If the Global North’s genuine objective is to be ‘clean’, it must go back to the Paris Agreement’s origins and embrace all fuels and technologies.
I’m perplexed. Western Europe is ducking the consequences of its lack of foresight in energy planning, resulting in a succession of cracks across the region. It is now coming to terms (albeit reluctantly) with what the Russia/Ukraine conflict has accentuated — that its idealistic and unrealistic 100% renewable-only solution is not the panacea it said it would be. Lest we forget, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has indicated as much. That this myopia has exposed “rich nations” to a raft of energy affordability, reliability and security issues (they believed solved) reminds us that energy poverty is not reserved for developing countries.
And in what must be the ultimate irony, the Global North has turned back to coal, its blacklisted villain, to ease the pain, unmothballing coal plants, pushing back fossil-fuel plant closures and re-emerging as a buyer of coal supplies on the open market, putting more pressure on global energy supplies.
That the German Greens leader called for a reduction in gas consumption and an increase in burning coal to help fill gas storage facilities for this winter, as well as “dismantling a wind farm to make way for a coal plant”, made clear an uncomfortable reality was dawning.
Could it be any more evident that the approach was not working? Apparently not. Because then came what could only be described as Global North audacity, mobilised under the guise of the G7 — the offer of $8.5bn (about R150bn) to South Africa if (and only if) it commits to closing coal plants ahead of schedule and investing in “clean” alternatives.
There is nothing “clean” about this conditional proposal to a nation which depends on coal for 80% of its energy, employs almost 100,000 people in the industry, underpins communities and economies, and still does not have reliable power.
If the Global North’s genuine objective is to be “clean“, it must return to the origins of the Paris Agreement and allow all fuels and technologies to participate. It must embrace and be inclusive and cognisant of nations’ starting points. And it must accept that there is not a “one-size-fits-all” solution.
If you are feeling confused, bewildered, let down by the government, your business leaders, traditional or social media, you are not alone.
The question you need to ask is: did you willingly abdicate decisions relating to your quality of life and livelihood to student activists, governments and finance and investment participants who have shown themselves to be uneducated, opaque, inconsistent, populist or all of the above?
Mostly Western righteousness, socialist and well-intentioned woke sentiment has had enough airtime.
Hopefully you understand the difference between your reality and the fanciful thinking of those who have nothing in common with you.
And rightly you trust your government represents the real world in which you reside, not an idealistic one that does not make your life better.
For a government to stand up for you is unpopular because the climate issue has been politicised, thereby politicising energy choices and underlying resources and minerals which will power a decarbonised future.
This week I returned to the Mining Indaba in Cape Town where we are attempting a more constructive, factual and reality-based debate.
I witnessed African governments and business leaders trying to “clean up” South Africa and this abundantly resources-rich continent — unpopularly, but rightly. This is the sovereign right of every nation and citizen, and our responsibility to ensure it happens.
So, what is it you see and want?
In South Africa you are faced with rolling blackouts that seem likely to continue for the unforeseeable future.
The coal industry is confronted with reduced rail freight, train shortages, derailment, crippling strikes, cable theft and vandalised infrastructure.
Transport routes are compromised, reducing the country’s ability to monetise coal exports, a missed opportunity to inject much-needed foreign currency into the economy to boost GDP.
Energy instability adds to an already dire mix of food scarcity, rising unemployment and unpredictable political, environmental, economic and social circumstances.
That up to 99% of most coal-related emissions, including CO2, is technically possible to abate with knowledge and available technologies in our own back yard seems lost in the deluge of misinformation.
Opportunities for high-efficiency low emissions (HELE) and coal-to-hydrogen can be realised with carbon capture and storage (CCUS).
Technologies to clean air, which limit emissions of particulates, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and trace elements, are already deployed at scale.
Advanced technologies such as coal gasification, or hydrogen and ammonia products such as fertiliser, can produce power that’s essential for food production. Converting coal waste to high-value carbon products is being explored.
So imagine if that $8.5bn could be used to improve access to clean coal, reliable power and coal transformation which would reduce or eliminate load-shedding and reimagine the industry beyond its traditional uses.
This would grow a coal industry and support communities. Would that not be a step change for a “clean“, emerging, prospering South Africa?
An estimated 670-million people globally are projected to remain without electricity by 2030 and 75-million are likely to face starvation.
By 2040 coal will still be the world’s largest single source of electricity. It is therefore essential to eradicate poverty, hunger and unemployment, and deliver on UN sustainable development goals (SDGs).
If this week’s indaba can make a difference, it can provide the reality check the world desperately needs. It can demonstrate the power of South Africa and Africa to help themselves and the globe. It would be a shame to miss it.
The Global North has turned back to coal, its blacklisted villain, to ease the pain, unmothballing coal plants, pushing back fossil-fuel plant closures and re-emerging as a buyer of coal supplies
—MICHELLE MANOOK, World Coal Association CEO