Presentation by Bishop Geoff Davies expressing  SAFCEI’s concerns with the  Integrated Resource Plan 2010 – the Dept. of Energy’s electricity plan for RSA.     3rd Dec. 2010

I realize I am an odd person in this company,  as somebody from the faith communities.  I will come with a different perspective, as you will hear.

But I am here because my Church strongly emphasises that the coming of Jesus Christ shows that God is pre-eminently concerned about what goes on here on earth, in the here and now.  What happens in the hereafter is a consequence of what you do now.  To say that God is not concerned about how we treat one another and the planet is the greatest of heresies.

 But I hope I am not an odd man out in trusting people and believing people are essentially honest and speak the truth.

On these grounds I participated in the June Stakeholders’ presentation.  The Southern African Faith Communities Environment Institute’s (SAFCEI) presentation was received with acclamation, though only two panellists were present.  I send my presentation to the DG and the Minister of Energy, but have had no acknowledgement.  Even worse, what SAFCEI has said has been totally disregarded.  There is an apprehension that you could say you’ve consulted civil society –  but you have not listened to us.

Why, in the face of common knowledge, do we find the Department of Energy and – I imagine – Eskom perpetuating the myth:

 1)      that renewable energy cannot provide base load electricity?

 2)  perpetuating the myth that we can continue to emit CO2, so we are entitled to build two new coal power stations, together emitting sixty billion tons of CO2 a year because we are a “developing country”, entitled to “carbon space”. 

How can we, in South Africa, be entitled to carbon space when we emit 50% of Africa’s carbon, even if it is only 2% of the world’s emissions?

 I speak out here, as somebody from the faith constituency, because this is a moral issue and there is no greater moral crisis than the survival of life on this planet.  I can think of no greater sin – and I use that word carefully – than to cause the destruction of God’s creation.

I speak out because my church and my faith has always spoken out for the poor, the oppressed, the abused and discriminated against and – crucially – the victims of injustice, those suffering from the injustices of our economic system and the power of the rich and powerful.

We know there are huge vested interests in both coal and nuclear energy. This seems to be the driving force. We know too that because of the secrecy and “security” surrounding nuclear energy, by its very nature there is vast opportunity for enrichment by those in power and with influence, while the poor stand to receive no advantage.

This centralized energy policy of the draft IRP2 will benefit the extractive, heavy industry and the already haves, not the poor.  Yet our government is meant to be a government of the people.  To bring electricity and energy to the three million households that don’t have it requires renewable energy which will also create employment and put power into the hands of the people. 

This issue is so important, not only because our people will suffer while the rich will benefit, but because the health of the planet is seriously threatened.  Every cent that is misspent in developing nuclear and coal is money that can’t be spent on renewable energy or on developing the people of South Africa.  Renewable energy companies are queuing up to invest. They will be self-financing.  Why should our government have to provide billions of rands?

It is not expected that a pastor expresses anger, but I recall the story of Jesus in the temple when he drove out the money lenders. The Temple was a house of prayer.  He was angry.  If I am not angry, I am deeply disturbed because we have turned this world into a den of thieves. It is not only the Temple that is sacred. This world is sacred because it provides for life, and life is the most sacred gift we have. 

Instead of caring for this world and the people in it, I find those with power and influence intent only on acquiring further riches.  I call on you, the Department of Energy, to recognise your responsibility before God to care for and look after this world and its people. It is not only irresponsible, but immoral to continue the pursuit of energy and wealth if the consequence is the destruction of life on this planet. 

What we face is not only a question of corruption, injustice and power politics, but the survival of life on this planet. The latest scientific findings show that far from reducing carbon emissions, we, the people of the world are increasing them at a faster rate than ever.  This is putting us on track for an average three degree centigrade temperature rise. I don’t know what you think, but it seems clear to me that with a 0.8 °C temperature rise our climate is already showing signs of severe extremes.  The Chinese and Pakistani floods and drought resulting in fires in Russia in 2010 are ample proof of this. 

The UN has predicted that if or when climate change really bites, Africa could have 250 million environmental refugees.  Science has also shown that we need to reduce our carbon emissions to a maximum of 350 ppm.  Already we are over 385 ppm, which is a higher level than this planet has experienced for the last 650 000 years. We are playing with fire and we have to take climate change seriously.

