Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Climate Change: South Africa's options

The South African government is currently hosting a climate change summit. According to the designated website the purpose and objectives of the summit are as follows:


The purpose of the Climate Change Summit 2009 is to:

  • Provide all key climate change response stakeholders with an update on the most recent climate change research and other current South African initiatives and interventions; and
  • Provide a platform for all key climate change response stakeholders to discuss and agree the framework for a National Climate Change Response Policy that includes, among others, fiscal, regulatory and legislative packages as well as sectoral implementation plans.


By the end of the summit –

  • All key climate change response stakeholders have a common understanding of the most recent climate change research and other South African climate change response initiatives and interventions;
  • A detailed policy framework (comprehensive annotated table of contents) is broadly supported;
  • The roles and responsibilities of sector departments in respect to the development of the sector policy components is agreed;
  • All policy development timelines and milestones are agreed;
  • The implications and intentions of all policy directions are understood.

On this blog this topic has also been discussed in bits and pieces. A short synthesis that may help in further debating South Africa's options:
- CDM may be an obstacle rather then a solution to climate stabilisation. Yes, it may offer some benefits and help finance reduction of greenhouse gases, but CDM has not (yet?) made a discernable impact in Africa. CDM may prove to be a stepping stone towards a more efficient multi-lateral market on carbon credits in the medium to longer term.
- Adaptation is the name of the game in Africa. Africa contributes little to overall greenhouse gases and is most vulnerable to climate change. With persistent poverty and increasing socioeconomic vulnerability, no climate change response strategy worthy its salt will ignore or only pay lip service to strengthening adaptive capacity. Let's not forget adaption.
- In South Africa we have a few very large greenhouse gas emitters. Eskom is the second highest CO2 emitting power company in the world. South Africa has a high energy and carbon intensive economy. This suggests that environmental effectiveness and efficiency gains are most likely be possible, but the risks of not doing anything need to be included in a future strategy. Increasing climate risks may start affecting planned expansions in coal-fired power stations (see also here and related story from the World Bank here). The point is that coal-fired power is an increasing risky business. These risks need to be reflected within a country development and company strategy, not only in a national climate response strategy.
- The pertinent question is at what cost greenhouse gases can be reduced. Marginal cost curves for greenhouse gas reduction (see Global cost carbon reduction, US cost curves) illustrate that some options may yield net benefits while others can be very expensive.  However, these studies did raise questions on the assumed behaviour of consumers, whether the costs of transacting have been included and the discount rate. The South African Long-Term Mitigation Scenarios (LTMS) also proposes a list with the costs of country specific interventions. This is useful work, but as the authors themselves suggest, need to set the basis for a more detailed scrutiny of the proposed options.
- The climate system may be forced into abrupt changes. In some circles this has been referred to as tipping points. The need to responding to extreme climatic events and disasters need to be acknowledged and response options for such climatic events included in a disaster management strategy.
- The Kyoto Protocol is fragile and pressure is mounting for a new climate policy regime.  Any national policy on climate change need to anticipate and plan for a future international climate policy regimes which may include wider cap-and-trade systems (cap-auction-and-trade), trade rules and border tariff adjustments to name a few.

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