South Africa: Energy and Environmental Issues
South Africa is rich in natural diversity and energy resources, especially coal. As energy intensive industries grow as a share of the country's economy, sustainable environmental management has become an increasingly important issue in national policymaking.
South Africa's energy sector impacts local and regional environmental conditions, primarily as a result of the use of coal for electricity generation. Coal intensive activities contribute to large-scale water and air pollution, including significant carbon dioxide emissions. In addition to coal-based pollution, tanker spills and leaks at refineries and synthetic fuel plants contribute to groundwater and marine pollution. South Africa also faces problems endemic to industrializing countries, many of which contribute to environmental degradation and loss of biodiversity. These problems include: deforestation, rapid population growth, and urbanization.
In 1994, in conjunction with South Africa's first democratic election, numerous domestic and international environmental groups began lobbying for stricter environmental protection laws. Historically, South Africa has employed non-binding guidelines for national environmental management, while legislation was left to the discretion of the municipal governments. In October 1997, the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT), the central environmental policy-making body in South Africa, developed the White Paper on Environmental Management. The White Paper provided the framework for modern environmental policy in South Africa, embodied in the 1988 National Environmental Act. This Act addresses such issues as air, water and marine pollution, waste management, deforestation, energy efficiency and the conservation of biodiversity. Under the Act, South Africa's once-fragmented environmental legislation was consolidated and national standards were established. In addition, the Act is consistent with Section 24 of the South African constitution, which ensures the right of citizens to live in a clean and healthy environment.
Currently South Africa is a party to more than forty international environmental treaties, including the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), ratified on August 29, 1997. As a party to the Framework Convention, the country is required to report on national emissions and is encouraged to consider climate change issues in domestic social, economic, and environmental policymaking. South Africa also acceded as a party to the Kyoto Protocol on July 31, 2002. However, under both the Convention and the Protocol, South Africa is recognized as a "developing country." Should the Protocol come into effect, South Africa would not be required to actively reduce greenhouse gas emissions (mainly carbon dioxide, hydrofluorocarbons, and nitrous oxides).
In late August and early September 2002, Johannesburg hosted the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), which focused international attention on both environmental issues and South Africa. The conference, informally known as the "Earth Summit," brought together 120 world leaders and 16,000 delegates to discuss progress on environmental issues since the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.
Use of coal by South Africa's industrial sector is the primary source of the country's air pollution. Several industrial centers, such as South Durban, the Vaal Triangle, and Milnerton, in Cape Town; are considered air pollution "hotspots." More than 90% of South Africa's electricity is generated from the combustion of coal, which contains approximately 1.2% sulfur and up to 45% ash. Coal combustion can lead to particulate matter in the air, as well as contribute to acid rain. Despite harmful environmental effects, coal-fired power stations are not required to use coal scrubbers to remove sulfur, as use of clean-coal technology would significantly raise the cost of electricity for consumers. In addition to power generation, coal combustion in stoves and coal-heated boilers in hospitals and factories contribute to of low-level coal-related atmospheric pollution.
In addition to coal combustion, vehicular emissions also contribute to air pollution in urban centers. The effects of pollution caused by use of leaded gasoline (as South African refineries do not produce high octane unleaded gasoline), use of older vehicles and lack of emissions control technology has been compounded by the historical absence of vehicle emissions legislation.
South Africa's four oil refineries are another major contributor to energy-related air pollution. The refineries, located in the northern suburbs of Cape Town and in the southeastern coastal city of Durban, emit high levels of sulfur dioxide and several other chemicals known to cause health problems. According to UNICEF, in 2000, respiratory infections from air pollution were the fourth-largest cause of death in children under five in South Africa (more than 6,000 deaths per year). The effects of air pollution on children are often compounded by poverty, including lack of access to potable water, sanitary facilities, and health care. Residents of low-income communities have been forced to relocate due to pollution from refineries and their waste sites. Currently, there is significant public pressure on Dallas-based Caltex, operator of the Milnerton refinery, to upgrade operations and to reduce emissions at the site. In addition, Shell and BP, operators of the 165,000-bbl/d Sapref refinery, are evaluating possible upgrades to their facility and to a 53-mile underground pipeline system, which contributed have contributed to air and groundwater pollution respectively. In July 2001, Sapref became a rallying point for protest after a pipeline leaked more than 264,000 gallons of petroleum underground, the world's largest underground oil spill.
