Given the urgency to address the climate crisis and ensure that South Africa is able to do its part in limiting global temperature rise to no more than 1.5°C, the 2020 budget speech demonstrates governments’ complacency to urgently and progressively address climate change. 

The Minister announcing a 5th round of the renewable energy supply auctions (REIPPPP) and allowing municipalities to source power from these projects directly (those that can afford it) is good news. What South Africa really needs, however, is a visionary plan for a just transition to renewable energy, not only adding more here and there in the quickest way possible. Yes, the electricity crisis is urgent, the government recognizing that renewable energy is the quickest way to solve it is very encouraging, but it needs to be done in the context of a plan to update our entire electricity system and leave no one behind.

We appreciate the Minister’s acknowledgement of the impacts of climate change and welcome the allocation of R500 million for drought and flood-affected communities, but, it is concerning that this statement was not coupled with a commitment to phase out fossil fuels, the main driver of climate change. The focus should not be to simply adapt to climate change but find and fund ways in which this can be mitigated.

South Africa’s public finances are heavily exposed to the fossil fuel industry, and without any reference to how the country can reduce its dependence on fossil fuels, the country’s finances are at risk of being exposed to fossil fuels in a world that is increasingly shunning them. South Africa has the potential of building a strong economy powered by renewables and clean energy solutions.

The Minister’s acknowledgement that Eskom is hurting economic growth and is currently the government’s ‘number one task’ to have reliable power supply should be evidence enough that alternatives should be sought, given that Eskom’s power generation model is not only unreliable but is extremely expensive and climate-unfriendly.

Eskom is the continent’s biggest polluter and has been exempted from meeting emissions limits as well as enjoying an exemption from the carbon tax until 2022. While the minister hails the income from the country’s carbon tax, the rate at which polluters are taxed is insufficient to create meaningful change especially when Eskom, the country’s biggest economic risk gets off scot-free. 

We agree with the Minister that the government cannot fail the youth, especially in the context of a fourth industrial revolution. Failing to center climate justice in the energy transition will be a serious let down for young people, considering the number of jobs that could be potentially created through alternative energy sources.

In the coming months, we’ll be strengthening our resolve to get Minister Tito Mboweni to call on the DBSA and the IDC to initiate fossil fuel phase-out policies and prioritise a just transition to a low carbon future. Make sure you get involved!