Tag Archive | cop21

SA’s COP21 climate change paper debated

sent to clients 13 October….

All on climate change but not cost…

cop21 logoAlmost always ignored at the recent parliamentary public hearings on the SA COP21 climate change submission was the issue of finances, probably the essential ingredient that should have been debated as part of South Africa’s position in the forthcoming  conference in Paris on intended targets for reduction of greenhouse gases.

After two full days of submissions, with no time for committee member questions from MPs in the light of time restraints and the re-presentation of papers in Xhosa, an impression was gained that there remained the same sharp divide between the providers of statistics that clearly showed what a future world would look like if South Africa and other countries continued on existing paths and those who called for reality in the light of the fact that South Africa is a coal-based economy and will remain so well into the mid-century.

State developmental call only

Surprisingly costs to the tax payer and to business and industry featured little in the proposed department of environmental affairs (DEA) COP22 submission, other than by emphasing the point by investing sooner was a more advantageous position to be in than later, when the cost of “catch up” would be far greater.

The submission is to be South Africa’s call on implementing their portion of 2015 COP agreement from its Green Climate Fund and which reserve fund is supposed to be capable of mobilising $100bn from 2020 onwards.  Also to be resolved is the issue of the immediate sources of funds and to capitalize into reality for use what already exists in the fund.

Maverick viewpoint

The one person who did approach the issue of funds but who fell into the category of a “denialist”Phillip lloyd according to environmental observers, was Prof. Phillip Lloyd of the Energy Institute, Cape Peninsular Institute of Technology, a known detractor of climate change. 

He claimed that in fact climate change issues represented a massive multi-billion industry with a potential turnover of R1,174bn. It was staffed by thousands of NGOs around the world, he said, employees of sensitive international companies, whole government departments and enormous amount of diverted funds that could be put to better use.

He claimed that the current warnings on climate change and “doomsday scenarios” were largely based on unsubstantiated statistics, or at the very least, exaggerated claims. Such funds should be diverted to development, not wasted on pointless conferences, he stated, and technologies that could not hope to meet the demands of growing populations.

Fact or fiction

He showed a graph of rainfall records for England and Wales going back to AD 1750 which indicated a mere 4% rise over the entire period and whilst indeed CO2 emissions , according to him, had increased alarmingly affecting health this was in no way connected to climate change because temperatures had only increased 1%, part of a long process of global warming that went back to the globe’s emergence from the last Ice Age.

Similarly, he noted, rising sea levels had been going on for “thousands of years” but the current level of annual sea rise was dropping in terms of archaeological and geological studies conducted, again over the centuries. He said that the current spend globally on the whole so-called climate change awareness programmes and infrastructure spend amounted to some R15,500 per person globally and “sooner or later this hype had to come to an end”, he concluded.

The chairperson thanked Prof. Lloyd with a sense of amusement.

Developmental help

gridsAnother issue raised regularly regarding the DEA COP 21 submission hearings was the call for capacity building to handle new clean energy resources, a major problem in many developing countries. Financial and technology mechanisms had to be shared and adapted wherever possible, particularly in countries where forced change would stunt economic growth, the paper before them stated.

Most submissions focused on the fact that the two issues had to be in harmony but few could expand how this could be achieved successfully, some submissions just taking the “green at all costs” approach. Nevertheless, in broad terms, all submission except the one acknowledged the urgent need for some sort of structured approach to the agreed need for climate change programmes.

Most submissions also made reference to the activities of Eskom or Sasol in one way or another, referring to such in one case as “the primary polluters in the South African context”.  Subjects brought up varied from fracking to small enterprise farming and renewable energy supplies to carbon capture.

In the one corner….

Greenpeace maintained that listing nuclear energy as “low-carbon” option was disingenuous in that Greenpeacenuclear life cycle in itself was carbon intensive and should not be referred as an energy component for clean renewable alternatives and preferably removed altogether.  

Other predictable submissions came from such bodies as Earthlife Africa and the World Wildlife Fund, who specifically named fossil fuels as the major problem, one of the few times vehicle fuel emissions were mentioned in the two days.

COSATU complained that the use of nuclear energy did not create jobs and would not help the economy in any way but did raise the issue that the effect of global warming was a fact and would be ”devastating as far as employment was concerned”.

The legal view

The Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) stated that South Africa’s negotiating position at COP 21 should succeed in giving effect to section 24 of the Constitution regarding the right to health but they complained that DEA’s long term plans, which included accommodating coal-fired power generation and its highly water-intensive processes had no hope of meeting constitutional requirements unless urgent changes were made.

