Category Archives: Coal

Op-Ed: A just transition from climate change and unemployment – a trade union perspective

Daily Maverick, 7 November, 2017

The Alternative Information & Development Centre’s (AIDC) latest research – One Million Climate Jobs – Moving South Africa forward on a low-carbon, wage-led and sustainable path – makes clear that there are potentially hundreds of thousands of jobs in championing low carbon development, as a complimentary strategy to a wage-led development path. By JOSEPH MATHUNJWA.

The global economy is facing numerous structural challenges. With the looming fourth economic revolution characterised by even more technological development and mechanisation, the future of productive labour is bleak. Most unskilled and semi-skilled workers are likely to lose their jobs. Even some skilled workers are not spared from this emerging catastrophe, as numerous job categories – such as brick-layers – are increasingly becoming redundant.

This points to the urgent need for planning, for conscious investment in job-rich, growth opportunities that enable economies to build productive capacity in labour intensive sectors. One way of achieving this is to strengthen wage led growth, which, in turn, stimulates aggregate demand through enlarged household incomes. Without a dramatic increase in the wages of mine workers, farm workers and all employed people in our country, we will never be able to deal with South Africa’s most urgent problems: inequality, mass unemployment and poverty.

Since unemployment is the greatest determinant of poverty and income inequality, we can expect these, too, to worsen. Already, in 2015, 30.4-million people, that is, 55.5% of the population live on less than R441 per month, or less than R15 per day. The fact that 10% of South Africa’s population earn around 60% of all income, points to South Africa’s widening inequality. Even more alarming is that the richest 10% of the population own at least 90–95% of all assets.

With these terrible statistics in mind, it becomes redundant to repeat what we have been saying as a trade union for a long time, namely, SA urgently requires the redistribution of wealth.

When the millions of working people in our country can afford what the few take for granted – a television set, a washing machine, dining room table, etc – we create the conditions for developing the economies of scale that can sustain local industries from the intense competition coming from a globalised economy. In this way, we will be able to make in-roads into the almost 10 million people who are out of work, out of income and out of dignity.

The importance of the climate jobs work the Alternative Information & Development Centre (AIDC) has been leading is that it identifies where the jobs can be created. As AIDC’s latest research – One Million Climate Jobs – Moving South Africa forward on a low-carbon, wage-led and sustainable path – makes clear, there are potentially hundreds of thousands of jobs in championing low carbon development, as the complimentary strategy to a wage-led development path.

The AIDC’s solidarity with AMCU (the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union) is greatly appreciated. It is a solidarity based on a shared approach and conviction of the urgent need to confront the numerous challenges facing our economy, the people whose needs the economy is supposed to meet and the sustainability of human life on a planet heating to unsustainable levels.

Here is the full article



Broken Promises: The failure of South Africa’s priority areas for air pollution – time for action

Centre for Environmental Rights, 2 October, 2017.

oday, the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), in collaboration with groundWork and the Highveld Environmental Justice Network (HEJN), launched a new report entitled Broken Promises: the Failure of the Highveld Priority Area, exposing the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA)’s failing air pollution governance system – with a particular focus on the Mpumalanga Highveld. The report sets out urgent steps that should be taken by various authorities to improve the severe air pollution in several parts of South Africa, particularly in those parts which are supposed to be the priority areas aimed at reducing air pollution.

From 10h00 this morning, people who live and work in these priority areas will stage a peaceful protest at the DEA’s annual Air Quality Lekgotla in Woodmead. The Executive Summary to the report, in brochure-format, will be handed over to the DEA, and constitute the demands of the groups represented there.


In November 2007, the Minister of Environmental Affairs declared 31,000 km2 of the heavily-polluted Mpumalanga Highveld, then home to about 3.6 million people, a “priority area” in terms of the Air Quality Act. The Highveld Priority Area (HPA) was declared because, as the DEA said at the time, “people living and working in these areas do not enjoy air quality that is not harmful to their health and well-being”, as required by section 24 of the Constitution.

The CER, groundWork, and HEJN have been supportive, active and vocal participants in the various HPA processes for many years, with a particular focus on the Nkangala District Municipality (NDM) (home to towns like eMalahleni/Witbank, Middelburg, Delmas and Hendrina), which hosts significant industrial, electricity generation, mining, and manufacturing activity.

However, frustrated with the lack of progress and the ongoing and devastating health impacts related to the failure to improve air quality, the CER and its partners have conducted our own analysis [1] to determine whether the declaration of the HPA and the promulgation of the air quality management plan (AQMP) have improved air quality within the HPA to protect health; and if not, why not?

Our findings

Our conclusions are that, a decade after the HPA’s declaration, air quality in the HPA remains poor and out of compliance with health-based national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) (even though these are significantly weaker than the guidelines of the World Health Organisation). This is confirmed by expert analysis and the DEA’s own reports, including its draft review of the HPA AQMP published in February 2017, which found that emissions have not decreased significantly – if at all – over this period.

