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Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe pushes back against the complete exclusion of coal in SA’s energy mix

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Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe has given a strong indication that he would push back against the complete elimination of coal in South Africa’s energy mix as the country battles the worst form of power cuts.

Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe has given a strong indication that he would push back against the complete elimination of coal in South Africa’s energy mix as the country battles the worst form of power cuts. Photographer: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA)

ENERGY Minister Gwede Mantashe has given a strong indication that he would push back against the complete elimination of coal in South Africa’s energy mix as the country battles the worst form of power cuts.

Speaking at the African Energy Week conference in Cape Town yesterday, Mantashe said the government was fully committed to a just transition away from harmful carbon emissions.

However, he said the government would not abandon coal in favour of renewable energy at the cost of economic growth.

“While we are committed to low carbon emissions – even net-zero emissions – we do so within the reality of the energy that guarantees national economic growth, development and industrialisation,” Mantashe said.

“In this context, all energy sources, concomitant technologies and minerals for low carbon emissions, and an industrial complex sensitive to our development needs, constitute the most appropriate agenda for a just energy transition.”

There has been a raging debate since President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a political declaration between the US and the EU this week which made a commitment to mobilise an initial amount of R131 billion over the next three to five years to support South Africa’s just transition to a low-carbon, climate resilient future.

Mantashe said South Africa welcomed the commitments made recently to invest in renewable energy, but this debate had already become divisive.

“In our case, this debate should not further entrench the urban labour reserves that are the legacy of our past. Therefore, the present must not enslave us further,” he said.

“We must assert ourselves or risk a repeat of the mistakes of the past wherein structural adjustment regimes saw the underdevelopment of the African continent.”

South Africa’s power supplier Eskom is currently implementing rotational power blackouts as its ageing fleet of coal-fired power stations are struggling to cope with the electricity demand on the grid, leading to unplanned breakdowns while planned maintenance continues as it cannot be postponed.

Meanwhile, Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment Minister Barbara Creecy reportedly said that South Africa would not be signing the pledge to move away from coal that was established on the sidelines of the COP26 climate crisis negotiations under way in Glasgow, Scotland.

“South Africa has not signed the move away from coal pledge,” Creecy was reported to have said.

“Our position in negotiations is that any decisions need to be made in the process of formal negotiations through the convention.”

The pledge was signed by 40 nations and institutions to end coal financing by the 2030s for major economies, and the 2040s by poorer nations.

However, the US, China, India, Australia and other large carbon emitters did not sign the pledge.

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