issue 3, May - June 2000
|Sustainability and Renewable Energy|
widespread consensus amongst the worlds leading energy policy analysis organizations
that current energy use practices are not sustainable, and that these will have to change
drastically in the near future. The principal message from the last World Energy Council
meeting stated that "we cannot carry on using energy in the ways that we currently
do", that the next 30 years are ones of managing energy transition, and that this
must start now (WEC 1994). One of the main concerns is the major contribution of carbon
emissions from energy use towards global warming. According to the International Energy
Agency (IEA 1998), world energy demand is projected to grow by 66% between 1995 and 2020,
with fossil fuels providing 95% of this increase, and CO2 emissions growing by 69%. Most
increases in carbon emissions (78%) are predicted to come from developing countries in
Given the above,
it seems inevitable that all countries, including developing nations, will come under
increasing pressure to shift away from high carbon fuels and increase energy efficiency
substantially. Amongst the policy shifts identified by the UNDP as being essential for
sustainability are, increased attention to energy efficiency and market penetration of
sustainable energy technologies (UNDP 1997). Renewable forms of energy have a major role
to play in moving to sustainability, and thus represent a huge future potential market.
So it seems that
all informed people know what needs to be done, yet there is often little evidence of a
fundamental shift within national energy planning. Why? Some of the main barriers to
moving towards sustainability at a sensible pace (and thus increased use of renewable
Although many third-world officials fear that carbon dioxide limits could choke off their economic growth, the greater risk would come in failing to use the more efficient, less polluting energy technologies that industrial nations are beginning to adopt. Continuing to pursue an inefficient oil and coal based future would saddle developing countries with a grim combination of uncompetitive technologies and economically draining environmental cleanup bills. Indeed, the Soviet Union already tried this path to economic development, and failed. Still, there is reason for optimism. When countries industrialise later as Germany and Japan did in the 1950s and 1960s they generally leapfrog to a higher, more efficient level of technology. Thus it is possible that by 2025, countries such as Brazil or Russia could be more energy efficient than Japan. And it would not be surprising that by mid-century China has a more ambitious solar hydrogen system than Europe does. The recent opening of many developing country energy systems to foreign investment and the elimination of national monopolies will tend to hasten their catching up with the richer nations. In the long run, moving away from dependence on oil and coal and pursuing a more sustainable energy future is key to the development process of third world countries. Solar energy for both heating and electricity generation, wind electricity generation, hydroelectric power and biomass are all considered renewable forms of energy (there are others with less immediate relevance to Africa such as wave energy and ocean thermal energy conversion). Large-scale hydroelectric power is generally well known and utilized, and internationally accounts for the bulk of energy officially classified as renewable. Biomass could be included amongst non-sustainable energy forms because of the associated emissions and the ease with which the resource may be over-harvested in many areas. This leaves solar and wind as the renewable energy sources having the most immediate relevance to Africa. Both are used internationally on both a small-scale as stand-alone energy sources, as well being used as larger grid connected generation plants. At present, no large scale solar or wind generating plant is operational in Southern Africa, but two potential wind plants in Namibia and South Africa respectively are currently being investigated, and the potential for large-scale solar thermal power generation exists in the areas surrounding the Kalahari desert, which has some of the most favourable solar radiation conditions in the world. On a smaller scale, solar water heaters and housing developments incorporating passive solar and energy efficient design are immediately economically viable applications for renewable energies which have clear financial returns and potentially significant implications for national energy profiles. Widespread application of these two options would usually delay the need for investment in new electricity generation plants. Internationally renewable energies are gaining ground rather slowly. Amongst the most promising developments are the large amounts of money invested by some oil companies in solar photovoltaic and wind technology; the application of a tax to support renewable energy projects in some states of the USA, and the strong growth of wind energy in Western Europe. In spite of these developments, overall projections indicate that renewable energy (including hydro) share in total energy consumption is expected to remain relatively static at around 8% until the year 2020 (EIA 1999). In Africa South of the Sahara, renewable energy projects other than large-hydro sites are still considered small fry which "dont even make a bump on national utilities demand forecast curves", and thus focus on them is easily sidelined in national planning. This reflects a lack of foresight regarding the sustainability problems already obvious to almost all leading energy analysts. More responsible behaviour can be promoted partly by ensuring key decision-makers are adequately informed and by institutionalising rational long-term integrated planning processes, which few countries do effectively. At the end of the day there is no option but to include sustainability as a major driver for development in the energy sector. We may have a choice around whether we do this sooner or later, but given the long lead times of energy projects, and given the projections around issues such as energy-related carbon dioxide emissions, we dont seem to have much choice here either.
