Category Archives: Archive

RE transition is feasible and cheaper than continuing to use fossil fuels

Energy Watch Group , November,2017

A report by the Energy Watch Group (Lappeenranta University of Technology), explores the implications of meeting the PAris Agreement 2C target. They argue that this will require us to reduce greenhouse gas emissions down to zero, AND to remove surplus CO2 from the atmosphere. The report investigates the technical feasibility and the socio-economic impact of this. The conclusion is that such a strategy is feasible and is more cost-effective and will lead to greater economic growth than a fossil fuel plus nuclear strategy would. In fact, the study estimates that 100% RE will create 19 million additional new jobs by 2050.

See the full report here



South Africans in rural areas are saying ‘no more’. Why it matters

Stephen Friedman, The Conversation, 8 November, 2017.

The mainstream in South Africa is paying little attention to the world outside the cities. This is a mistake because the future of the country’s economy may depend on battles raging in its far-flung rural areas.

The latest sign of this battle is an attempt by some in the governing African National Congress to pass the Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Bill, which will allow traditional leaders to enrich themselves at the expense of rural people. Public hearings on the bill, to be held early next year, will be heated because it will legalise deals between traditional authorities and mining companies, despite the fact that the authorities have ignored the law forcing them to hold elections and include women. Activists and rural people are likely to resist this.

The coming resistance to the bill is another chapter in a largely unnoticed battle for economic and political control of the rural areas which is important for two reasons. At a time when South Africa is in the middle of a battle over “state capture” in the cities, the rural “state capture” battle may be just as important.

The second reason it’s important is that the backlash by rural people could cost the ANC the 2019 election. Some 18 million of South Africa’s 56 million people are estimated to live in rural areas affected by the bill.

Patronage network

The rural battle has been underway for almost a decade. Until then, government policy towards traditional leadership was a balancing act. Democratic principle required that people in rural areas enjoy full political and economic rights. But the ANC wanted to woo traditional leaders because it believed they could threaten stability.

So the government tried to recognise traditional leadership but make it a little more democratic. One result was the 2003 Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Act. This stipulated that 40% of members of the councils which exercise traditional authority in former apartheid “homelands” should be elected and 30% should be women. It is this law that the ANC is trying to change.

The ANC’s approach began to change after Jacob Zuma was elected ANC president in 2007. He saw traditional leaders as key allies and, from 2008, laws were introduced to strengthen their powers. Most have been defeated by the courts or opposition within the ANC but Zuma and his allies in the ANC have not given up trying. Land is at the centre of these attempts. Control over land allowed traditional authorities to control their subjects and so the ANC Zuma faction sought to give them greater power over land.

A key motive was the hope that they would use this to deliver rural votes to the ANC. From 2014, when urban voters began to abandon the ANC, this became more urgent.

Rural riches

While the political motive was one reason for boosting traditional leaders’ land powers, it was not the only one. Traditional leaders have emulated Zuma’s patronage faction by using land powers to accumulate resources at the expense of citizens.

Working with provincial governments, they have been making deals with mining companies to sell off land in exchange for rich returns. Much is at stake: according to mining consultant Gavin Hartford, ‘the vast bulk’ of South Africa’s remaining mineral reserves, worth an estimated USD$2.5 trillion, is under the ground in rural areas. So the potential rewards are at least as great as those in the cities.

In theory, these proceeds could be used to buy political support. In reality, if angry rural citizens are to be believed, they are used primarily for self-enrichment.

The land which traditional leaders and their political allies are selling off belongs by right to the people who live in these areas. And so a key aim of the government-traditional leader alliance is to make sure deals can be made without giving residents a say.

The bill before parliament illustrates this. At the same time, Zuma’s faction are trying to steer through another bill, the Traditional and Khoi-San Leadership Bill, which empowers traditional authorities to reach agreements with anyone without consulting people living in the areas they control.

Communities fightback

In contrast to the cities, rural “state capture” has, until recently, enjoyed the cooperation of mainstream business: mining companies have been willing to enter into these deals. Only recently have they recognised the dangers: mining companies now support the principle that rural people must have a say in mining deals.

This is not the only sign that arrangements between traditional leaders, provinces and companies to take people’s land without their approval are under threat. For some time now, rural citizens, particularly farmers, have been resisting. They have been using the courts successfully – in a key case, the Constitutional Court came to the aid of small farmers in North West Province who were in danger of losing their land to yet another deal.

Far more worrying for the ANC is that there are clear signs that rural residents are using their votes to protest against the use of their land to enrich traditional leaders and their allies. In the 2016 local elections, the ANC suffered setbacks in provinces with former “homeland” areas (surrogate states created by the apartheid government): it is surely no coincidence that its biggest loss, an 18 percentage point decline, happened in North West, where the “state capture” is, according to researchers, most pronounced.

This may be crucial to the 2019 election outcome. The ANC has suffered losses in the cities which seem unlikely to be reversed and so the only way it can be assured of re-election is if it wins large majorities in the more rural provinces. But voter anger at rural “state capture” and the corruption which many residents say is its product, could make that impossible and deprive it of its national majority.

This would spell defeat for the patronage faction which has been backing traditional leaders and reduce the pressure on the fiscus. And so it could be a key step in restoring longer-term investor confidence, helping to ensure that focus moves from preventing patronage to achieving a more inclusive economy.

Much needs to happen before that is a reality. But what is clear is that, if South Africa wants to know where the “state capture” battle is headed, it must take the conflict in rural areas far more seriously.


Here is the link to the article

Suffocating in the coal economy

Daily Maverick, David Hallowes, 25 October, 2017.

There is great urgency to moving rapidly off fossil fuels. It will not stop climate change in its tracks but it might just leave us with a liveable climate in the second half of the century.

Global heat records were broken three years in a row in 2014, 2015 and 2016. The last two were El Niño years which push up the heat. Global temperatures were supposed to come off the boil as El Niño switched to La Niña in 2017. Thus far, however, 2017 is the second hottest year after 2016. Climate change is coming on much faster 2° Fahrenheit by 2036 or so and the present cycle of drought and flood is but a foretaste of what is to come in the next 20 years.

There is great urgency to moving rapidly off fossil fuels. It will not stop climate change in its tracks but it might just leave us with a liveable climate in the second half of the century. It would also result in a rapid improvement of people’s health in the coal burning regions. The recovery of damaged ecologies would take a bit longer but is essential to adapting to impacts of climate change. The draft Integrated Resource Plan (IRP 2016) put the brakes on the transition to renewable energy in order to preserve a future for coal. Since renewables are also now the cheaper option, it seems particularly perverse to hang on to dirty energy. And since Eskom now has a surplus of power, in part because the cost of new coal is pushing up tariffs, the Life After Coal coalition advocates for the early closure of old plants.

In its submission on the IRP, however, the Fossil Fuel Foundations (FFF) warns of the destruction of jobs and a collapsed economy should South Africa move off coal. An opinion piece in Mining Review Africa adapted from the FFF submission claims, “There are 29,000 potential job losses in the coal sector alone. This could result in 162,000 unemployed and affect almost a million dependants in the economy.” What happens to power station workers, coal mine workers and villages created to house Eskom and mine staff is a real concern, but these numbers are cooked.

First, the FFF apparently sees the job losses as absolute. It simply ignores the jobs that would be created by the expansion of renewables and other technologies indicated in the IRP. Research done by the Energy Unit at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) shows that renewables are both cheaper than coal and employ more people.


Here is the full article