So let’s say you’re running for national office. And let’s say you’re an incredible progressive promoting aggressive implementation of climate change remedies and reforms including a moratorium on any new development of fossil fuels.
And then let’s say that less than a few months before the election an oil-equivalent billion barrels of gas are discovered in your country. What do you do? This is exactly what’s happened in South Africa, elections on May 8.
South Africa has been a great mouth piece for climate change, but a very poor implementer. According to Climate Action Tracker, South Africa falls in the “Highly Insufficient” group of countries as regards implementation of Paris Agreement Accords.
This is one step up from the worst, “Critically Insufficient,” which is composed of only five countries: Saudia Arabia, Russia, the Ukraine, Turkey and the U.S.
Nevertheless, with nearly two-thirds of its nearly 60 million population under 30 years old, climate change is a big issue in South Africa.
So in an attempt to win over younger voters the current roster of ANC hopefuls, including the current president, released an aggressive climate change policy paper that corresponded almost exactly with what the country had agreed to in the Paris Accords:
In addition to expected and rather easy implementations leading to more solar and wind power, South African pledged to reduce its coal mining. This is significant.
South Africa’s coal production is up there with the highest producers in the world. In the latest government policy on coal mining, the 2018 “executive summary” explained, “Because of coal’s contribution to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, many jurisdictions including South Africa, have put in place strict environmental laws which have affected demand for coal.” And coal production actually fell from 2017 to 2018.
The country went even further: South African agreed to phrase out all coal-production by mid century and “substantially limit natural gas.”
Then in February the bombshell discovery changed everything.
A billion barrels, by the way, ain’t much. Total world reserves are around 1600 billion.
But it’s apparently plenty for South African politicians to make the most amazing about-face imaginable.
First on the stump was Minerals Minister Gwede Mantashe, who has increased his lavish praise for the fossil fuel industry almost to the level of an oil company CEO. One of his favorite chants is to scold opponents for calling coal “dirty.” He’s invited the industry to “fight back.”
Friday he managed the artful pivot of a Trumpian master:
“Gwede Mantashe has urged the coal mining sector to continue investing in clean-coal technology,” the communiqué from the Department of Mineral Resources stated, “in order to mitigate the effects of climate change.”
“As for our other natural resources, every institution of influence in the country – including the major opposition parties, the big banks and the mainstream media – remains as committed as ever to [fossil fuel] extraction, so the ANC is hardly out on a limb with its election promise of reviving the mining sector,” South Africa’s Daily Maverick explains.
And then asks:
“Whose future are we being asked to vote for?”