It is likely that the continued non-compliance with NAAQS is, in large part, due to the failure of key major industrial facilities to reduce their emissions either adequately, or at all. The National Air Quality Officer (NAQO)’s controversial decision in early 2015 to grant postponements from compliance with the minimum emission standards under the Air Quality Act to the biggest polluters in the HPA – Eskom and Sasol – has made it significantly less likely that air pollution in the HPA will be reduced.

The HPA ambient air quality monitoring network has deteriorated since its declaration. The 2012 HPA AQMP listed 23 monitoring sites with available data, while the DEA’s draft review of the AQMP listed just 9 monitoring stations with available data. Only 5 of the 9 stations published timeously monthly reports, available on the South African Air Quality Information System (SAAQIS) website.

Municipalities do not have have enough money or dedicated, appropriately trained and skilled staff to implement the HPA AQMP and to enforce the Air Quality Act. There are only a few of the right people to do air quality management work. These officials have too many responsibilities, and are over-stretched to the extent that they are unable to devote adequate time to air quality management, compliance monitoring and enforcement.

In short, the HPA has dismally failed in its purpose: to improve air quality so that it at least meets the NAAQS. This means that the Constitutional rights of the people of the Mpumalanga Highveld to an environment not harmful to health and well-are being violated every day. The significant air pollution means that Highveld residents are dying prematurely, and suffering from respiratory and cardiac illnesses that inhibit their prosperity and wellbeing.

What needs to change?

People living in the HPA, and organisations that have been active and vocal participants in the HPA structures, are angry and frustrated by government’s failure to protect health by reducing air pollution in priority areas. Pollution is not being adequately monitored or reduced, and polluters are not being held accountable.

The report sets out a number of key recommendations that authorities should implement to demonstrate that improving air quality in the HPA is, in fact, a priority for government. These measures are the minimum steps that are required in order for the state to meet its Constitutional obligations in terms of the environmental right and for all authorities to meet their obligations under the Air Quality Act. Although the focus of the report is the HPA, the majority of these recommendations apply equally to the other two priority areas – the Vaal Triangle Airshed Priority Area, and the Waterberg-Bojanala Priority Area – neither of which comply with NAAQS.

  1. Given the continued non-compliance with NAAQS in the HPA, immediate steps must be taken to reduce emissions of pollutants:
    • All facilities in the HPA must be required to comply with at least the minimum emission standards. Therefore, having heard representations from the facilities and affected communities, the NAQO should use her powers under the Air Quality Act to consider withdrawing the postponements of compliance with minimum emission standards granted to Eskom and Sasol.
    • No further postponements of compliance with minimum emission standards or other air emission licence variations that permit exceedances of licence emission standards should be allowed.
    • Licensing authorities must suspend the issuing of all new emission licences in the HPA, until there is consistent compliance with all NAAQS. Approval and licensing of any expansion plans of existing industries must be contingent on a simultaneous substantial reduction in emissions.
    • When facilities reach their scheduled end-of-life (particularly certain Eskom coal-fired power stations), air emission licences must be withdrawn, and decommissioning and rehabilitation enforced.
    • The Dust Control Regulations must be amended to ensure adequate monitoring, measurement, and reduction of the significant dust emissions in the HPA, particularly from mining sources.
  1. In recognition of the crucial importance of air quality compliance in the HPA, a comprehensive compliance monitoring and enforcement programme must be put in place by DEA and local authorities to ensure that violations of emission licences are detected, and enforcement action taken against those who violate licence conditions. Such enforcement action must include suspension of licences for facilities until such time as emissions comply with licence conditions.
  1. The institutions charged with ensuring improved air quality in the HPA must be strengthened and appropriately resourced:
    • The DEA, the Mpumalanga and Gauteng provincial governments, and municipalities must demonstrate accountability for the proper management of priority areas, recognising that they have an ongoing responsibility for implementing and enforcing approved priority area AQMPs.
    • National government, provincial government, and local authorities in the HPA must allocate adequate financial and human resources to fulfill air quality management functions, including the right tools, training, and equipment to enable the reduction of emissions and improvement of the ambient air quality in NDM, eMalahleni and HPA as a whole.
    • To bolster resources for compliance monitoring and enforcement, the DEA must give serious consideration to requiring all existing facilities in priority areas to pay a substantial annual licensing fee, rather than simply a once-off application fee.
    • Municipalities must take urgent steps to ensure the appointment and training of suitable Air Quality Officers, Environmental Management Inspectors, the development of AQMPs, and the incorporation of those plans into Integrated Development Plans.
    • The Departments of Mineral Resources and Health – and other relevant departments – must participate in the HPA process to ensure that air pollution from mining is reduced, and human health impacts are addressed adequately.
  1. To build trust in the integrity of the management of the HPA, and enable meaningful and informed participation by all stakeholders, there must be far greater transparency about regulation, monitoring, and compliance in the HPA:
  • Air emission licences for all facilities in the HPA with significant polluting emissions must require real-time emissions monitoring, and that real-time emissions data be publicly available online and on request.
  • The air quality monitoring station network must urgently be improved upon and adequately managed and maintained, so as to produce verified, reliable HPA air quality data that are readily and publicly available.
  • The DEA and all licensing authorities within the HPA must make all emission licences and annual emission reports submitted to them publicly available, and all licence-holders must be required to make these documents available on their websites and on request.

