A Look At South Africa’s Transition To Low-Carbon Economy

To prevent the catastrophic impacts of climate change, a pact signed and detailed in the Paris Agreement called for countries to limit global warming to 2ºC. To stay within the carbon budget, the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gas emissions should not exceed 450 ppm CO2 for E5. 

Like other continents in the world, Africa recognizes the urgency of steering its economy toward the use of less carbon-intensive energy sources, but the lack of sustainable technology or investment channelled at developing the needed infrastructure is hindering the continent’s successful transition.

However, through a cross-sector collaboration on national and international levels, Africa’s transition can be successful. 

South Africa has taken the lead in the continent to become the first coal-based economy in the global south to make a successful transition to a low carbon economy, particularly in the energy sector.

A mining company, Anglo American, has unveiled the world’s largest hydrogen-powered truck at a platinum mine in northern South Africa. Billed as the first of a fleet that will replace the firm’s diesel-powered trucks, the vehicle uses 2 megawatts of hydrogen fuel cells to haul up to 290 tonnes of ore.

The truck would use solar power to provide the fuel and then use energy to split water into its component atoms of hydrogen and oxygen.

“Over the next several years, we envisage converting or replacing our current fleet of diesel-powered trucks with this zero-emission haulage system, fuelled with green hydrogen,” chief executive Duncan Wanblad said.

“This is a gigantic leap for South Africa’s hydrogen future economy,” President Ramaphosa declared said at the launching on Friday

“What we are launching is not merely an impressive piece of machinery, it is the genesis of an entire ecosystem powered by hydrogen,” he added.

Anglo American said it aims to be carbon neutral by 2040.

Low-Carbon Economy and South Africa

In this context, a low carbon economy uses power primarily derived from less carbon-intensive energy sources like solar, wind, and hydroelectric power. These energy sources reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) typically created by carbon-intensive sources such as fossil fuels and coal. 

South Africa produces high levels of greenhouse gas emissions compared to the size of its economy due to its heavy reliance on coal for electricity generation and, to a lesser extent, the manufacture of liquid fuel from coal.

The new hydrogen truck project signals the country’s readiness to comply with its promise of reducing its high levels of greenhouse gas emissions. The government agreed to reduce emissions from the business-as-usual scenario by 34% by 2020 and 42% by 2025, on the condition that it receives finance and technology support from developed countries.

So far, high-income countries, including France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States, have pledged at least $8.5bn and technical assistance to help South Africa switch to a low-carbon economy.

Patsy Nwogu

Reporting on data-driven featured stories and investigations.

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