WEC, 1994, Energy for Tomorrows World, World Energy Council, London.
|Environmental Degradation Threatens Democracy|
arrival of the year 2000, the new millennium was greeted with much pomp and
ceremony. This was also the case in the environmental justice and human rights sector. To
this end, South African civil society organisations joined forces under the banner of groundWork
to advocate with organisations in more than 180 countries for clean energy production on
22 April 2000, the thirtieth anniversary of Earth day. In South Africa the theme was
succinctly conceptualised with the slogan "Clean Energy is our Constitutional
The fact that we
have relatively cheap electricity and petrol in South Africa does not mean that we are
meeting our human rights commitments in our Bill of Rights. Giving South Africans cheap
energy and petrol comes at a price namely highly polluting production methods using
cheap crude oil and coal, resulting in hundreds of tonnes of poisonous chemicals being
emitted into our atmosphere every day. Our substandard method of energy production
destroys our environment and, most importantly, impacts negatively on the people who live
in these production zones saturated with pollution.
emit hundreds of chemicals everyday. These include metals such as lead, which make it hard
for children to learn. They also include very small dust particles called PM10 that get
deep into our lungs and harm our ability to breathe. Finally, refineries emit many harmful
gases like sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxide (NO2), carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide,
methane, dioxins, hydrogen fluoride, chlorine, benzene and others.
Due to our poor
environmental standards and practices, South Africa is the sixteenth largest producer of
greenhouse gases in the world. This is directly related to our chosen dependence on cheap
energy. This global problem, however, is first and foremost a local problem that affects
hundreds of thousands of South Africans in a devastatingly negative manner.
Africas constitution is recognised as one of the most progressive in the world.
Section 24 of our Bill of Rights states that: "Everyone has the right to an
environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being." This is indeed a
noble statement. However, if the mechanisms for the realisation of this right are not put
in place, this ends up becoming nothing more than an empty promise for the many South
Africans who live adjacent to our various oil refineries, ESKOM Power plants and other
and outdated legislation
In the preamble of
the overarching National Environmental Management Act of 1998 (NEMA) it is stated "that
the law should facilitate the enforcement of environmental laws by civil society."
Both in the Preamble and in various provisions of the NEMA there is a frank admission that
government will not do the job of investigating, identifying or prosecuting violations of
environmental laws. Instead of creating governmental capacity to implement an
environmental management system, the NEMA relies overwhelmingly upon self-regulation by
polluters and private enforcement by civil society. In the absence of a governmental
inspectorate, a vigilant and informed civil society is the primary bulwark against
environmental degradation and harm to human health. Thus there is an urgent need for civil
society to develop the capacity to step into this new, participatory role of managing the
environment and monitoring and enforcing environmental laws.
failure to take the lead in regulating and monitoring the environment has resulted in a
dearth of legally enforceable anti-pollution standards. Oil refineries (and other
polluting industries) are still governed by the out-dated, 35-year old Air Pollution
Prevention Act of 1965. In civil societys endeavours to participate in environmental
governance around oil refineries, there are no enforceable standards that civil society
can use to monitor the oil refinery sector.
Although the South
African Petroleum Industrial Association (SAPIA) claims in its 2000 annual report that the
SA oil industries have voluntarily implemented anti-pollution standards and codes of
conduct over the past 25 years, it is a known fact that refinery pollution over the same
period has increased.
Since 1995, civil
society in South Africa has established that whereas some refineries elsewhere in the
world only emit two tons of sulphur dioxide a day, the South African refineries are
permitted to emit up to 82 tons per day, a horrifying disparity. All our refineries are
owned by multinational organisations that operate in other countries with far more
stringent environmental standards than South Africa.
In May 2000,
through a joint initiative between groundWork, Communities for a Better Environment
(CBE) and the South African Exchange Programme on Environmental Justice (SAEPEJ), both
based in the USA, local oil refinery communities were provided with the means of assessing
the polluted air that they breathe. Local communities were taught how to take air samples
using the very simple USA governmentapproved bucket system of air sampling. The
bucket air sampling system costs a fraction of the price of normal air sample equipment
and has been used extensively in the United States to assist the government in
To date, some
alarming figures have emerged from air samples taken in South Durban and Sasolburg. Tests
taken of these air samples showed a "toxic soup" of a variety of chemicals
including benzene, a carcinogen known to cause leukaemia as well as being a development
retardant. Communities around refineries in Durban, Cape Town and Sasolburg were alarmed
to hear of the hundreds of chemicals that are emitted by refineries, over which our South
African legislation currently has no control.