In addition to air pollution, energy-related marine pollution is a growing environmental challenge, threatening rare mollusk, fish, seabird and mammal populations, as well as pristine beaches. In July 2004, a collaborative $11-million project aimed at reducing land-based pollution of the western Indian Ocean, was launched by several African nations, including South Africa, Kenya, Mozambique and several island nations. The three-year project, funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) of the World Bank and the Norwegian government, aims to curb sewage, chemicals and other toxins that pollute regional rivers and coastal waters. South Africa is especially vulnerable to oil spills due to the high volume of oil transported around the country's coasts by ships en route from the Middle East to Europe and the Americas. Marine pollution is particularly significant in the Saldahana Bay, where crude oil imports are discharged to state-owned facilities. In June 2000, a tanker sank off of the coast of Cape Town, rupturing two fuel tanks. The spill threatened the South African penguin population and damaged tourist areas including the World Heritage site of Robben Island.
Lastly, small waste coal dumps and other hazardous waste from energy-related industries cause both pollution and safety problems. Waste coal may spontaneously ignite, while runoff from mining can contaminate groundwater.
New Efforts to Combat Air and Marine Pollution
Though most townships have high levels of air pollution, South Africa has long lacked legally binding air pollution regulations on a national level, with only non-binding guidelines and no enforcement authority. In order to address this problem, in April 2003, the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism proposed draft legislation for new ambient air quality standards for industries. The National Air Quality Management Bill, which replaces the outdated 1965 Atmospheric Pollution Prevention Act (APPA), aims to control air pollution, emission of greenhouse gases, and ozone-depleting pollutants by setting permissible concentrations of several polluting substances as well as total emissions levels. According to Director-General Dr. Crispian Olver, the new bill "closes loopholes in current legislation," and no longer focuses on the single point-source emissions that have led to air pollution "hot spots" throughout South Africa. Atmospheric emission licenses will be used to regulate firm-level emissions and will specify use of and time frame for application of appropriate technology. This proposed legislation aims to make polluters accountable by applying the "polluter-pays" principle, whereby the firms responsible for industrial pollution must compensate the national government for damage sustained (taxes or fines), or take precautionary measures to offset or reverse pollution. Environmental Affairs and Tourism Minister Marthinus Van Schalkwyk has indicated that air polluters will face fines and jail terms once the bill is passed, in accordance with the June 2002 Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Bill. This bill leverages the country's ability to enforce environmental laws, extending civil and criminal penalties for polluters, originally detailed in section 34(7) of the National Environmental Management Act.
The proposed bill has incited controversy over the exclusion of mercury and dioxin from the list of substances with controlled ambient concentrations as well as its lack of clarity about disposal of "controlled fuels," which may lead to the incineration of hazardous waste.
Proposed amendments to the National Air Quality Management Bill also consider control of emissions from "appliances," which include motor vehicles. Such an amendment could strength national motor vehicle emissions and fuel-specification legislation that becomes effective over the next several years. In 2002, separate draft regulations were first published requiring oil refineries to phase out leaded fuels and reduce sulfur content of diesel fuels by 2006. While the fuel-specification legislation will impact several sectors of the economy, the major short-term challenge will be for refineries to adopt lead-replacement additives in fuels. Longer-term plans, which include the introduction of public transport systems and production of high quality unleaded gasoline, are yet to come to fruition. South Africa also faces logistical issues in combating air pollution. Currently, the Durban South SO2 Management System is the only approved air testing facility in South Africa. In addition, there are administrative and judicial hurdles. To date, local governments have done little in the way of monitoring air pollution or enforcing municipal standards. For example, in 2001, of the 284 South African municipalities, only 131 performed air quality monitoring and of those, only 97 took steps to assure compliance, and there was no penalty imposed for noncompliance. Countrywide, the national executive and municipal authorities will jointly carry out monitoring. Enforcement, by national and local courts, is a critical component to ensuring compliance with national environmental protection legislation. However, the lenient enforcement practices by the South African courts threaten to make any new legislation ineffective as a tool to combat air pollution.
