South Africa cannot be allowed to breach its climate change mitigation measures and Paris Agreement declarations despite it being an emerging country that is still heavily reliant on fossil fuels, South African Presidential Climate Commission mitigation head Steve Nicholls told delegates at last week’s ESG Africa Conference.
Many African countries have, of late, requested lenience in meeting climate change mitigation commitments, requesting also a delay in their abandonment of cheap and easy-to-obtain fossil fuels as a result of their delayed and inhibited industrial and social development.
Many argue that developed nations built their economy, industrial base and power generation network using vast volumes of fossil fuels and that Africa should also be allowed to burn the carbon intensive fuels for a while longer, while it develops.
However, Nicholls said South Africa, in particular, is a carbon-intensive emitter, sharing an emissions contributing position among the highest, globally.
For this reason, Nicholls said South Africa has to reduce its emissions immediately.
“There is no chance for us to increase our emissions.”
He posed the question of whether there should be an interim period during which very poor countries should be allowed to increase their emissions so that they can develop socially and in terms of their industries.
“The answer is probably yes, but in very small areas. It is not in power [generation]. It does not mean that we can go and build massive coal-fired power stations,” said Nicholls.
He added that gas was also not an avenue that should be exploited, despite its frequent marketing as a less carbon-intensive source of energy. “It does not mean we can do more oil and gas exploration,” Nicholls added.
He posited that there “may be some opportunity” for African nations to increase their emissions in certain industrial activities, but that fossil fuel-intensive forms of power generation were not an option and that South Africa could not afford to expand its burning of fossil fuels by any measure.
Globally, measures to limit temperature rise to 1.5 oC above preindustrial era levels, have to be implemented by every country, regardless of their stage of development. “. . . If we are to stay below 1.5 oC, we have to be net zero by 2050. And by we [I mean] everybody – the whole planet. Africa has to be as well. Australia has to be, everybody has to be [compliant in mitigation measures],” Nicholls stated.
In terms of what is required to limit and reduce emissions, he said the pace of change had to be “enormous . . . It is faster than you think, always.”
Nonetheless, Nicholls alluded that many African nations, South Africa included, would not achieve sufficient emissions reductions by 2050 and that significant regional warming was on the horizon.
He said that, realistically speaking, the 1.5 oC target would not be met. He added that it may be possible to limit the increase to 2 oC by 2050; however, analysis had shown that by implementing current policy measures, the increase in temperatures would be closer to 2.7 oC.
Taking this into account, Nicholls said South Africa was due to expect temperature increases of between 4 oC and 6 oC by 2050. This would result in severe social ailments, such as a 25% reduction in agricultural output and about 20-million climate migrants fleeing severe heat in regions that are already “borderline inhospitable”.