In a firm stance against fossil fuel expansion, South Africa's five Goldman Environmental Prize winners have collectively called upon President Cyril Ramaphosa to withdraw the National Petroleum Company Bill and cease all offshore oil and gas exploration.
This urgent appeal comes from Liziwe McDaid and Makoma Lekalakala (2018 winners), Desmond D’Sa (2014), Jonathan Deal (2013), and Bobby Peek (1998) - all recipients of the Goldman Environmental Prize - known as the “Green Nobel” prize.
These environmental champions, recognised for empowering communities in environmental defence, stress the need for South Africa to lead the charge in phasing out fossil fuels at the upcoming COP28.
They say that Carbon Capture and Storage is a false solution and are advocating for more concrete climate action.
The draft Bill, publicised by Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe, proposes the establishment of the South African National Petroleum Company (SANPC), consolidating iGas, PetroSA, and the Strategic Fuel Fund.
This move, according to the activists, contradicts international commitments to divest from fossil fuels.
According to the Bill, this State company’s functions include that it will “be a developer, operator and owner of major energy infrastructure across the energy value chain for market entry and transmission and to pursue Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) regasification, gas transmission and gas to power …”
Liziwe McDaid, Strategic Lead at The Green Connection, questions the timing of this legislation, especially as South Africa prepares for COP28.
"Why is it that at the same time government publishes a piece of legislation for a national oil company, which will obviously take us in the wrong direction, which is to encourage more fossil fuels? We believe this is hypocritical," McDaid asserts.
Makoma Lekalakala, Director at Earthlife Africa, emphasises the urgency of transitioning away from fossil fuels.
"The Just Transition (Framework) means a complete overhaul of how we do things," Lekalakala says, warning against the environmental and economic consequences of further fossil fuel reliance.
Bobby Peek, Director at groundWork, highlighted the contradiction in the government's stance on renewables and fossil fuels.
“The South African government's confused position between wanting to roll out renewables and a just transition, while simultaneously continuing its pursuance of oil, gas and coal – this is a normal elite contradiction that aims to silence those seeking a just transition. Is this done to make all believe that they are serious? For decades, both at home in South Africa and at COP, this contradiction has been evident. This is why the COP continues to fail the people. As Professor Patrick Bond says, ‘They talk left but walk right.’ This continues to be the modus operandi of both the COP and the South African politic. They say they want a just transition, but then continue to pursue the very things that caused it.”
South Africa is extremely vulnerable to climate change and many communities have already felt its devastating effects. From 2015 to 2017, the Western Cape faced a severe and prolonged drought, which cost the economy roughly R15 billion, representing 3.4% of provincial Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 0.3% of national GDP in 2018.
In April 2022, Durban was struck by a flood which is described as the most catastrophic natural disaster – in terms of lives lost, homes and infrastructure damaged or destroyed and economic impact – yet recorded in KwaZulu-Natal. And this year, in June and September, many parts of the Western Cape experienced severe flooding.
The estimated costs of the damage caused by the floods in Western Cape this year totalled well over R1 billion, with an additional R1.4 billion in estimated damages to the agricultural sector, and another R500 million due to the damage to the provincial road network. However, the full costs for this year’s floods are still unclear.
In the wake of devastating climate impacts, Jonathan Deal, CEO at Treasure Karoo Action Group, calls for ethical leadership to prioritise long-term sustainability over short-term fossil fuel usage.
Desmond D’Sa of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) urges President Ramaphosa to resist the lure of fossil fuel investments and focus on mitigating global warming, which disproportionately affects marginalised communities.
With COP28 spotlighting Finance for Loss and Damage, these environmentalists are highlighting the urgent need for Africa to bridge its adaptation gap and for South Africa to embrace a more sustainable, ecologically mindful future.