Legal challenge to SA’s plans to ramp up coal-fired power

Civil society organisations this week launched a constitutional lawsuit against the South African government‚ demanding that it cancel plans to build 1‚500MW of coal-fired power because this would worsen air‚ water pollution along with health hazards — and global warming.

They filed the case in the North Gauteng High Court on the grounds that the new power would pose “significant unjustifiable threats to constitutional rights” and to the climate‚ by pushing up greenhouse gas emissions. SA is the 12th worst emitter in the world.

The legal #CancelCoal challenge comes after the end of the COP26 climate summit at the weekend‚ where nearly 200 nations committed to “phase down” coal. SA was among them and committed to net-zero emissions by 2050.

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The draft text to “phase out” coal was controversial‚ and this goal was watered down to “phase down” in the final Glasgow Climate Pact.

At COP26‚ SA got R131bn ($8.5bn) to support its “just energy transition” away from coal.

Minister of forestry‚ fisheries and the environment‚ Barbara Creecy‚ who led the SA delegation to COP26‚ on Wednesday hailed the outcomes of this month’s climate summit.

“For the first time… [parties] have agreed on the importance of supporting developing countries in financing Just Transition elements of their climate actions‚ and to support the implementation of Just Transitions that promote sustainable development and the eradication of poverty‚ and the creation of decent work and quality jobs”‚ she said.

New coal-fired power‚ outlined in the government’s Integrated Resource Plan‚ would ramp up SA’s “reliance on polluting fossil fuels” and clash with its climate goals under the global pact‚ the activists said in a statement.

“There is no justification for this because cleaner and less harmful renewable energy is both a feasible and cheaper alternative to new coal power‚” they said.

The Centre for Environmental Rights represents the youth-based African Climate Alliance‚ the community-based Highveld group‚ the Vukani Environmental Justice Movement in Action‚ and groundWork in the matter.

The applicants argued that new coal-fired power would infringe on people’s rights under section 24 to live in an environment not harmful to health and wellbeing‚ along with other rights.

Plus it would come at a cost of “at least R23bn more than a least-cost optimal electricity plan”.

Thomas Mnguni‚ a groundWork environmental activist‚ added: “It has been shown‚ incontrovertibly‚ that renewable solar and wind with flexible generation capacity‚ such as storage … provide feasible and affordable replacement alternatives for coal power.”

The case was filed against energy minister Gwede Mantashe and the National Energy Regulator of SA after the government failed to respond to a letter of demand‚ sent on September 17‚ demanding that they abandon plans to boost coal-fired power‚ the organisations stated.
Ronald Mhlakaza‚ secretary-general of Vukani‚ said: “Coal is affecting members of the community’s health and comfort — people are living with cancer and respiratory diseases‚ and they rely on oxygen and nebulisers just to survive.

“This case is a last resort. We are saying there should be no new coal power. It is too destructive.”

The urgency of a “just energy transition” was stressed by youth co-ordinator Gabriel Klaasen‚ of the African Climate Alliance.

Klaasen said: “Without this‚ I can’t imagine a future that is not defined by continued and increased suffering.”

The National Energy Regulator of SA and the minister of energy have until December 6 and 7 respectively to respond to the challenge.

Source: ARENA Holdings.