Development or reduction of emissions, what’s best for South Africa ?

After being cagey about its vote on the $3.75 billion loan for South Africa’s coal-fired power plant, the US decided to abstain. U.K., Netherlands and Italy followed suit. But several Scandinavian countries voted to approve the loan. So, what’s the big deal about this power plant?

The World Bank loan to South Africa's state-owned utility company, Eskom Holdings Ltd., will allow it to build a 4,800 megawatt power plant north of Johannesburg. This will be the world’s seventh largest coal plant and is likely to emit 25 million tons of carbon dioxide a year. The green groups are seeing red quite obviously. They make a case for investing in wind or solar energy for electricity generation. But it ain’t all that simple. These sources cost more than twice as much per unit of electricity compared with coal, which the country has in abundance.

South African officials claim that the plant will cater to 60percent of Southern Africa’s energy requirement and will help boost the country’s economy, which is the largest on the continent. It wasn’t long ago when Eskom quite literally plunged the nation into darkness for weeks, as it was unable to generate adequate power. This had an impact on the businesses as well as the mining industry, one of the nation’s biggest employers.

Unless South Africa develops its economy, will it be able to successfully implement measures to battle climate change? Clearly not! South Africa represents the developing world where there is a need to first allocate resources for tackling issues like poverty, sanitation and population growth. The action for climate-change needs to be taken in a phased manner. The basic infrastructural and civic issues cannot be resolved overnight. Till the time the developing world is gearing up and coming to speed, the larger burden of the global climate change action lies on the shoulders of the developed world.

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