Balancing South Africa’s Energy Poverty and Climate Change Commitments
A life lived without access to modern energy is a life lived in poverty. Nearly half of the people living in energy poverty globally reside in Sub-Saharan Africa. In fact, seven out of 10 people in Sub-Saharan Africa, nearly 600 million, do not have access to electricity. Although South Africa may have lower rates of energy poverty than most of its neighbors, it remains a prominent example of a country struggling to develop its economy and provide opportunities for its people to extract themselves from energy and other forms of poverty.
Mr. Godfrey Gomwe, the former CEO of Anglo American’s Thermal Coal unit, shared at the 2013 International Coal and Climate Summit that the first electric light he studied under was when he went to university. Until then he had had to study under the glow of a paraffin lamp. Even so, he considers himself lucky. Today, across Africa and in many developing countries, it is not uncommon to see children outdoors late at night studying under street lamps because they have no electricity at home.
While the world’s developing countries need access to low-cost energy, they are also the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change as well as policies aimed at reducing anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, which generally result in an increased cost of energy. The unavoidability of coal in future energy scenarios for South Africa, and the prospect of multilateral development banks and others in the international community backing away from funding research and development of cleaner coal technologies, mean there is a risk of unintended consequences in terms of CO2 emissions in the South African context. Modern low emission, high-efficiency coal fired power plants emit significantly less CO2 but come at a cost. Therefore, it is imperative that concessional financing be made available to develop and implement cleaner coal technologies and carbon capture and storage strategies. South Africa’s leaders, together with the African Development Bank are working hard to find the right balance between development, available resources and climate commitments.