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The North Gauteng High Court has ruled in favour of Earthlife Africa Johannesburg (ELA), which is opposing a new coal-fired power station in Limpopo.

The Court has referred the appeal against the environmental authorisation for the proposed Thabametsi coal-fired power station back to the Minister of Environmental Affairs on the basis that its impact on climate change had not properly been considered.

In South Africa’s first climate change lawsuit, environmental justice organisation ELA challenged Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa’s rejection of its appeal against the approval given to the planned coal-fired power station in Limpopo.

At the hearing, ELA argued that:

  • the DEA granted the environmental authorisation for Thabametsi without adequate information about the station’s climate change impacts; and
  • on appeal by ELA, the Minister of Environmental Affairs correctly called for a climate change impact assessment for the power station, but should have referred Thabametsi’s application back to the DEA to make a fresh decision about the authorisation, once properly informed by the findings of that climate impact assessment. Instead, the Minister rejected ELA’s appeal, thereby upholding the authorisation.

ELA noted that the approval was granted by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) even though there had been no comprehensive assessment of the ‘climate change impacts’ of this new coal-fired power station.

The judgement, handed down on 8 March 2017, makes clear that the DEA and the Minister should have given proper consideration to the climate change impacts of the proposed coal-fired power station before a decision could have been made to allow it to go ahead.

The court has therefore ordered that the Minister reconsiders the appeal, now taking into account a full climate change impact assessment report, and all public comments received.

Makoma Lekalakala of ELA says: “We welcome this judgement, which sends a strong message to government and all developers proposing projects with potentially significant ‘climate change impacts’ in South Africa that permission cannot be given for such projects unless the climate change impacts have been properly assessed.

“South Africa is a water-stressed country, and the Waterberg, where the power station would be located, is a particularly water-stressed area. Climate impacts are a big deal for communities and farmers who depend on the limited water available.”

The Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) on behalf of ELA, submitted comments on Thabametsi’s draft climate change impact assessment on 27 February 2017.

The final climate change impact assessment is due to be submitted to the DEA and made available for final comment this month.

CER attorney Nicole Loser notes: “A climate change impact assessment requires far more than an assessment of the proposed project’s greenhouse gas emissions.  Climate change is going to have a significant impact on South Africa’s water availability and will result in extreme weather events such as floods and droughts.

“We are very relieved that the court has recognised the need for an assessment of the power station’s contribution and exposure to these impacts.”