South Africa must balance the need to cut emissions with increasing electricity access and developing its natural resources, according to the nation’s energy minister.
“We can’t be only about decarbonization,” Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe said in a televised speech in Johannesburg on Friday. “We must deal with energy poverty.”
South Africa’s transition from a reliance on coal to cleaner sources of power is a massive undertaking that includes changing a significant social aspect centred on the mining of the dirtiest fossil fuel.
Mantashe’s position has complicated the implementation of a $8.5 billion pledge by rich nations to help South Africa move to green energy.
Mantashe, a former mine worker and labor-union leader who has previously said he doesn’t have a problem with being identified as a “coal fundamentalist,” has overseen a stop-start program to boost renewable power generation.
South Africans must “never allow ourselves to be encircled by the developed nations who fund lobbyists to pit our country’s developmental needs against their own self-serving protection of the environment,” he said.
“Our country deserves an opportunity to transition at pace and scale determined by its citizens.”
The country has a number of offshore oil and gas prospects, proven by recent discoveries in neighbouring Namibia, but searches for the resources have been blocked by environmental groups, according to Mantashe.
“Every time we touch that, we go to court. Touch it, go to court.”
The environmental concerns should be balanced with development, he said.