I am not saying that we close all our present coal-fired power stations, but I am saying that we must reduce and phase out coal.  The present coal stations can continue providing the energy needed for the extractive and industrial sectors while we increasingly apply energy efficiency and renewable energy for domestic usage.  We know that with energy efficiency we would do away with the need for both Medupi and Kusile power stations

The point has already been made that your technical team consists predominantly of people with mining and industrial interests and it is therefore understandable that they would recommend and promote centralised, large-scale coal and nuclear energy generation.  My technical team at places like the Energy Research Centre at UCT, the Colorado Institute of Energy, the Sustainability Institute at Stellenbosch, WWF, current publications on wind and solar energy and a host of organisations, institutions and people who are concerned about the well-being of all life on this planet, advise me that we can get all the energy we need from sun, wind, hydro, waves and tides, depending where you are. It is purely a matter of political will – and I have to say overcoming the huge influence and pressure of the vested interests of the coal and nuclear industry – both within and outside parliament

For those who say that renewable energy is more expensive than coal or even nuclear, I have to respond by asking “What price the health of the planet and its people?” The well-being of our people who are dependent on this planet for life is priceless.  In this IRP2 process you are making decisions which will influence our well-being over the next 40 or 50 years.  What is critical is that we recognise, as the Stern commission has pointed out, that the sooner we start reducing our emissions, the more effective and less costly it will be.  I have also read reports that if we want to provide for the energy we need from renewable means we need to start doing it seriously from 2012 as well as reducing our emissions by 2012. 

It is therefore the height of irresponsibility that South Africa is building Medupi power station to emit 30 billion tons of CO2 annually and is committed to building Kusile which is equally polluting.  It is not only folly but it is irresponsible to spend the R340 billion ESKOM is seeking for the construction of coal-fired stations when private equity funding is queuing up to invest in solar and wind generation.  It is also extraordinary – as you know we have some of the best solar and wind resources in the world

You also know that Copenhagen did not produce the agreement we had all hoped for and that it is generally accepted that in Cancun in Mexico is unlikely to produce any dramatic conclusions.  We all know that climate talks – COP17 – in South Africa this time next year could provide an essential opportunity for the future wellbeing of humanity. To us in the faith communities, who are not directly involved in these complex negotiations, it seems that the sticking points have been finance and a lack of trust between nations, with the large industrialised countries saying “we will reduce – if you reduce”, rather like the struggle for armaments reduction.  Even South Africa has bargained saying that it will reduce its emissions if we get the financial support to enable us to do so. 

The rich industrialised north has caused the problem but South Africa is a microcosm of the world and must show the right direction. 

I would hope that in 2011 South Africa will see that it has an almost unique opportunity of “doing the right thing” and setting an example to the world.  The only way to reduce our carbon emissions is to stop emitting them! I would hope South Africa would recognise that climate change is a moral issue and that the moral principles of justice and equity have to be applied. 

Climate change is pre-eminently an issue of climate injustice and inequity.  If our country were to stand up in Durban next year and proclaim to the world “We are reducing our CO2 emissions and developing renewable energy”, regardless of any agreement we come to, we could issue a moral challenge to every nation of the world to “do the right thing” and start reducing their own emissions.  Humanity needs to recognise that climate change is such a threat that we all need to come together in unity to confront it.

However, we cannot stand before the world to call on the rest of the world to reduce emissions if we are continuing to increase ours, which will be the case if we build Kusile. Furthermore, if we build Kusile it will be impossible to meet the commitments we gave at Copenhagen in 2009.    

Under apartheid we were the pariah of the world. Through our wonderful transformation we became an example to the world.  I don’t know why we are deliberately following a policy which is again making us a polecat. We are letting our young democracy down. I pray that we do not follow the path outlined in the draft IRP2, relying overwhelmingly on coal and nuclear and paying only lip service to renewables.  Can we not direct our energy policy on the principles of justice, equity and responsibility so that we put energy and power into the hands of the people? This will enable us to continue on the path we set out on in 1994. 

I am on my way back from a trip to Europe and Nairobi, preparing for the Faith Communities’ participation in COP 17 next year.  With all the church people I met, there was concern expressed about SA’s energy direction and amazement that in a country that has such excellent RE resources, we are not becoming a leader in that field.  In the space of five years China has become the leader in photovoltaic energy.  South Africa could become the leader and manufacturing hub for Africa, creating millions of jobs, if only we would forsake the polluting fossil age and enter the new clean solar age.  You have already lost five years! 

I know my colleague in Durban has said that the IRP2 is fatally flawed. As it stands in its draft form, we have to say that it has clearly not responded to the input of civil society.  I pray and hope that these hearings now will show that we can still get our Department of Energy onto the right track and that we turn to a path of sustainability for the future. 

You are the energy experts. I look to you to say to our Government:  “Coal was the best and cheapest, and nuclear has its problems.  Both have been surpassed.  We, the department responsible for energy, now know that the best path for our energy generation as well as the health and well-being of our people and the future of life on this planet, is renewable energy.  We in South Africa have the best resources in the world.  Following this path will also create massive employment.”

What can I do in this brief time to convince you?  I don’t have to convince you, for your ultimate responsibility is not to our Government or the shareholders of mining companies.  You are answerable to God and to the future well-being of our people and the planet.  Even if you don’t want to recognise your responsibility to God, you have a responsibility to life on this planet, our only home, and perhaps even more telling, to your children and my children.  Please don’t further pollute it for the next 50 years for the sake of a pot of money.

 Bishop Geoff Davies,  SAFCEI 3rd December