challenge of the law and democracy
In a democracy,
civil society has to be pro-active and supportive of the policy and legislation that has
been developed. Communities have finally gained a sense of control over their environment
through the air-sampling bucket. For years in South Africa there has been unconstructive
debate between the oil industry and communities with regards to air pollution. Although
industry was aware of the pollution it caused, both the industry and government failed in
their legislative duty and moral responsibility to enforce mechanisms of environmental
protection that would secure the health of the community. The evidence is clear that
industry is polluting. The oil industry with its record profits over the last year should
be required by government to clean up its act.
learn to compromise," was the message of President Mandela on the 28th
March 1995 when he addressed the South Durban communities who protested against pollution
at the Engen refinery. The communities adjacent to oil refineries have now compromised and
been compromised enough. Now that they have scientific proof that the refineries are
affecting their health, the oil industry must now be the ones to compromise. They
must make use of their combined annual profits of close to R2 billion to improve their
environmental performance and benefit South Africans who are living adjacent to their
plants, rather than just their shareholders in foreign countries.
The Ministry of
Environmental Affairs and Tourism has made some firm statements recently with regards to
the irresponsible activities of industry. In her recent budget speech Deputy Minister RT
Mabudafhasi stated; "I want to clearly state that as government we have zero
tolerance for companies that damage the health of residents and workers through their
activities." (May 19, 2000).
statement has been welcomed by civil society and we await an invitation from the Deputy
Minister to work together with the Ministry in seeking solutions to the air pollution
problems around oil refineries. In the meantime, the communities around the refineries are
empowering themselves to ensure that the structural mechanism that is finally adopted by
the Ministry to protect the health of the people, is correctly informed by the communities
who are daily having to face the problem of oil refinery pollution.
poverty and a threat to our democracy
In May 1998,
during the "Speak out on Poverty" campaign, Archbishop Ndungane highlighted that
environmental degradation leads to the further impoverishment of the poor and vulnerable.
President Thabo Mbekis statement in May 2000 that "Poverty is Threatening our
Democracy" must be heeded by polluting industries, for their pollution, which further
impoverishes the poor and vulnerable, will eventually threaten the corner stone of our
S. (Bobby) Peek
P.O. Box 2375
South Africa Tel: +27-33-342 5662
Fax: +27-33-342 5665
Cell: +27-82-464 1383
|Building a Sustainable Energy Agenda at the Local Level|
|Energy is a community issueLow
productivity, indoor pollution, risks of fires and poisoning are all products of
unsustainable energy services currently on offer to many of Africas low-income
communities. Energy efficient houses and appliances, improved cookers, access to
electricity and modern energy services from gas to renewable energy are just some of the
options available for a more sustainable development path. Unfortunately, however,
governments, local authorities, service providers and communities are not always aware of
the full range of choices available to them in this area.
A local agenda with global
has been a political trend in the Southern African region, where countries are devolving
power and capacity to provincial and district authorities. This trend is in keeping with
the concept of Local Agenda 21 elaborated at the United Nations Conference on Environment
and Development (UNCED) in Rio in 1992, which recognises that the full participation of
local authorities and other stakeholders is critical towards achieving the goal of
Over the past few
years, energy issues have become an important part of the global agenda. When the UN
General Assembly reviewed the outcomes of the Rio Conference at the special Rio+5 session
in 1997 (UNGASS), energy was recognised as a crucial element of sustainable development
and was consequently given far greater priority in the years to come. Important milestones
in this regard will be the 9th meeting of the Commission for Sustainable
Development (CSD) in May 2001 where energy has been designated as an over-riding concern,
and the Rio+10 session in June 2002, which in all likelihood will be held in South Africa.
Local desires for
improved and more sustainable energy services, combined with the decentralisation efforts
of national governments and the global energy agenda have all contributed to the need to
view energy from a local perspective. Among other things this means considering how energy
is integrated with local development priorities, and how in turn local government, service
providers and communities can effectively mobilise around these energy concerns. The more
informed local players are in terms of energy matters, the better position they will be in
to negotiate with their respective governments, energy companies and service providers so
as to ensure that energy activities are implemented according to local priorities.
A sustainable energy
energy agenda is therefore the entry point for the Sustainable Energy, Environment and
Development (SEED) Programme, that at the moment operates solely in South Africa. A key
element in its strategy is that of working with organisations that are already involved in
improving the living conditions and services of low-income communities and getting them to
integrate a sustainable energy agenda in their activities.
