‘Snakes in the Grass: The Energy Security Implications of Medupi’

Summary: This article traces the size and shape of those snakes, by investigating the energy security implications of Medupi and particularly both sides of the “Medupi controversy.” The plant is the state-owned utility Eskom’s largest single investment in its 84-year history, and its construction currently involves more than 8,000 workers. Once completed, it will generate 10 percent of South Africa’s electricity. Yet it would also add 30 million tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere each year, emissions greater in volume than those of 114 countries combined. Moreover, Medupi is so expensive that its completion has depended on international financing from multilateral development banks, including a $3.05 billion loan from the World Bank, its first to South Africa since the end of apartheid 16 years ago.

To better understand the energy security costs and benefits of a project like Medupi, this study begins by articulating four dimensions to energy security: availability, affordability, development and efficiency, and social and environmental stewardship. Based on a rigorous sampling of project documents, reports, testimonies, and articles, the article then iterates the energy security contributions and drawbacks to Medupi, concluding that it is an exemplary case of the conflict between different aspects of energy security. The importance of such an investigation is threefold.

First, and most narrowly, exploring the energy security consequences of Medupi offers insight into how energy policy and planning occur in South Africa. Second, the tensions involved with Medupi demonstrate the difficulty of expanding access to energy services while also mitigating degradation of the climate and natural environment. Third, and most generally, focusing on energy security as a multidimensional concept helps to move away from narrow depictions of security as fuel supplies or appropriately priced energy services. Our study recognizes the salience of these concerns and additionally situates them alongside often neglected dimensions of equity, environmental quality, social stewardship, and energy efficiency.

Full Citation: Sovacool, B.K. and Rafey, W. (2011). Snakes in the Grass: The Energy Security Implications of Medupi, The Electricity Journal, 24 (1): 92-100 (Available for download with subscription from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6VSS-51XFXRB-2&_user=635696&_coverDate=02%2F28%2F2011&_rdoc=1&_fmt=high&_orig=gateway&_origin=gateway&_sort=d&_docanchor=&view=c&_searchStrId=1735000264&_rerunOrigin=scholar.google&_acct=C000033878&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=635696&md5=ad3f3c73b40f6c5f23289361ebc9bd10&searchtype=a)

‘Major polluters say 2011 climate deal ‘not doable’

Engineering News, 28 April 2011

by Reuters

The world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters do not expect a legally-binding deal to tackle climate change at talks in South Africa in December, two leading climate envoys said on Wednesday.

US climate negotiator Todd Stern and European climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard played down the chance of a breakthrough after a meeting of the Major Economies Forum (MEF), an informal group of 17 countries including the world’s top polluters, China and the United States.

“From what I’ve heard in these last two days, the conclusion must be that it is highly unlikely that the world will see a legally binding deal done in Durban,” Hedegaard told reporters.

“Not that they do not think it’s important – but there is just this feeling that it’s simply not doable for Durban.”

It is not the first time doubts have been raised over the chance of an ambitious agreement in Durban, following on from modest progress in Cancun, Mexico last year, and Copenhagen the year before.

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New Report – ‘Cities and Climate Change: Global Report on Human Settlements 2011′

Planners and others continue to explore how the world’s cities will be
affected by climate change in the coming decades, and this 62-page report
released by the United Nation’s Human Settlement Programme takes a close
look at the subject. This abridged version of the full report argues, “local
action is indispensable for the realization of national climate change
commitments agreed through international negotiations.” Visitors will find
that the report is divided into six chapters, including “Urbanization and
the Challenge of Climate Changes” and “The Impacts of Climate Change on
Urban Areas”. The report draws on a wide range of scholarly data taken from
UN reports, along with others working in the field of climate change and
environmental science.

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‘Will the IRP meet SA’s carbon emission target?’

Engineering News, 22 April 2011

by Professor Harald Winkler

The final report on the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) takes carbon into account in a serious way for the first time in a South African electricity plan. But it is still impossible to say that the electricity plan approved by Cabinet provides an adequate basis for South Africa’s commitment to act on mitigation. Does the IRP do its fair share of reducing greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions by 34% relative to the ‘business as usual’ approach?

There can be no doubt that the IRP has taken an important step. This is a significant change from previous electricity plans, which were based on models where mini- mising cost was the only aim. The IRP ran several emissions cases, limiting emissions to 275-million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) a year from 2025 or to 220-million tons for the EM3 scenario. A carbon tax case was also run, keeping emissions to 269- million tons.

The figure of 275-million tons assumes that 50% of South Africa’s remaining carbon space will be used for electricity generation. This is a slightly higher figure than the proportion of GHG emissions in the GHG inventory, which is closer to 45%. The emissions scenarios assume the limit on annual emissions kicks in only in 2025 and that emissions go substantially above this level in earlier years. What matters to the atmosphere are cumulative emissions over time, since this is what accumulates and contributes to global warming. Never- theless, carbon has become an important factor in planning our electricity mix.

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‘Business and government workshop on SA hosting global climate change talks’

Engineering News, 15 April 2011

In preparation for South Africa’s hosting of the global climate change negotiations in December, Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa on Friday declared the “road to Durban quite open”.

This came after a two-hour long discussion at Business Unity South Africa’s (Busa’s) offices on how business and government could work together to make South Africa’s hosting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) seventeenth Conference of the Parties (COP17), a success.

National Business Initiative chairperson Cas Coovadia noted that although the gathering was a UNFCCC event, South Africa must lead in organising it, and also use it as an opportunity to showcase South African business.

