Civil society calls for proper energy planning, "Don't indebt our youth or destroy our oceans with harmful energy systems!"

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On Wednesday 7 June, the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI) and The Green Connection – joined by people of faith and NGOs, Oceans not oil and Project90by2030 – marked the beginning of Environment Month with their monthly vigil at Parliament. SAFCEI initially began vigils in 2015, to bring public awareness to the corrupt R1-trillion nuclear deal, which was a major threat to the economic future and wellbeing of the country at the time. This year, the vigils have shifted gear. While it still continues to bring into focus the provision of safe and affordable energy, in the context of South Africa’s debilitating electricity crisis, SAFCEI and The Green Connection are now urging government to speed up addressing the root of the problem. South Africa urgently needs a proper and legally compliant Integrated Energy Plan (IEP), which takes into account the impacts on the environment, including the ocean, considers climate change, and does not pose additional risk to people’s livelihoods, and focuses on an inclusive economy, within ecological limits.

SAFCEI’s Executive Director Francesca de Gasparis says, “We are calling for an energy plan, the IEP, that works for all South Africans and for the cessation of all government’s nuclear, gas and coal plans – which cannot exist in a truly just energy transition. We have had enough of these false solutions that harm us all and violate the rights of already-marginalised communities. Going forward, there can be no room for harmful energy in South Africa’s energy mix. We are concerned that, as a result of procrastinating on developing a proper energy plan, government continues to make decisions for a few not the majority, at a time when we can no longer afford it. With the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy’s (DMRE) voicing its ongoing commitment to fossil fuel and nuclear energy sources, it has demonstrated that it has become the major stumbling block to resolution of the current energy crisis or inclusive progress in our country, while ignoring the climate crisis.”

The Green Connection and SAFCEI launched legal proceedings in January 2023, to review the President’s failure or refusal to bring Section 6 of the National Energy Act (NEA) into operation. This is the part of the Act that requires that a proper Integrated Energy Plan (IEP) is developed for the country, in consultation with the public. On 28 April 2023, the President finally published his decision to bring Section 6 of the NEA into operation in the Government Gazette – however, that proclamation only provides for Section 6 to come into effect from 1 April 2024. This follows more than two (2) years of unsuccessful correspondence by The Green Connection, with the President and Ministry of Mineral Resources and Energy, and now requires nearly another year of waiting before this law comes into operation, and the legal obligation on the Government to develop and publish the IEP arises.

“In a recently published report, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s own advisory body, the Presidential Climate Commission (PCC), said that South Africa has no room for new coal and nuclear power in its energy mix. The commission’s unequivocal recommendation is that the ‘least-cost option’ – which includes 50 to 60 GW of renewable energy – is the way to go. We wholeheartedly agree with the commission that renewable energy, not coal or nuclear power, is the cheapest and most secure option, and with the shortest lead times. This is what we need to make a meaningful impact on load shedding. However, as recently as the end of May, this year – and even with the release of the PCC report – the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe, has been adamant on forging ahead with nuclear energy. The PCC report puts further emphasis on the non-financial viability of coal and nuclear energy, stating that capital markets are ‘increasingly concerned about climate change and will not provide capital to industries which are not aligned with the climate transition’. It is decisions like these that make it even more painfully evident that we need a proper, inclusive plan,” says de Gasparis.

According to The Green Connection’s Strategic Lead Liziwe McDaid, “We are outside Parliament, because we want to raise awareness among our politicians that we need to stop, absolutely halt all oil and gas exploration off our coast. We urgently need a roadmap to tell us where we are going and how we will get the energy future that will serve the interests of not only this generation but also for those who are still to come. This means that we need to stop prioritising short term greed and focus on evidence-based, long-term sustainability.”

McDaid adds, “We hope that the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy, Presidency, and the Cabinet, will fast-track and prioritise the process to develop an IEP, in compliance with Section 6 of the National Energy Act (NEA). We believe in open, inclusive dialogue and finding constructive solutions in the public interest. Therefore, when we reflect on the severity of the energy and climate crises, we hope that President Ramaphosa will reconsider his position to only bring Section 6 into operation by next April (2024), which means that only then will government begin the process to develop a plan – or at the very least the Government must immediately prioritise the development work on the IEP, so that when Section 6 comes into operation they are in a position to publish it when Section 6 comes into operation, and after the public participation process required by Section 6. We also urge our government to approach this matter in the spirit of cooperation and human-interest, so that we can begin to work together to effectively and holistically address the most pressing crisis that continues to hurt our fellow South Africans.”