In order to better safeguard against marine oil spills, the South African Department of Transport and the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism cooperate on coastal protection initiatives. Measures supported by the Department of Transport include enforcement of the 12-mile territorial seas protected under international law; prosecution of ship owners if oil is discharged from their ships; control of aircraft patrols over shipping lanes; and the establishment of contingency plans. South Africa, as part of a proposed $40 million GEF-funded project, is looking to prevent ship-based environmental contamination, such as oil spills from groundings and illegal discharges of ballast and bilge waters; and unsustainable exploitation of marine resources, such as illegal fishing and fishing practices.
Energy Use and Carbon Dioxide Emissions
In 2002, of the 4.5 quadrillion Btu (quads) of primary energy consumed in South Africa, 74.0% was coal, 20.9% was oil, 2.6% was nuclear and 2.0% was natural gas. While South Africa accounted for 35.6% of the total primary energy consumed in all of Africa in 2002, the country was responsible for only 1.1% of total primary world energy consumption. However, South Africa emitted 306.3 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from coal consumption, amounting to 90.6% of Africa's energy-related carbon emissions and 3.4% of world energy-related carbon dioxide emissions. Reliance on coal-based energy sources explains South Africa's proportionally larger carbon dioxide emissions in comparison with many other industrializing countries.
Over the past 25 years, primary energy consumption in South Africa's residential and commercial sector has risen only gradually. The slow increase of primary energy consumption in the residential sector can be attributed partially to South Africa's reliance on fuelwood, a noncommercial energy source, which therefore unaccounted for in primary/commercial energy consumption estimates. Fuelwood is still the largest source of household energy in remote rural populations, estimated to meet the daily energy needs of more than one third of South Africa's population. Use of fuelwood is believed to contribute to deforestation in South Africa. In addition, it is frequently burned in enclosed spaces without adequate ventilation. This can result in harmful levels of pollutants in rural homes, increasing the risk of respiratory health problems and other ailments.
Per Capita Energy Use and Carbon Dioxide Emissions
South Africa's per capita energy consumption and per capita energy-related carbon dioxide emissions have remained fairly constant over the past two and a half decades. In 2002, per capita energy consumption in South Africa was 101.5 million Btu, while per capita energy-related carbon dioxide emissions registered 6.8 metric tons.
South Africa is one of the most industrialized countries in Africa, but in comparison to "developed" countries, South Africa has lower levels of automobile and home appliance ownership per capita and consumes a higher proportion of "noncommercial" energy (such as fuel wood and paraffin). As a result, South Africa's per capita levels of energy consumption and energy-related carbon dioxide emissions, while higher than in most of Africa, are lower than in the United States and many other industrialized and industrializing nations.
Energy and Carbon Dioxide Intensity
Since 1970, South Africa consistently has consumed the most energy and emitted the most carbon dioxide per dollar of GDP among major countries in Africa. In 2002, South African energy intensity measured 11,359 Btu per $1995, higher than most other important African energy-producing countries such as Algeria, Egypt and Morocco. South Africa's energy intensity surpasses that of several other rapidly industrializing countries, such as India and China, as well as the United States (10,619 Btu per $1995). In 2002, South Africa's carbon dioxide intensity was approximately 0.8 metric tons per thousand $1995, larger than all other African countries and the United States. This high carbon dioxide intensity is largely due to the country's heavy use of coal.