Download the full report and annexure

Download the executive summary

Infographic showing the health impacts of emissions from Eskom’s coal-fired power stations

‘Kusile costs could run 40x higher’

Dave Chambers, Times Live, 2 October, 2017.

Kusile power station, originally due to cost R80-billion, could end up costing South Africa 40 times as much.

An analysis of the costs of the coal-fired power station in Mpumalanga show the construction bill is a drop in the ocean compared with wider costs over the plant’s 50-year lifespan.

Pretoria University economics doctoral student Nonophile Nkambule said the costs included the plant’s effect on biodiversity, air pollution, greenhouse gas output, damage to roads, noise and water quality.

He put its total costs at between R1.449-trillion and R3.279-trillion, equivalent to between 91c and 205c per unit of electricity produced, with water the biggest-ticket item at around two-thirds of the total.

Even a conservative estimate of the lifecycle burdens of Kusile, near Witbank, “doubles to quadruples the price of electricity, making renewable energy sources such as wind and solar attractive alternatives”, said Nkambule.

He said about 77% of South Africa’s electricity is derived from coal.

On August 30 Eskom said it had brought Unit 1 of the Kusile power station into production, four years behind schedule.

Op-Ed: Eskom, a slow-moving train wreck

Daily Maverick, Dirk de Vos, 12 May, 2017

The South African government, it seems, loves policy-making space and resists anything that would constrain this space. It is therefore a pity that very little policy, good or bad, gets to be implemented. Part of the problem is the top-down approach to policy-making. It means that while we get a never-ending supply of policy documents, too little consideration is given to “the facts on the ground”

Not paying attention to practical implementation makes us vulnerable to poor ideas such as pursuing a nuclear build programme that keeps returning, zombie-like. A recent contribution by Rob Turrell using advice given to the Minister of Science and Technology by the respected National Advisory Council on Innovation (NACI) shows that practically speaking, South Africa simply does not remotely have the capacity to participate meaningfully in any nuclear programme.

As an investment company, Eskom is a slow-moving train wreck. A big part of the problem are the disastrous Medupi, Kusile and Ingula projects, its existing debt and the funds it is yet to borrow. Chris Yelland did a convincing calculation of the massive (up to now) cost over-runs and then the price at which Medupi and Kusile would have to supply electricity to the grid if they were stand-alone operations.

In short, the price that they could supply the grid when (if) they are completed is well above Eskom’s own selling price for electricity. Eskom disputes Yelland’s calculations but refuses to disclose the details of its own. It should be noted that Eskom cannot even provide the required information to the regulator to enable it to make a tariff determination. Bluntly, Eskom is borrowing to continue financing the construction of stranded assets. …

Here is the full, depressing article

SA’s first climate change suit to set important precedent

LegalBrief, 7 March, 2017.

Ironically, as SA’s first climate change lawsuit kicked off last week, the defendants were forced into taking a position they do not support, mostly because they lack the capacity to enforce legislation, writes Legalbrief.  The case began last week in the Gauteng High Court (Pretoria), with Earthlife Africa asking the court to revoke the environmental impact assessment for the proposed privately run Thabametsi power station near Lephalale in Limpopo, notes a Pretoria News report. The issue before court is whether it is necessary to properly assess the climate change impacts of a proposed coal-fired power station, before environmental authorisation is granted in terms of the National Environmental Management Act (Nema). Advocate Steven Budlender, acting for Earthlife Africa, told Judge John Murphy that if the answer is yes, this case must succeed ‘because environmental authorisation was granted without any proper climate change assessment having been done’. The report notes the case concerns the proposed 1200 MW coal-fired power station, which will be in operation until at least 2061. Budlender argued that a climate change impact assessment required, at the very least, an assessment of the extent to which a proposed coal-fired power station will contribute to climate change over its lifetime, by quantifying its greenhouse gas emissions during construction, operation and decommissioning. Environment Minister Edna Molewa subsequently agreed that the climate change impact of the power station had not been properly addressed and found that it was necessary for Thabametsi to conduct a full climate change impact assessment regarding the power station. Molewa, however, proceeded to uphold the environmental authorisation and merely required Thabametsi to complete a climate change impact assessment. Budlender said in doing this, the Minister acted unlawfully and undermined the purpose of the climate change impact assessment and the environmental authorisation process.

Full Pretoria News report


Opposing the application for the Minister and her department, Advocate Gilbert Marcus SC argued there was no provision in domestic legislation expressly stipulating a climate change impact assessment must be conducted before the granting of an environmental authorisation. He pointed out that the government was in any event taking extensive steps to address the issue of climate change. Earthlife lawyer Nicole Loser highlighted SA’s vulnerability to climate change, according to an SABC News report. ‘We have a national climate change response policy, which acknowledges that SA is a country extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Some of the examples of this kind of impact are water scarcity. The policy acknowledges that we will be suffering from increased drought, increase flooding, extreme weather patterns. We will also be seeing increased temperature. These are some of the things that we are already seeing and climate change is going to make this worse,’ she is quoted as saying.

Full SABC News report