ZANDSPRUIT (South Africa): Stanley Diphofa is happy to be hooked up to South Africa’s power grid. And he’s not worried by the fact that the massive coal-fired stations which power it emit large quantities of greenhouse gases blamed for climate change.
“If you have no electricity, you have no business,” he said outside his modest computer service centre — housed in a corrugated iron shed — on the edge of a crowded squatter camp just north of Johannesburg.
One section of the camp has been hooked up to electricity; the other half desperately wants to be plugged in.
“Electricity makes a huge difference. You can cook, iron, study at night,” said Bongani Dyala, a high school student who lives in a shack in the part of the camp with no power.
The government is keen to roll out more power services to millions of poor black South Africans and it does not want to commit itself to greenhouse gas emission cuts under the United Nations’ Kyoto Protocol on climate change.
Most developed nations have agreed to cut their emissions of heat-trapping gases by 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by 2008-12 but poorer countries are exempt from the Kyoto emission caps.
A UN conference in Montreal, Canada, from Nov. 28 will start looking at ways to extend Kyoto beyond 2012 and widen it to non-participants including the United States and developing nations like China and India.
The United States pulled out of Kyoto in 2001 when President George W. Bush said it was too expensive and wrongly excluded poor nations from the first round to 2012.
But the planet’s have-nots are unlikely to sign up to post-2012 cuts in greenhouse gases on the grounds that the rich world’s economic success was fired by industrial smokestacks and exhaust pipes.
They also argue that while rich nations have long accounted for the bulk of global emissions, poor regions may be the worst affected by falling water supplies, rising seas, desertification and other phenomena linked to climate change.
Emissions from most African countries — excluding South Africa — are tiny by global standards, on a continent where electricity and private cars are a luxury most can never afford.
South Africa’s Environment Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk told Reuters in a recent interview that it was too early for developing countries to sign up for targets.
Similar signals have come from Asian giants India and China.
“China, India and South Africa still need to undergo quite substantial economic growth to raise the living standards of their citizens to an acceptable level,” said Steve Sawyer, climate policy adviser for Greenpeace.
South Africa’s government is aiming for an annual economic growth rate of six percent by 2010 in a bid to slash poverty.
“But the definitions of a developing country are a little bit fuzzy. South Korea and Mexico are at a stage of development where they could make commitments based on their per capita GDPs (gross domestic products),” Sawyer said.
Analysts say instead of caps, developing countries are more likely to opt for “softer” targets such as commitments to boost their use of renewable energy like solar and wind power.
In the jargon used about climate change, they will be encouraged to take steps to “decarbonise” their economies.
“They may start with a different kind of target, perhaps by sector. Or perhaps make they will make a commitment on renewable energy,” said Jennifer Morgan, the director of conservation group WWF’s global climate change programme.
South Africa in many ways provides a microcosm of the global debate on this issue.
It has an affluent and mostly white minority that enjoys living standards like those in developed countries, and a mostly poor black majority that aspires to this lifestyle — a mirror image of the global “North-South” divide.
It is also the most industrialised and advanced economy on the African continent. It is the 16th highest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, accounting for 1.4 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, according to U.N. data.
Its emissions look set to rise as a black middle class emerges and the government strives to improve the lives of millions of its people.
New vehicle sales hit a monthly record high of 54,574 units in September and remained robust in October — a trend analysts say stems in part from the growth of the black middle class.
State power utility Eskom says power demand is set to outpace current output by 2007, leading the government to announce plans to recommission several mothballed power stations and build more from scratch.
These will mostly be fuelled by carbon-heavy coal, a mineral that South Africa has in abundance. About 92 percent of Eskom’s power is generated by coal.
Eskom says about 70 percent of households now have electricity compared to 36 percent when apartheid ended in 1994. It aims to get all homes hooked up to the grid.
Plans to expand industrial capacity — including the construction of an aluminium smelter — will boost South Africa’s energy consumption further.
But the future of emerging economies is not just belching smokestacks.
Eskom aims to boost its use of renewables — currently it is next to nothing — and South Africa is blessed with lots of clean energy sources in the form of sun, wind and surf.
Even China has made huge strides in this regard, with some environmentalists lauding it for its “green energy” policies.
According to the Washington-based Worldwatch Institute, 35 million homes in China are already getting their hot water from solar collectors — more than the rest of the world combined.—Reuters