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CLIMATE CHANGE & ENERGY  | How growing energy needs affects our natural resources

When nation-wide power cuts and blackouts reached a peak in 2008, the South African government was forced to admit that the growing energy crisis was “a national emergency”. Not only did the shortage have a negative effect on emergency services, farming activities, businesses, domestic consumers and citizen morale, it directly threatened the country’s economic growth prospects, bringing the power-hungry mining and industrial sectors to a halt and scaring off potential foreign investment.

Some measures have since been taken to reduce and manage national consumption but South Africa continues to face an enormous challenge in meeting current and future demand for energy. How this demand is met is still the subject of intense debate – a debate which tries to balance the urgent need for economic growth and mass electrification with growing global pressure around environmental sustainability and the impact of climate change.

Currently, South Africa’s energy production is based primarily on fossil fuels. Coal, of which South Africa has comparatively rich reserves, provides some 93% of South Africa’s electricity production but places the country among the world’s highest producers of Co2 per capita. Coal-energy also produces sulphur and nitrogen oxides, organic compounds, heavy metals, radioactive elements, and ash, all of which have a potentially negative impact on the health of the Earth and its people.

Although South Africa has rich renewable energy resources, less than 1% of our total energy is derived from renewable energy such as hydropower, wind or solar.