The current crisis in global energy markets shows that there is absolutely no reason for South Africa to increase its reliance on fossil fuels. Overall fossil gas expansion is inconsistent with the Paris Agreement goals, and as a signatory to the Agreement South Africa should not undertake any exploration and investment in the development of new gas projects.
South Africa is committed under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to contribute to the global climate change effort of limiting warming to well below 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.
Investing in fossil fuels explorations is robbing South Africa of the economic opportunity to change its energy to renewables, including producing green hydrogen with electrolysis from solar and wind resources; the demand for green hydrogen is in fact steadily growing; investing in this sector would offer opportunities and build capacity, while significantly reducing in the long-term carbon emissions and environmental risks.
In addition, to properly interpret the EIA Regulations’ requirement to consider “need and desirability“, it is necessary to turn to the principles contained in NEMA, which serve as a guide for the interpretation, administration and implementation of NEMA and the EIA Regulations. 2 With regard to the issue of “need“, it is important to note that this “need” is not the same as the “general purpose and requirements” of the activity.
While the “general purpose and requirements” of the activity might to some extent relate to the specific requirements, intentions and reasons that the applicant has for proposing the specific activity, the “need” relates to the interests and needs of the broader public.
The consideration of “need and desirability” in EIA decision-making, therefore, requires the consideration of the strategic context of the development proposal along with the broader societal needs and the public interest. The government decision-makers, together with the environmental assessment practitioners and planners, are therefore accountable to the public and must serve their social, economic and ecological needs equitably. Ultimately development must not exceed ecological limits to secure ecological integrity, while the proposed actions of individuals must be measured against the short-term and long-term public interest to promote justifiable social and economic development.
Considering the merits of a specific application in terms of the need and desirability considerations, it must be decided which alternatives represent the “most practicable environmental option“, which in terms of the definition in NEMA and the purpose of the EIA Regulations are that option that provides the most benefit and causes the least damage to the environment as a whole.
South Africa should not undertake any exploration and investment in the development of new gas projects. This also means no new infrastructure for production, refining, exporting and transport. These massive investments in new infrastructure create new fossil fuel dependence,6 making the transition to actual low- carbon and no-carbon energy even more difficult.
Numerous legal challenges and countrywide protests against oil corporations demonstrate that the public is against the continuation of fossil fuel explorations in the country. The recent judgements in Sustain The Wild Coast NPC v Shell Exploration and Production and Earthlife Africa Johannesburg v Thabametsi Power Project, and the ongoing case of South Durban Community Environmental Alliance v Department of Mineral Resources and Energy, indicate the overwhelming position against climate change triggers.
Any proposal attempting to bypass environmental and human rights legislation will be challenged by civil society.
The project should be suspended until an independent objective study can demonstrate the “need and desirability” of developing natural gas resources and prove that natural gas exploration and extraction are preferred environmental and socio-economic strategies.
SIGNED BY MEMBERS OF WAPFSA
Image Credit: Jean Tresfon Marine Conservation Photographer
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