Energy efficiency standards in South Africa have generally been lacking. While there is growing recognition of the need for adoption of energy efficiency standards, most are still in a draft phase. Barriers to implementing energy efficiency improvements include a low-cost coal supply, a lack of public awareness concerning operating costs of appliances, poor enforcement of existing laws and an absence of codes and standards.
Historically, incentives for investment in both energy efficient technologies and renewable energy in South Africa have been minimal. There has been little incentive for government funding or private support for renewable energy sources, partially due to the country's inexpensive and abundant coal. In May 2004, the Minerals and Energy Department drafted its first energy efficiency and renewables strategy. The draft is expected to help the fledgling renewable industry - - mainly biomass, wind power, solar power and small-scale hydropower projects - - by identifying "market rules" or sources of financing and required technologies for new entrants in the electricity-generation sector. At the same time, plans for a national renewable energy monitoring system were also announced. The government will target producing 4% (approximately 10,000 gigawatt-hours) of the country's electricity from renewable sources by 2013.
Since 2001, South Africa has considered using renewable energy for their highly publicized "rural electrification" project. It is estimated that at least 20% of rural populations are expected to remain without access to grid electricity over the next 20 years. Due to the dispersed nature of villages and South Africa's significant solar resources, modular, renewable energy technologies have long been considered an economically and environmentally efficient means of providing electricity to rural population while helping the country diversify away from fossil fuels. However, a 2003 joint venture between Eskom, the parastatal power supplier of South Africa, and Shell International Renewable fell short in proving solar power to be an economically viable rural power source when their test project exceeded projected costs and failed to gain public acceptance. Instead, in June 2004, Eskom Chairman Reuel Khoza announced a controversial plan to increase the South Africa's nuclear capacity (for electricity generation) through their pebble bed modular reactor (PBMR) facility in Koeberg, Western Cape, with the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) and British Nuclear Fuels.
Despite setbacks with solar technologies, renewable energy is still actively under development in South Africa. A 100-MW solar thermal power plant is planned for Upington, in the Northern Cape for 2007. Other planned projects include a biogas initiative at several landfill sights throughout the country, wind farms near Darling in the Western Cape, a wind-assisted pump storage plan in the Eastern Cape, and a small hydro plant in Bethlehem, in the Free State.
South Africa is active in multilateral and bilateral renewable energy initiatives, such as the Renewable Energy for African Development program (READ), which was set up in 1993 to promote cooperation between African countries and U.S. industry, government, and academia on renewable energy issues. The nonprofit program promotes sustainable rural development through appropriate use of renewable energy technologies.
South Africa and Lesotho have joined efforts in the 30-year Lesotho Highlands Water Project, all five phases of which are to be completed by 2020. The purpose of the largest water supply scheme undertaken to date in Africa is both to provide needed water supplies to South Africa, as well as to provide hydropower to Lesotho. Upon completion, water will be supplied to the industrial heartland of South Africa and about 180 MW of electricity will be supplied to Lesotho. Environmental groups, however, fear that the large dams constructed in the Lesotho Highlands Water Project will not only force people from their homes, but also submerge fertile farmland and forests while destroying valuable fisheries and ecosystems.
In South Africa, environmental concerns are strongly tied to human and economic development issues. The country will likely continue to face pressure to fully address energy-related environmental issues, including access to clean drinking water, safe food and improved air quality, while trying to promote growth through rapid industrialization and manufacturing for export. Successful implementation of national environmental policy and enforcement of the corresponding laws is critical in reversing energy production and consumption trends that have a deleterious effect on human health and the environment. Much of the challenge lies in adopting viable pollution control schemes that will not preclude development of energy infrastructure throughout the country. The achievement of this goal lies much in South Africa's ability to reduce dependency on outmoded coal technologies for electricity generation, despite the fact that many alternative technologies are yet to be proven economically viable. Overall, South Africa must face many hurdles before the energy sector can sustainably meet domestic demand while reducing the burden on human health and the environment.