South Africa Struggles With Carbon Footprint

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South Africa’s growing economy may be slowing, but its appetite for energy is not. The nation has struggled to keep pace with its need for fuel and power and continues to expand its use of coal — and therefore its carbon emissions.

According to a new government report, South Africa is now ramping up efforts to at least account for and disclose its CO2 emissions without promising reductions. The country’s leading private coal producer also says emissions are on the rise, and is hoping for new technology to offset the continued expansion of coal used for electricity and transportation.

The government of South Africa just released its second Carbon Disclosure Report, which included more than double the amount of participating companies from the prior year. While more companies are beginning to track their carbon emissions and set goals, the data is far from complete, according to the report:

Relatively few companies (23 percent) have disclosed specific, company-wide GHG emissions reduction targets; and most of those companies that have emissions targets have focused on reducing their emissions-intensity, rather than striving for a reduction in absolute emissions.
Other South African companies that are expecting an associated cost for carbon emissions to be added in the coming years are starting to track their emissions internally.

South Africa has been slower to address climate change than other nations because of a lack of international obligations to do so, according to the report. While South Africa, signed onto the Kyoto Protocol, as a developing nation, it is not required to set or meet emissions reductions targets.

Energy company Sasol, which participated in the report, issued its own sustainability report this week that stated that greenhouse gas emissions grew from 69.8 to 72.7 million tons during the past year. Sasol is the nation’s leading producer of transportation fuel derived from coal (coal to liquids, or CTL). CTL fuel requires three times as much energy to produce than gasoline, losing 40 percent of the energy during the conversion process.

Sasol, one of the world’s top emitters of greenhouse gases, is pursuing a new coal to liquids plant, saying it would create jobs and help to ease the country’s energy crunch.

Sasol hopes that new technologies will someday help to green its business. The company does not have wind, wave or solar power generation facilities because according to CEO Pat Davies, they are not part of its core competencies.

Coal provides 90 percent of the electricity and one-third of the transportation fuel in South Africa, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

State-run utility Eskom hasn’t been able to keep pace with electricity and has resorted to rolling blackouts while it ramps up the construction of new coal plants. South Africa’s growing economy has been slowed by the international financial crisis, but the power demand is growing as the nation modernizes.

In addition to its 13 coal plants, Eskom operates two hydropower plants, one nuclear power plant, and a small pilot wind farm.

Image courtesy of Flickr, DanielDVM.

(Matter Network’s John Gartner will be touring South Africa and blogging about sustainability initiatives starting on November 29 as part of the Blogging South Africa program. Sign up for the RSS feed here.}

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