They pointed out that aside from Medupi and Kusile, the Minister of Energy’s plan to procure an additionalmedupi 2500MW of coal fired power included seven further coal-fired plants yet to be built and which were in the planning stage, mostly in Limpopo and Mpumalanga. Both these provinces, CER said, were highly water stressed areas and had zones already declared as health priority areas due to poor air quality.

Even the right of access to drinking water was threatened in these areas, they pointed out, both issues, air pollution and lack of drinking water in their view representing potential breaches of constitutional privilege.

Top down problems

A number of interesting submissions were made on the problem of local government implementation of climate change mitigation plans.    A particularly important submission came from SA Local Government Association (SALGA), who pointed to the fact that whilst climate change was a national issue and called for a national approach, this did not change the fact that implementation and controls, regulations and planning mostly had to be done by cities and municipalities.

SALGA said there seemed to be no cohesion either in funding or in policy between national government and to some extent provincial government, but certainly not with local governmental authorities. They called for an “enabling framework” that could be adopted in key localised areas and so that “the voice of local government could be heard” by those paying for it.

Methane and fracking

A scientific paper known as the Howarth Report, emanating from Cornell University, was presented by a private individual, Marilyn Lilley, which focused on hydraulic fracturing and the greenhouse gas footprint left by this fracking drilling, the Howarth Report specifically focusing of fracking in the United States of America. Ms Lilley related these findings in her presentation with that of the 200,000sq km area released for fracking ventures in the Karoo.

A quick read of the Howarth Report indicates that in the US during the life cycle of an average shale-gas well 3.6 to 7.9% of the total production of the well is emitted as methane gas. This is at least 30% more and twice the harmful effect as gas extracted from conventional oil wells, the report says.

Also there is a 1.4% leakage of methane during storage and transmission of shale gas. This is the far the most dangerous component of greenhouse gases, the average black smoke emitted from a factory containing on the whole mainly harmless soot, the report concludes. Ms Lilley said that methane was “enemy number one”, adding again that methane had a far greater effect on global warming than any amount of coal fired energy generation.

Methane spouts

Fracking_GraphicShe also said that during the hydraulic fracturing stage of a drilling, which would go to at least 3-4kms vertically to a shale layer and then for approximately 2kms horizontally along the seam, fracturing then takes place with explosives and some 20 million litres of water with silica sand and chemicals pumped in to cause the methane gas to return to the surface with the then toxic water.

She said well pads are usually built 3-4 kms apart in a grid formation and each pad can have up to 30 wells, each being capable of being fracked a number times and each frack taking about 20 million litres of water.

She concluded that fracking whilst be making an unpleasant major contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, the process rather contributed more to global warming which was the actual root problem. She called for fracking and consequent methane gas emissions to be accounted for in South Africa’s COP 21 submission as a subject in itself and for a moratorium to be declared on fracking exploration and subsequent gas extraction.

She also pointed to the fact that disposing of the then toxic water extracted, in some cases needing irradiation, would become an immense and unmanageable waste problem and the light of the distances involved in the South African scenario.

Agri-plans and consequent food processing development

farmingA considerable number of submissions focused on the importance of establishing viable small farming units and a completely self-sustaining mini-agricultural food industry in specially located zones. The proposers suggested suitable cropping of vegetables and staple foods in order preserve the food chain for poorer communities under climate change conditions, the zones themselves contributing to healthier emissions with normal synthesis.

Carbon capture investigation

The South African National Energy Institute (SANEDI), reporting to the Central Energy Fund, gave a report- back on their work in the South Eastern Cape where a pilot drilling project, carried out on-shore for reasons of cost, was exploring the possibility of large-scale carbon storage at sea.    Prof. AD sanedi carbon capSurridge described carbon emissions capture as part of the “weaning off process necessary” whilst the country moved slowly from a fossil fuel based economy to a renewables/nuclear mix.

This pilot storage plant should be running by 2016, SANEDI said, and “commercial rollout possibilities concluded by 2020”.

Marathon run

In closing, Jackson Mthembu, chairperson of the Environmental Affairs Parliamentary Committee, said that “in South Africa, we are known for differing with respect”. This had been the purpose of the hearings, he pointed out.

He concluded by saying that climate change, as an issue, cut across all facets of government and consequently the parliamentary submissions collective summation would be shared across the desks of all Ministries involved.

Other articles in this category or as background

Environmental pace hots up – ParlyReportSA

Tougher rules ahead with new evironmental Bill – ParlyReport

Electric cars part of climate change response – ParlyReport

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