HomeEnergyLonmin's Ben Magara: South Africa's transition to a low carbon economy

Lonmin’s Ben Magara: South Africa’s transition to a low carbon economy

Lonmin CEO Ben Magara
Lonmin CEO Ben Magara

It is becoming more and more apparent that in order to meet the needs of South Africans and the environment we need an entirely different kind of economy.

By Ben Magara, CEO of Lonmin

Convening a conversation about what shapes this economy needs to take place, and how we manage transition is critical.

The National Business Initiative (NBI) has long maintained that this debate needs to be more public and show more data driven leadership from all sides.  The private and public sectors need to work alongside labour and civil society to co-create a transition plan and business has an important role to play in implementation and as a source of needed innovation as we move towards COP21.

South Africa takes a strong stand to keep warming below 2°C . This is the key message from the Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) recently submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The We Mean Business coalition and South Africa’s NBI welcome this announcement as the stage upon which South Africa will present its crucial developing country perspective at COP21.

The NBI works with businesses across South Africa, collaborating with the private sector on the transition to a low carbon economy. Alongside its partner We Mean Business, the NBI works with hundreds of the world’s most influential companies and investors to accelerate this transition globally.

South Africa’s stance at the UNFCCC negotiations in December will be closely watched by the world – the country is seen as a leader in Africa and thus an important voice for developing country interests going into the Paris negotiations.

South Africa currently chairs the G77 and China and is also a member of the BASIC group of countries with Brazil, India and China, and therefore plays a key role in the push for an ambitious Paris agreement.  The South African INDC moves us closer to this goal.

Central to South Africa’s INDC is a call to keep global temperatures well below 2°, citing the exacerbated effect of warming above this level on vulnerable regions, particularly in Africa. But even at 2° of warming, South Africa and the African continent must adapt to substantial climate impacts.  This is why the South African INDC treats mitigation and adaptation as equally important.

Key to the transition to a low carbon future is the role played by the private sector.

Mitigation and adaptation equally important in the transition to a low-carbon economy

South Africa’s INDC proposes strategic adaptation and mitigation goals, and highlights the investment and support requirements for both. We support the view that adapting to climate impacts and reducing greenhouse gas emissions must be treated with political parity.

In order to achieve this balance, the INDC document acknowledges South Africa’s key development concerns, specifically the need to address poverty and inequality, framing these challenges in the context of pressing climate change imperatives.

The mitigation goals in South Africa’s INDC to decarbonise the country’s economy call for “greenhouse gas emissions to peak between 2020 and 2025, plateau for approximately a decade and decline in absolute terms thereafter.”

As a country caught in the grip of a crippling energy crisis and reliant on a coal-powered national grid, transitioning to a low carbon economy in South Africa is a delicate balancing act. South Africa’s INDC therefore recognises the role that coal will play in alleviating some of the current energy insecurity, yet simultaneously highlighting the increasing contribution of renewables, specifically the 5 243 MW supplied to date under the country’s successful Renewable Energy Independent Power Producers Procurement Programme (REI4P).

The INDC addresses adaptation through six goals, supported by details on the key planning elements required, the means and cost of implementation and the required investment for each goal. The six goals are premised by equity considerations and the importance of this in international efforts.

The INDC adaptation goals range from developing a National Adaptation Plan (as part of implementation of the National Climate Change Response Policy by 2020) through to building the necessary institutional capacity, establishing an early warning system, and developing a vulnerability assessment and adaptation needs framework. Combined, these goals stress the important role that adaptation will be required to play in the transition to a low carbon future.

Key to the transition to a low carbon future is the role played by the private sector. Currently, 80% of South Africa’s JSE top 100 companies already report their carbon emissions and emission reduction goals through the CDP.

As such, South Africa is well positioned to add its voice to the call for an ambitious commitment towards net zero emissions globally, accompanied by the climate finance to build low carbon industries. Linked to this private sector involvement is the advancement of GHG emissions reporting, combined with strong company emission reduction measures and strategies.

Organised business, under the auspices of their representative body Business Unity South Africa (BUSA), has also taken an active interest in the INDC process, having formally acknowledged the need for progressive policy and action on climate change.  As South Africa’s INDC outlines, this requires equal acknowledgement for adaptation opportunities. The private sector is well-placed to support these national adaptation efforts, including by incorporating adaptation strategies into core business functions, undertaking vulnerability assessments and developing adaptation plans in relation to the ecological or social networks in which they operate.

South Africa has set out on the path to a low carbon and climate resilient future, and the country’s INDC marks an integral step in this journey.

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