South Africa is set to fall short of its mandatory carbon emissions reductions for 2030, a revelation confirmed by three high-ranking government officials. The country, currently ranked as the 11th largest emitter of greenhouse gases globally with one of the highest per capita emissions rates, had committed to reducing emissions to 350-420 million tonnes by 2030, down from 442 million tonnes in 2020, under the Paris Climate Agreement.
The ambitious plan involved phasing out eight coal-fired power plants, with six to be decommissioned by 2030 and the remaining two by 2034. However, bureaucratic hurdles in transitioning to renewable energy have impeded progress. The officials, choosing to remain anonymous, disclosed that the power supply crisis has rendered the 2030 target unattainable.
An official from the president's office admitted, “Our models suggest we will miss the 2030 target,” hinting at discussions about a revised decommissioning goal for 2035. Despite the setback, South Africa has pledged to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.
The struggle to meet climate targets is not unique to South Africa. Several affluent nations and companies are revising or reneging on their climate commitments. Canada recently acknowledged its failure to meet the 2030 Paris targets, while the UK's Prime Minister extended the ban on new petrol car sales by five years. Major oil and gas players like BP, Shell, and Exxon Mobil have also backtracked on their shift to renewables.
Crispian Olver, Executive Director of the Presidential Climate Commission, emphasized the challenges of removing coal-fired plants amid a power crisis. He urged a delay until the crisis is resolved to avoid exacerbating electricity shortages. The Electricity Minister, Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, cited the “existential” crisis as a reason to postpone plant decommissioning.
South Africa has grappled with frequent blackouts, lasting up to 10 hours a day for the past 18 months. The decision to extend the lifespan of coal plants is not without risks, as highlighted by the Presidential Climate Commission, including potential impacts on trade competitiveness, access to capital, geopolitical influence, and international support.
As the global community assesses progress toward the Paris Agreement goals, independent body Climate Action Tracker plans to release an evaluation of countries' climate targets at COP28. The failure to meet emission targets not only contributes to global climate change but also adversely affects South Africans in areas with high pollution from coal plants, warned Catrina Godinho, Climate Specialist at the World Bank and a Climate Action Tracker member.