The discussion centred largely on the logistics of the conference, in particular regarding the exhibition that would take place, and what business could contribute towards it.

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‘How Urban Societies can Adapt to Resource Shortages and Climate Change’

Abstract: With more than half the world’s population now living in urban areas and with much of the world still urbanizing, there are concerns that urbanization is a key driver of unsustainable resource demands. Urbanization also appears to contribute to ever-growing levels of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Meanwhile, in much of Africa and Asia and many nations in Latin America and the Caribbean, urbanization has long outstripped local governments’ capacities or willingness to act as can be seen in the high proportion of the urban population living in poor quality, overcrowded, illegal housing lacking provision for water, sanitation, drainage, healthcare and schools. But there is good evidence that urban areas can combine high living standards with relatively low GHG emissions and lower resource demands. This paper draws on some examples of this and considers what these imply for urban policies in a resource-constrained world. These suggest that cities can allow high living standards to be combined with levels of GHG emissions that are much lower than those that are common in affluent cities today. This can be achieved not with an over-extended optimism on what new technologies can bring but mostly by a wider application of what already has been shown to work.

Sattherthwaite, D. (2011). How Urban Societies can Adapt to Resources Shortages and Climate Change, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, Vol. 369 (1942): 1762-1783 (Available for download with subscription at: http://rsta.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/369/1942/1762.full.pdf+html).

‘Housing, Institutions, Money: The Failures and Promise of Human Settlement Policy and Practice in South Africa’

Abstract: This paper considers why the housing subsidy programme in South Africa has had so little impact on poverty reduction despite its scale and generous funding. It discusses how this was linked to the government’s conception of housing, the institutions involved and who controlled funding flows for housing. Most government funding went to contractors to build new units “for the poor”; it was assumed that these would replace homes in informal settlements that the poor developed themselves. Despite statements about the government’s commitment to the People’s Housing Process (PHP), informal settlements were only seen in negative terms and there was no support for incremental upgrading and very little support for low-income households to build their own homes. Meanwhile, the contractor-built houses were usually too small, of poor quality and in locations far from livelihoods and services. The paper ends with suggestions for how the formal institutions of government can learn to support and work with the poor. The incremental approaches of the poor to their own housing and livelihoods can serve as an alternative first principle for conceiving of the challenge of human settlements policy and practice. Furthermore, funding flows and their associated institutions should support people-centred development and institutionalize systems that make the informed participation of residents of informal settlements a pre-condition for state support.

Full Citation: Bradlow, B., Bolnick, J. and Shearing, C. (2011). Housing, Institutions, Money: The Failures and Promise of Human Settlements Policy and Practice in South Africa, Environment and Urbanization, Vol. 23 (1): 267-275 (Available for download with subscription at: http://eau.sagepub.com/content/23/1/267.full.pdf+html).

‘Fracking in the Karoo – who do we believe?’

Polity News, 15 April 2011

While Shell is attracting the most negative publicity owing to its application to the Petroleum Agency of South Africa for exploration rights in the Karoo, other companies have also submitted applications, including Anglo Coal and Sasol. The latter is also in partnership with an American and Norwegian firm.

The total area being proposed by Shell for exploration is about 90 000 km2. The Karoo’s ecosystem is very sensitive. Farmers in the region have long established a very fine balance between their production needs and the ability of the ecosystem to provide the services needed.

Water is clearly the main concern. Water can be abstracted from natural underground aquifers. Many of these aquifers have, to date, been well maintained and provide clean, good-quality potable water. However, the aquifers are also complex systems, and their functioning is not thoroughly understood and, if the ecosystems are disturbed, it is not known how damaging the impacts will be and whether the damage will be permanent or remediable.

The sourcing of water for shale gas extraction is, obviously, a key issue. The concern here is not only about the resultant pollution, but also about the effects of the diversion of water for shale gas extraction. The exact quantities that would be required are not known at this stage, but it is understood millions of litres of water would be needed.

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‘Governments urged to tackle work agreed in 2010 at UN climate meeting’

Engineering News, 6 April 2011

The first United Nations (UN) climate change negotiating session for 2011 started in Bangkok, Thailand, on Monday, and UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) executive secretary Christiana Figueres called on governments to tackle work agreed to in 2010 and address shortfalls in climate action to put the world on a climate-safe path.

She said that governments should complete the concrete work they agreed to in Cancun, Mexico, and to chart a way forward that would ensure renewed success at the following UN Climate Change Conference in Durban.

“If governments move forward in the continued spirit of flexibility and compromise that inspired them in Mexico, then I’m confident they can make significant new progress in 2011,” Figueres said.

“The fragile compromise achieved in Cancun helped put the UN negotiations back on track. Bangkok needs to build on this progress and boost the overall ambition levels of the talks if we are to avert the worst consequences of climate change,” said South African World Wide Fund for Nature delegation leader Tasneem Essop.

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‘Climate Change White Paper to go before Parliament by mid-year’

Engineering News, 1 April 2011

South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) on Friday confirmed that it expected to submit the Climate Change White Paper to Parliament by June 2011.

DEA climate and energy special adviser Mark Gordon stated that the department has received over 5 000 comments on the draft green paper, which was released in November 2010.

He added that some 400 of these comments were hand written comments. The DEA was processing these and refining the green paper.

One of the major issues arising from the comment process and the Parliamentary hearings into the green paper, was the need for clearer sectoral targets in industries such as transport, waste, agriculture and forestry and water.

The White Paper would inform the country’s climate change policy, and the DEA has previously indicated that it would have a legislative, regulatory and fiscal package dealing with climate change by 2012.

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