The energy transition, a huge challenge for a South Africa very dependent on coal

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa repeated it again in October: developed countries “Bear the greatest responsibility for climate change” and must, as such, “Offer significant financial support” to developing countries, in their efforts to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Less than a month later, South Africa is playing the role of flagship of this “just energy transition”, on the occasion of the United Nations Climate Conference, COP26.

Taking advantage of the sounding board formed by the climate summit in Glasgow (Scotland), France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union announced, on November 2, the provision of 8.5 billion dollars (7.3 billion euros), over three to five years, in the form of subsidies, loans at favorable conditions and investments, in particular, to support the energy transition of the country which counts among the most coal dependent in the world.

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President Ramaphosa greeted “A decisive turning point”, which proves, in his eyes, that the country may “Take ambitious measures for the climate, while increasing [sa] energy security, creating jobs and exploiting new investment opportunities with the support of developed economies ”. Visiting South Africa as part of the negotiation of this aid, in mid-October, the French Minister for the Ecological Transition, Barbara Pompili, explained that she wanted to rely on the “South Africa’s prescribing role”, in order to set up “A method that can be replicated in other countries which do not yet know how they could be supported”.

Over 80% of electricity production from coal

Because the South African nation has many challenges that make it an ideal field of experimentation. More than 80% of its electricity production is from coal, making the country the 12e biggest CO emitter2 in the world. The public electricity company Eskom alone is responsible for 41% of national emissions and a quarter of emissions on the African continent, explained its CEO, André de Ruyter.

According to a study published in 2020, the coal sector employs more than 120,000 people in a country with nearly 45% unemployment

For a long time, however, Pretoria has been reluctant to seriously engage in the transition to other sources of energy. According to a study published in 2020, the coal sector employs more than 120,000 people in a country with nearly 45% unemployment. Mining companies and their unions are powerful economic players. Under the presidency of Jacob Zuma (2009-2018), Eskom also became the totem pole of evils in a South Africa plagued by systemic corruption accompanied by disastrous management.

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The energy transition, a huge challenge for a South Africa very dependent on coal

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