SA wants to cut CO2 emissions by 34% over the next decade but has little flexibility to make fast changes with major employers among the top polluters and its cash-strapped power sector almost fully reliant on coal.
The government said the planned emissions cap, marking a more assertive state approach, will provide some flexibility and carbon offset initiatives, but transgressors could be fined.
“It’s like a speeding fine – if you go over the speed limit, you get caught, you get busted and fined,” Peter Lukey, acting deputy director general at the Department of Environmental Affairs told Reuters.
He said the limits, to be set up within the next two years, would focus on key sectors such as electricity, fuels, and the mining and transport industries. Targeted companies and sectors will need to submit plans on how they plan to tackle emissions.
“The policy as it is, is do-able and viable, although a key concern is implementation. There are no fixed targets at this stage but the objectives are ambitious,” Johan Muller, industry analyst at Frost and Sullivan consultancy, told Reuters.
The national climate policy, approved by cabinet last week, also aims at balancing South Africa’s climate agenda with its ambition to reduce a chronic 25% unemployment rate.
A mooted carbon tax plan proposed earlier this year was already criticised for hurting South Africa’s job creation plans, putting the government in a bind ahead of hosting a global climate summit later this year.
“Government will assess the vulnerability of the different economic sectors to climate change and develop sector job resilience plans,” the policy paper said.
More than 1 million jobs have been shed since a recession in 2009.
Power utility Eskom and petrochemicals group Sasol [JSE: SOL] which collectively pump out more than half of the country’s annual carbon dioxide emissions of around 500 million tonnes, are the nation’s main polluters.
Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan is also expected to mention climate change when he presents his medium-term budget on October 25, with additional incentives to encourage and reward efforts to curb emissions on the table.
South Africa plans to cut emissions by 34% and 42% below its “business as usual” emission growth trajectory by 2020 and 2025 respectively.
Already, the state has introduced an electricity generation levy, a motor vehicle emissions tax and a levy on incandescent light bulbs to prompt consumers towards a greener future.
A water-scarce country, most of South Africa’s emissions derive from energy supply, with about 85% of the country’s electricity generated by coal-fired power stations.