Climate Action Tracker’s overall rating for South Africa’s climate efforts stood at ‘insufficient’ in October 2022, meaning the country’s commitment to the Paris Agreement – to keep the rise in mean global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius by 2030 and reduce carbon emissions to net-zero by 2050 – will most likely not be fulfilled. It is understandable that Climate Action Tracker would give this review because, with only 6 years left till the first climate change deadline, South Africa is still contemplating the expansion of Koeberg, as well as seeking to source new nuclear energy.

“With the remaining timespan, the country should be making the transition to renewable energy to meet the first target, not continue with current methods to provide electricity. Koeberg had a lifespan of 40 years, which is now coming to an end. Renewing it will not help the country achieve our climate commitments. An even bigger issue is, how will South Africa finance billions-worth of nuclear energy deals in a stagnant economy?” adds de Gasparis.

SAFCEI and The Green Connection conclude, “South Africa has an opportunity to not only retire dangerous and harmful forms of energy but also to ensure that today’s youth and future generations can look to their predecessors/ancestors with pride, knowing we built a future for them that has clean and affordable energy powering it. Instead, we are going backwards, and it will be the youth that suffer the worst of this generation’s decisions. What we need now, is a clear plan to address the energy crisis in ways that are sustainable and that is not going to indebt future generations with unaffordable energy systems which will plunge us deeper into the climate crisis.”

Comments from Faith Leaders:

Faith leaders have continuously called for the government to start investing in renewable energy, as a way of preserving the environment and fostering more social inclusion. Faith Leader, Lydia Petersen, says the energy crisis points to the lack of political will to provide what the people of South Africa want. She says, “Our government should stop steering the nation into a deeper crisis. New nuclear and Karpowerships are presented as the saviours of our energy crisis, but at what cost? South Africa cannot afford nuclear energy nor is it able to deal with the environmental hazards – from the toxic low- to high-level waste – that come with it. We have a moral responsibility to care for and protect the environment and everything that lives on it.”

Petersen adds that she has three major concerns about Eskom’s plans to extend the lifespan of Koeberg Nuclear Power Station. “Firstly, there are cracks in the containment structure which poses a potential leakage hazard, especially since all the high-level waste from the plant is stored underground, on-site. Second, since there are no solutions for the permanent disposal of high-level radioactive waste – which is very dangerous for people and harmful to the environment – how safe is it to keep adding more? Thirdly, low-level radioactive waste is transported by truck and ‘disposed of’ at Vaalputs in the Northern Cape. Even this kind of radioactive waste has potential health and environmental risks. The question is, have those communities been consulted about the possibility of more toxic waste coming their way?”

Anglican Church Reverend, Luthando Xhamlayo, says that the belief which existed in the 20th Century that we could use the vast treasures of the Earth, pollute the atmosphere and that it will all somewhat get diluted is ignorant and outdated. He says, “We have poisoned our home through our carelessness and selfishness. We have fallen wilfully short of being custodians of creation. The Anglican Church, which I am a part of, has realised that all of us need to do something. We need to conscientize people about the value and importance of creation. If we do not take care of creation, we are all going to suffer the consequences of our selfishness but most importantly we should consider the impact of our actions on the poor because it is always the poor who suffer the most.”

Pastor and Community Development Worker based in Khayelitsha, Mazwi Ndikolo, says, “As Christians, caring for souls starts with caring for the environment we live in. Humanity cannot afford to continue to ignore the threats posed by nuclear energy on the planet. Renewable energy is the future for South Africa. It is impossible to guarantee the isolation of toxic waste for thousands of years because once the waste is buried, there is no way to check for and repair leakages and these leakages are simply a question of time - we cannot afford that risk to humanity. We need an energy plan that will effectively address climate change, a plan that will not harm the environment but will also benefit both the rich and the poor - “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof and they that dwell therein.” - Psalm 24:1.”

Cele Esau, a Lay Leader for Social Justice in The Cape Town Humanitarian Community says, “We come together to highlight that in our country, we are supposed to be a community and in this together. It really seems as though the government isn't at all transparent in terms of the plans and decisions that they make with regards to the energy crisis we are currently facing. As a faith leader I feel that it is very important that we highlight that we are supposed to be in this together.”