Envoys from some of the world’s richest nations met with South African cabinet ministers on Tuesday to discuss a climate deal that could generate billions of dollars aimed at ending the country’s dependence on coal.
The delegation is trying to work out an agreement that can be announced at the COP26 climate talks, which begin in Glasgow, Scotland, on Oct. 31, two people familiar with the talks said. Discussions with South Africa, the world’s twelfth largest greenhouse gas emitter, include representatives from the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France and the European Union.
While South Africa is under pressure to reduce its dependence on coal, which accounts for more than 80% of its power generation, it needs funding to facilitate the transition to cleaner energy. Developed nations may also need to find a way to address the challenges facing South Africa’s state-owned energy company, which carries a debt of 400 billion rand.
The envoys met with South African ministers on Tuesday, including Pravin Gordhan, the public companies minister whose portfolio includes oversight of the Eskom power company, Barbara Creecy, the environment minister, and Ebrahim Patel, the country’s trade and industry minister. the people said, asking not to. Identify yourself as a public announcement has yet to be made. The talks will take place on Wednesday with South Africa’s politically powerful unions, business leaders and the Presidential Climate Change Coordination Commission, said three people familiar with the agreements.
South African ministers pressed for details on what funding was available, but envoys favor an incremental approach and more commitments from South Africa, the people said. While Gordhan urged support for Eskom, other options were also discussed, such as the transition of South Africa and its auto industry towards electric vehicles, they said.
Albi Modise, a spokesman for the Environment Ministry, confirmed that a group of ministers met with the envoys, but declined to comment further and said a statement will be issued later. Richard Mantu, a spokesman for public companies, referred the inquiries to Modise, and Tyrone Seale, acting spokesman for the South African presidency, said he could not immediately comment. South Africa’s National Treasury did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Some senior officials in the South African government are pushing hard for climate mitigation measures. President Cyril Ramaphosa chairs the climate commission he created last year, and his most ambitious emissions reduction goal was adopted by the cabinet this month. Creecy has said that developed countries should push funding for energy transition and climate adaptation to developing nations.
“South Africa is well positioned to obtain concessional financing for both the climate transition across the country and the electricity transition in particular,” Gordhan said in response to inquiries ahead of the meeting.
Still, the coal pivot faces opposition within South Africa. Gwede Mantashe, the country’s energy minister, has advocated for the construction of new coal-fired power plants. Mantashe, a former head of the National Union of Mineworkers, is the politically influential president of the ruling African National Congress.
The move to reduce South Africa’s dependence on coal comes as Chinese demand pushes prices to record levels. The dirtiest fossil fuel, which was battling cleaner energy sources, is now making its biggest comeback, complicating international climate talks that will begin in just a few weeks.
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