During 1999, eight
local authorities and non-governmental organisations in three urban and two rural pilot
areas joined the programme. In each of the partner organisations, a young, well-educated
South African was recruited, employed and trained to work as an energy and environmental
activist (called Rural SEED Facilitators or Urban SEED Advisors). They have
now become a focal point for building capacity in these partner organisations and for
interactions with both communities and public and private service providers. They are
given on-going managerial and technical support by the partner organisations.
When the SEED
advisors and facilitators started their work in mid 1999, their mandates were not rigidly
defined, but were rather open to being dictated by the needs of the partner organisations
and the communities that they work with. Each of them has therefore developed differently,
while still sharing some common elements.
Sustainable housing the
In its three urban
pilot areas SEED has focused on sustainable and affordable housing, in co-operation with
six partner organisations.
In Cape Town the
SEED partners are the City of Tygerberg and Development Action Group (DAG). Among its
current activities are the establishment of a demonstration centre in Khayelitsha, energy
efficient rehabilitation of storm damaged houses in Guguletu as well as the integration of
energy and environment concerns in the construction of 2300 new homes in the south western
part of Khayelitsha.
In Durban the SEED
partners are Durban Metro Housing Unit and Build Environment Support Group (BESG). Some of
its current activities include demonstration and manufacturing of energy saving
wonder-boxes; development of information packs for first time homeowners including energy
conservation measures; environmental guidelines for developers; a feasibility study on
Solar Water Heaters and producing an environmental programme with Durban Youth Radio.
In Gauteng the
SEED partners are Midrand Local Council and Earth Life Africa (ELA). Its projects include
surveys of consumer responses to solar water heaters, installation of pilot ceilings for
energy conservation, and the installation of clean and efficient paraffin cookers and
Integrating energy and rural
In its two rural
pilot areas, SEED focuses on the integration of sustainable energy in rural development.
The main partner is the Environmental Development Agency Trust (EDA) in Pietersburg,
Northern Province and Matatiele, Eastern Cape.
The main thrust so
far has been that of helping local organisational development around energy issues. In the
area around Matatiele, SEED and EDA have facilitated the establishment of energy
committees in five villages, as a sub-structure under the Local Development Forums. The
Energy Committees have started a process to identify and prioritise energy needs. In the
Northern Province, SEED and EDA have facilitated similar Energy Committees in the Ngwaabe
areas and around Bochum. As a next step, the Energy Committees will be assisted in
formulating local-level action plans.
SEED and EDA have
been instrumental in communicating between the communities and service providers such as
ESKOM, Department of Minerals and Energy, Department of Agriculture, Mvula Trust, gas
distribution companies etc. Apart from contributing to a more general co-ordination, this
has resulted in some communities gaining access to electricity for the supply of water to
vegetable gardens and other productive purposes.
Building the local agenda
Even though the
programme is still in its infancy and there is consequently a great deal more to do, the
results this far look promising. In their own manner and timing, the partner organisations
are slowly beginning to absorb the SEED agenda into their strategies and activities. In
most of the pilot areas, a fruitful interaction and collaboration has been established
with service providers such as ESKOM, building contractors, fossil fuel companies, as well
as with different NGOs, CBOs, and the emerging rural energy utilities. In addition, most
of the communities welcome the SEED approach as a sorely needed way for them to gain a
firmer grip on energy issues.
In the coming
period, SEED and its partners will jointly look into the possibilities of developing more
focused local action plans, which could then form a basis for more comprehensive
interventions by the partner organisations or the service providers. Identification of
possible sustainable energy investments is likely to be among one of its key elements.
problems and options are often well known to the general public, service providers and
national level decision-makers in Parliament and Government. Many of the decisions that
are made at the national level, however, have local impacts and should therefore be
informed from the local level. SEED is therefore working to create such national-local
communication and interaction, by amongst other things, the medium of presentations to the
South African Parliament and Government, as well as via a web-site and a quarterly
After many years
of a technology and supply oriented approach being adopted towards energy issues, the
necessity for a needs-oriented and integrated approach towards energy is becoming evident
in Africa as well as around the world. There is thus immense scope for exchange of
know-how and experience. At the sub-regional level, the SEED Programme has established
contacts with Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique and Namibia so as to explore
options for exchange and co-operation. This regional exchange is expected to be
strengthened in the coming years.
The Energy and
Development Research Centre (EDRC) implements the rural activities. The Energy and
Development Group (EDG) implements the urban activities. SEED is organised as a NGO
co-operation programme between South Africa and Denmark, funded by Danced.