China’s decision to stop investment in MMSEZ is a triumph for South African community and civil society activists
22 September 2021 at 4:41 pm
Yesterday’s policy announcement by Chinese President Xi Jinping at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly that China will not build any new coal projects abroad is a victory for thousands of community and civil society activists in South Africa. The announcement will likely mean an end to the new coal-fired power stations that would support the controversial Musina-Makhado Special Economic Zone (MMSEZ), which includes a plan to construct a 3300MW coal fired power plant together with various heavy metal industries.
The Life After Coal Campaign, a joint campaign by the Centre for Environmental Rights, groundWork and Earthlife Africa, welcomes the announcement by President Jinping.
Should it proceed, the operation of the 3300MW coal power plant that forms the backbone of MMSEZ would emit approximately 1 billion tons of CO2e of greenhouse gas, taking up approximately 16% of South Africa’s carbon budget, according to its own report. Emissions from the coal plant would effectively make it impossible for South Africa to meet its Nationally Determined Contribution under the Paris Climate Agreement, approved by Cabinet last week.
The MMSEZ development also threatens the rights of water users in what is already a water scarce province, as all available water has already been allocated, and people are already struggling to access water in some areas. Furthermore, the construction of the southern site of the Energy Metallurgical Special Economic Zone will result in ecosystem destruction, including traditional food sources like baobabs and mopane trees. The area also has cultural and religious significance for the Venda which stands to be eroded.
The planning and decision-making process for MMSEZ has happened outside of and flies in the face of, the Integrated Resource Plan 2019, as well as official water provision planning as evidenced in the proposed Musina Dam. The economic planning around the steel production component is also flawed.
“In light of President Jinping’s announcement, to continue with this project, China would risk being accused of burdening South Africa with their water thirsty industries and using the South African carbon budget,” says Life After Coal campaign advisor Dr Victor Munnik.
Nevertheless, the project proponents have shown no sign of letting up, giving notice last week of a revised environmental impact assessment report for the project out for comment by mid-October 2021.
Two Chinese state-owned companies plan to finance the construction of the MMSEZ coal power plant. The effect of the withdrawal of these public investors from the project are likely to have knock-on effects on the private financing for MMSEZ. “It is hard to understand how the project could go ahead in the current circumstances, given the many risks we’ve emphasised,” says Leanne Govindsamy, the Centre for Environmental Rights’ Head of Corporate Accountability & Transparency.
The end of Chinese state financing for coal abroad also signals a clear end to coal support globally, and South African companies reliant on coal and South African financial institutions still supporting coal should take urgent steps to shift investments to renewable energy.
The Campaign calls for a stop to coal and for government to ensure that this process follows a Just Transition which is broad and transformative. “Ending coal does not have to result in trade-offs,” says Earthlife Africa director Makoma Lekalakala. “It is entirely possible to use the just transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy through rebuilding a fair, democratic, inclusive and equal economy for all South Africans.”
Life After Coal/Impilo Ngaphandle Kwamalahle is a joint campaign by Earthlife Africa Johannesburg, groundWork, and the Centre for Environmental Rights that aims to discourage the development of new coal-fired power stations and mines; reduce emissions from existing coal infrastructure and encourage a coal phase-out; and enable a just transition to sustainable energy systems for the people. www.lifeaftercoal.org.za
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