South Africa puts power security above clean energy

South Africa, which relies on coal for 90 percent of its electricity, will need to first focus on ensuring sufficient power supply before moving full-scale to fight climate change, a minister said on Tuesday.

South Africa, the continent’s largest economy and the world’s 12th largest carbon emitter, has been struggling to meet its fast-rising power demand and has chosen to invest in new coal-fired power plants to fill the power supply gap.

The country plans to diversify its energy sources to include wind, solar and hydro, and has provided incentives for investors to put their money into renewable power, but it may have to rely on coal-fired energy for a while to come.

“The greatest challenges being faced are how to ensure energy security and access, while not negatively impacting our developmental imperatives and at the same time laying the foundation for moving toward a path of low carbon growth,” Minister of Water and Environment Affairs Buyelwa Sonjica told reporters.

“We have an energy supply problem, and apart from demand side management initiatives the only manner to realistically deal with the immediate problem is through the building of carbon efficient coal technology.”

Speaking at the airport before departing for energy and climate meetings in the United States she said South Africa needs to use fossil fuels in the short to medium term, while shifting to non-fossil energy sources over the long term.

South Africa, often commended for being most active among developing countries in fighting climate change, set a target to cap emissions by 2020-25, and to reduce them by mid-century.

“To achieve this we will require extensive international financial and technical support,” Sonjica said.

She later said that developing countries would require up to $400 billion by 2020 to fight climate change, and also urged developed countries such as the United States to show leadership by making bold commitments.

Developing nations want rich countries to cut emissions by 25 to 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2020 to avert the worst effects of climate change. But many industrialized nations fear such cuts are out of reach, especially in an economic downturn.

Last week South African President Jacob Zuma called for a “just” deal at climate talks in Copenhagen in December that would take into account the interests of both rich and poor nations.

International talks resume in December in Copenhagen where countries will try to agree a new international climate change regime beyond 2012, amid increased discord over the role developing countries can play in reducing harmful emissions.

Sonjica said developed countries needed to do their fair share given how much they have contributed to greenhouse emissions in the process of industrialization.

“I am very concerned about us reaching a deal but let’s remain optimistic,” Sonjica said.

South Africa said last week it would not agree to any emission-cutting targets if doing so hurt its recession-hit economy.

(Writing by Agnieszka Flak; Editing by Keiron Henderson)

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