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S.Africa sets out its stall ahead of Durban climate change conference

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Construction of the Medupi power plant in Lephalale, South Africa, April 2009. Photo: Eskom

Delegations from South Africa, India, China and Brazil rounded up a meeting in Durban on Sunday focused on climate change. It was the second such meeting this year and comes ahead of November’s UN climate change talks. The four nations were expected to adopt a common strategy and decide how they will negotiate their position with world’s richest economies.

Interview: Edna Molewa, South Africa’s Minister for Water and Environmental Affairs

Radio France Internationale

Can you tell us about the common position you were to adopt following the meeting in Durban on Sunday?

What’s important is that we agreed on the process of operationalizing the decisions that were taken in Cancun. But we agreed also that there is a need for the conference in Durban to revert to the Bali roadmap because that’s really our departure point. In that regard as we work on the operationalization of the Cancun decisions, we will do our level best within the G77, working with other umbrella groups, the EU in particular, to ensure that we really have an agenda in Bonn, as South Africa, the incoming COP (Conferences of the Parties) president. Moving forward, we do believe that it is necessary for the whole world to look at increasing the commitments that’s really putting us currently at about 17 per cent. We need to really, as countries, to ensure that especially the developed countries, the annex one countries, move to increase those commitments in particular.

You are going to be pushing developed nations to make bigger cuts. But countries such as China are not actually party to the Kyoto protocol.

Indeed, China is not party to the Kyoto protocol and they are not saying no to really working hard on their carbon emissions reduction. The programme is there, definitely we can see it, we know that it does exist. They made their commitments under the convention and going forward we say that countries like China should cut their carbon emissions under the convention. So, it’s not as if they’re not working hard. They’re doing something, but the reality is that they were not part of Kyoto. But there is somewhere where they are registering this and this is under the convention.

According to Greenpeace, South Africa should actually double its target of 23 per cent of electricity from renewable sources by 2030, to 49 per cent. They say that’s achievable. Do you agree?

Electricity provision in South Africa – we talk about energy broadly. We do have a product before the nation. That has been agreed, to which is within what we call the IRP, the integrated energy programme. Indeed, that has been adopted by cabinet. It’s not just about electricity – getting the electricity through coal – but there are various other means. We’ve got to get energy. Indeed, we’ve got to double. But we do believe that with our IRP currently existing – we will be able to, even going forward, work in such a manner that we don’t increase the carbon emissions in the air, in the atmosphere – but simultaneously going ahead with the necessary developments that we need in the country. It’s a question of sustainable development that we are really focusing on. Not necessarily carbon emissions at the expense of development. But from our calculations we will still be able to double our energy production, but at the same time cutting emissions going forward. Because we are focusing on the various alternatives of energy production.

South Africa produces most of its energy from coal and its also constructing two of the world’s biggest coal-fired power stations.

Yes, indeed. But again back to how we’ve calculated our programme going forward. You’d recall that we’re saying that we will reduce emissions by 34 per cent up to 2020 and then peaking and plateau-ing for that period. That’s when those power stations that you are talking about will be, or even the existing ones – those would be in the process of being decommissioned – will actually be replaced by other sources of energy. Which is your nuclear, your wind energy, various other alternative energy sources. At that time we’ll be plateau-ing, and then going down. So we have it very clearly, scientifically, calculated programme.

These two coal-fired power stations are just a stopgap?

It is a stopgap. As you know for the past few years or so, two years ago or so, we’ve had blackouts, we’ve had stations that are not quite functional, properly functional and so on. So, yes there are those which would be coming in, but there are those which would be going out. And the number is not necessarily suggesting that we’re increasing only. We’re increasing, yes, but up to a point where we have adequately and sufficiently time to work on our alternative energy sources.

Looking at the regional picture, South Africa is also sucking energy from it’s neighbours as well.

As a matter of fact, let me put it this way. Just about two weeks ago, we’ve been in Swaziland, just as an example, to open up a very huge hydropower plant that we helped Swaziland establish. We’re waiting on another for Lesotho; we’re waiting on another with Botswana. It’s not that just that we import, we’re actually helping the neighbouring countries to actually establish and get up their own energy sources as well.

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