Which party promises the best climate strategy?

The EFF has the most comprehensive policy but it is not a good one

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The author asks people to consider parties’ climate policies when they vote on 29 May. Illustration: Lisa Nelson

The EFF’s very long manifesto has the most to say about climate and environment, and has led some analyses to equate this with the depth of their concern. However, looking closer, it is one of the most climate regressive parties. Let me explain their position, and how they compare to other parties.

The climate crisis threatens the very foundation of society. Floods, drought, food insecurity, and over-heating undermine the economy, reduce jobs and hit the poor hardest. South Africa is in the firing line, warming at twice the global rate.

According to climate scientists, the most important action a person can take is to elect democratic and forward-thinking leaders. As a result, I’ve taken a deep delve into party manifestos, before making my choice on 29 May.

It’s difficult to compare the different party manifestos. Save the rhino? Support recycling? Subsidize rooftop solar? Which strategies carry more weight? Which parties even understand the climate crisis – a prerequisite for taking it seriously?

The Climate Action Tracker and the Centre for Environmental Rights provide some guidance. At the core, South Africa must urgently stop burning fossil fuels and phase them out by 2040. To achieve this, we need:

  1. Large-scale and rapid development of renewable energy (solar, wind and hydro-electricity) in both public and private sectors.
  2. Development of a global green technology industry, with spin-offs for job creation.
  3. Massive investment in the grid for transmitting renewable energy.
  4. No investment in any fossil fuels including gas and “clean coal”.
  5. No more nuclear energy which is too costly.

So what is wrong with the EFF’s policy? While it includes some renewable energy, the core of its energy plan is centralised generation of fossil fuels (coal and shale gas) and nuclear power. The EFF want to severely limit independent and renewable power production, which has supplied most of our current renewable energy. The party opposes decommissioning coal-fired power stations and supports investment in unproven “clean coal”.

The ANC is more deceptive. It appears to take climate seriously by lifting restrictions on Independent Power Producers (IPP), and raising international funding for the Just Energy Transition Investment Plan (JET IP – 2023-2027). This plan aims to rapidly scale-up renewables; expand the transmission grid for renewable energy; developing electric vehicle and green hydrogen industries, decommission the coal generation fleet, and also protect the livelihoods of coal workers.

But the party’s 2023 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), the roadmap for electricity supplies up to 2050, makes a long-term commitment to fossil fuels and nuclear energy for 66% of power. This route is environmentally disastrous and economically costly. The IRP does not include investment in expanding the grid, although this is specified in the JET IP.

Other parties wanting to stay in the fossil fuel era include the MK Party (MKP), the Patriotic Alliance (PA) and the IFP. None indicate concern about the climate. The MKP will reverse the JET IP and IPP agreements, centralise energy generation, renew Eskom coal power stations, refine oil for export, and expand nuclear energy. The PA also supports centralisation, with coal, shale gas and nuclear in the mix. This party envisages a gradual transition to renewables. The IFP is committed to coal, gas and nuclear with a brief nod to including some renewables.

Some parties make more impressive commitments. The Good Party, Rise Mzansi and the FF+ view the climate crisis as a priority, and plan a rapid move away from fossil fuels. While the DA focuses on energy provision rather than climate, it has progressive strategies and a good energy track record. The DA, Rise Mzansi, ActionSA and FF+ focus on decentralising energy generation away from the Eskom monopoly and developing ‘prosumers’ or consumers and Independent Power Producers who feed renewable energy back into the grid.

The Good Party supports the JET IP. It focuses on the electricity system as well as electric vehicles and proposes public investment in the green technology industry. While acknowledging the need for some coal-fired power in the short-to-medium term, Good recognises that renewables are the cheapest, most effective energy. The party supports decommissioning coal plants and does not support investment in gas, fracking or nuclear energy. A weakness is their failure to mention grid expansion.

The DA has a track record of promoting private power production in homes and businesses as well as at municipal level. It supports the development of a renewables industry, investing in the grid for the transmission of renewable energy and regular updating of the IRP in line with current realities. The party commits to net zero carbon emissions but a weakness is the party’s lack of reference to international commitments and targets such as the JET IP.

Rise Mzansi plans to steadily decrease coal usage, electrify the transport system, and develop a green technology industry using JET funds. Importantly, it sees itself as part of global efforts to address the climate crisis. Significant flaws in Rise’s plan include investing in gas as a transition fuel, when we urgently need to move away from fossil fuels; possible investment in nuclear energy, and no mention of grid expansion.

ActionSA supports working with JET. It includes public investment in microgrids to allow municipalities to distribute energy locally. It does not include gas, fracking and nuclear in the energy mix. Weaknesses are its lack of urgency in the transition and no mention of a green technology industry.

The FF+ holds environmental and climate issues close to its heart. It is one of the few parties to include upgrading and maintaining the electricity transmission grid. The party wants South Africa to become a leader in the green energy industry. It plans a mix of a public and private generation of renewables to replace coal-fired power stations and develop electric transport systems. It does not include gas, fracking or nuclear in its plans. A weakness is a lack of links to international targets.

BOSA and the UDM have little to no focus on the climate crisis or energy. They both support restructuring Eskom to include private, renewable energy generation, but also include nuclear and do not rule out coal. UDM mentions investment in a green technology industry, but it emphasises that it will not be pressured into meeting international climate targets.

Rather than throwing out all the parties for being less than inspiring in their approach to the climate crisis, I suggest we look at each one carefully and understand which one we are choosing.

Dr Peden is a retired academic and freelance writer and editor.

Views expressed are not necessarily GroundUp’s.

TOPICS:  Climate change Elections 2024

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