There’s disappointment and anger over the now-concluded COP26 climate negotiations in Glasgow, with firm commitments on coal phaseouts removed from final-draft language at the objection of developing nations.
South Africa, China, India and others made a successful case for a softer commitment and longer timeline on coal. Those changes come as South Africa begins a transition away from coal energy that’s supported by $8.5 trillion in funding from Western nations. The model is being hailed as a bright spot of COP26 and a “climate diplomacy” breakthrough that might be applied to other developing nations heavily dependent on fossil fuels.
That’s little comfort for people from nations less favorably affected by the final COP26 commitments, many of them island nations and least-developed states. They include South Africans concerned about the country’s progress on fossil fuels and wary of the coal deal.
“It’s all talk, but very little to no action is being made,” said climate activist Ayakha Melithafa in an interview with the Daily Maverick. “And we are so tired of trying to tell them to take their responsibility and really deliver on the promises and pledges that are being made.”
Melithafa, focused on the needs of the Global South, added her skepticism over South Africa’s ability to quickly transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.
She was not alone, with both South African energy minister Gwede Mantashe and environment minister Barbara Creecy defending the continued use of coal as the COP26 talks wound down their final week.
Mantashe’s comments at African Energy Week in Cape Town drew a response from Greenpeace Africa that said he showed a clear disregard for Mpumalanga and other coal-impacted communities. The environmental NGO’s Thandile Chinyavanhu noted that Mantashe didn’t even mention the COP26 talks at the oil and gas industry’s annual meeting, even as the two coincided.
“The best and most immediate solution to South Africa’s problems – including load shedding and skyrocketing unemployment – is a just transition to renewable energy,” Chinyavanhu said. “It’s that simple. There is no more time for fossil fuels and South Africa can not be led by fossil fools.”
Image: Greenpeace/Shayne Robinson file