological progress have seen renewable energy technologies such as wind, solar photovoltaic, geothermal power plants and solar thermal collectors move steadily into the mainstream. They will play a vital role in providing secure, reliable and zero-emission energy in the future. The global market for renewable energy is booming internationally; between 2005 and 2010 the installed capacity of wind grew by 333% globally3 while solar photovoltaics grew by over 700%4. As renewable energy is scaled up, we can start phasing out coal. In fact, this report illustrates how if renewable energy is implemented with enough ambition, together with comprehensive energy efficiency measures, South Africa would not have to build one of the biggest coal-fired power stations in the world (Kusile) at all. Decisions made today by governments and power utilities will determine the energy supply in decades to come and coal-fired power plants are incompatible with an energy mix that helps us avoid runaway climate change. An Energy [R]evolution driven by the creation of green jobs and the creation of a sustainable, clean future must be the result of political action taken today.
the forgotten solution: energy efficiency
The South African Advanced Energy [R]evolution scenario takes advantage of the enormous potential for the country to become much more energy efficient. Energy efficiency offers some of the simplest, easiest and most cost effective measures for reducing both greenhouse gas emissions and costs to end-users. Removal of government subsidies, emissions trading and carbon taxes will all result in the cost of fossil fuels increasing, perhaps to a level that truly reflects the damage they cause. As fossil fuels are phased out, it will be necessary to protect those poorest and most vulnerable to energy price increases – and energy efficiency presents major opportunities for people to be protected from the costs of rising energy prices.
keeping it fair
The Advanced Energy [R]evolution Scenario describes a major restructuring of energy and transport markets in South Africa. An integral part of the inevitable transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy will be ensuring that the overall negative social and economic impacts are kept to a minimum and the opportunities for new employment, investment and innovation are maximized. The transition away from fossil fuels opens up new opportunities in skills development, manufacturing and infrastructure development. Early planning will help ensure that a skilled workforce is ready to deliver South Africa’s low-carbon future, through a just transition towards a renewable energy-based society.
on the front foot
Avoiding runaway climate change will require the most far-reaching structural reforms carried out by human society. Business as usual is simply not an option. Furthermore, there can be no half measures, or falling short of the required emission reductions. The risk of passing the threshold of runaway climate change is not one that humankind can afford to take.
The Advanced Energy [R]evolution scenario demonstrates that making the necessary transformations in how we use energy is achievable, and provides a wealth of opportunities to stimulate economic growth, ensure access to electricity for all and create green, sustainable jobs. We call on South Africa’s political leaders to turn the Advanced Energy [R]evolution scenario into a reality and to begin the inevitable transition from fossil-fuels to renewable energy now: delivering immediate reductions in emissions; minimising economic and social disruption; and maximising opportunities for the South African economy to prosper from the transition.