SA sacrifices its economy and energy sovereignty on the altar of ambitious climate change goals

The 2023 COP28 Summit was a difficult one. Approximately 200 countries attended the COP28, but have emerged completely opposed to either side of the climate debates. File

The 2023 COP28 Summit was a difficult one. Approximately 200 countries attended the COP28, but have emerged completely opposed to either side of the climate debates. File

Published Dec 13, 2023


South Africa sacrifices its economy and energy sovereignty on the altar of ambitious climate change goals. Countries are sacrificing their growth in the ongoing global climate change battle and clash of the titans as to who will eventually control the climate debate leading up to 2050.

The 2023 COP28 Summit was a difficult one. About 200 countries attended the COP28, but have emerged completely opposed to either side of the climate debates. The world is now more deeply divided after the summit on which cause to back regarding the climate question.

The industrialists of oil-rich producing nations are not in agreement with the current ambitious economic and sovereignty-threatening climate change goals pushed by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

One side is against the end of fossil fuel use, while the other side is in support of the ending of the use of fossil fuels. As countries retract back to their economies, only time will tell where this climate change agenda will go.

To make the status quo even harder, not everyone is in total agreement with any of the views expressed in the climate debate.

On the one hand, new scientific evidence is emerging, which supports the view that says emissions are, after all, not bad and have a positive benefit to the environment.

For instance, CO2 has now been found to be beneficial to plant life and the greening of the environment and this is a scientific fact. Deserts have started greening due to the newly found benefits of CO2 and greenhouse gas deposits in the atmosphere.

On the other hand, there is another established scientific view that says climate change is a serious danger to humanity and all uses of fossil fuels must be ended immediately.

If anything, this year’s summit demonstrated that countries should take a step back and re-evaluate their priorities and refocus their global climate action plan commitment goals.

The coal, oil and gas lobby finally won the argument at the COP28 UN Climate Conference.

Through the microscope: politics and sovereign ambitions

On June 1, 2017, then US president Donald Trump announced that the US would cease all participation in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation, contending that the agreement would “undermine” the US economy, and put the US “at a permanent disadvantage”. However, later, the US re-signed the agreement under current US President Joe Biden.

The initial reason Trump exited the agreement was that it was not prescriptive to countries, rather signatory countries are asked to implement their own emissions-reduction strategies.

Trump wanted the US to bring back coal and grow the US economy through revitalising its economy using coal, oil and gas. And he succeeded; by the end of his tenure the US economy had turned around and achieved record levels of growth.

Under Trump, the US industrial base guided by his campaign promise to “make America great again” managed to return the US to its former glory days as an industrial quality goods and producer nation.

Say whatever you want about Trump, but to his credit, he achieved his campaign goals of re-industrialising the US economy. The US industrial sector had bounced back to record levels of productivity and many companies returned to using the US as their manufacturing base.

The oil and gas sector topped records to levels whereby the US had produced so much crude oil and gas that the prices of US crude oil went into surplus mode and made the US a net exporter of oil and gas.

But ever since the reversal of Trump policies by Biden, the US economy has reversed its economic revival gains. The economy has taken a downturn.

This shows that the goals espoused by the Paris Climate Agreement do not necessarily work in the best interest of emerging and developing countries and most countries in the world.

Large economies like the US and Europe are, on the one hand, talking tough on climate, but taking no action, while Asian countries, such as China and India, are not agreeing to the ambitious climate goals that threaten to derail economic growth and prosperity of nations.

Ever since South Africa embarked on pursuing aggressive goals of reducing CO2 emissions, this plan has reversed massive economic growth and has led to the collapse of the South African economy.

The evidence of this economic collapse is heavily felt in the energy sector and other production sectors like manufacturing, agriculture and the mining sector, where companies are closing down and towns are left bare without economic activity, leaving behind massive levels of job losses.

The energy crisis in South Africa is due to the fact that under the presidency of President Cyril Ramaphosa, the government has been driving careless climate action policies that have threatened economic collapse and have reduced economic activity and growth of South Africa.

The targets set by the South African government have been somewhat unrealistic given the fact that the state is pursuing the UN climate action plan under the Paris Agreement commitments, now referred to as the energy action plan, to the extent where the state is now reversing and collapsing the industrial base of South Africa.

The South African government’s commitments to end the use of coal and fossil fuels will only fast-track the collapse of industries and the economy as a whole. The plans to reduce emissions are unrealistic in that they threaten communities and jobs across sectors.

Load shedding and power cuts have been so devastating that many people are now out of jobs and economic performance has slowed to 0.6% economic growth levels. South Africa should also review its climate action plan and adjust its overambitious objectives.

South Africa used to boast as being the industrial hub and the economic gateway to Africa, but that is not the case today. Ever since the government had decided to recklessly implement its climate action plan, South Africa has slowly turned into a shadow of its former industrial glorious past.

Climate action plan is unrealistic

The climate action plan is not realistic. That is why most countries who attended the COP28 Conference this year openly criticised and pushed back on the ambitious goals.

According to reports at the COP28 Conference, negotiators told Reuters that “other Opec and Opec+ (Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Brunei, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Mexico, Oman, Russia, South Sudan and Sudan) members including Russia, Iraq and Iran, have also resisted attempts to insert a fossil fuel phase-out into the COP28 deal”.

The COP28 Climate Change Summit could not reach a deal to phase out the use of coal and fossil fuels. The draft deal now only suggests reducing the use of fossil fuels. And increasing alternative energy sources through tripling the adoption of renewable energy and use of nuclear energy for energy generation.

The new COP28 deal scraps previous calls to “phase out” coal, oil, and gas. Because countries are divided on the UN climate action goals to end the use of fossil fuels.

SA says it supports ending the use of fossil fuels and has agreed to start the process to ending coal and the use of fossil fuels. Yet, behind the scenes, it continues to advance ambitious goals of onshore and offshore oil and gas exploration, mining and coal exporting and steel manufacturing and re-industrialisation agenda.

Ultimately, this year's Climate Conference and Summit didn't pan out as anticipated and planned. It was a turning point in that member countries intensified their objections to the non-realistic goals set out by the Paris Climate Agreement. The resistance towards these ambitious climate action goals has been brewing over the years.

Crown Prince Adil Nchabeleng is president of Transform RSA and an independent energy expert.

* The views in this column are independent of Business Report and Independent Media.