President Cyril Ramaphosa. PHOTO: GCIS

PRESIDENT Cyril Ramaphosa says that government will not allow itself to be “short-changed” or lumped with conditions that will undermine its developmental objectives when negotiating the details of an $8.5-billion climate-finance package with developed countries over the coming months.

Responding to questions in Parliament on the issue, including one posed by Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema, Ramaphosa said that South Africa’s negotiating stance would be premised on ensuring that the eventual transaction took account of South Africa’s social and economic challenges, while affirming “our right to develop our economy in a sustainable and inclusive manner”.

South Africa signed a political declaration with France, Germany, the UK, the US and the European Union on the sidelines of COP26 in early November, opening the way for a financing facility to support South Africa’s ‘just transition’ from coal over a three- to five-year period.

The declaration made provision for the establishment of a task force, comprising representatives from South Africa and the international partners, to finalise the funding mechanism, including the breakdown between grants and concessional loans.

Ramaphosa told lawmakers that South Africa intended pursuing the talks “in the most transparent manner” and would set up a “top class” team of financial advisers to interrogate the offer.

“A number of the key role-players in our country have been working with us on this, so I don’t really foresee us being short-changed in any way.”

The President also committed to allowing representatives from the trade union movement and civil society to make input on the transaction, as well as on the priority areas that required financing, such as the retraining of workers in the coal value chain.

In addition, South Africa would argue that the transaction provided an opportunity for developed countries – which have contributed disproportionally to the build-up of greenhouse-gas emissions in the atmosphere – to honour their commitments to assist developing countries, such as South Africa, to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Ramaphosa said these countries had been “dilly dallying” in honouring their responsibilities and “we must make sure that they live up to their commitments”.

The President also faced probing questions on the issues of load-shedding, the competence of the Eskom board and executive team, the utility’s financial position, as well as the role that independent power producers (IPPs) and municipalities should play in stabilising electricity supply.

While acknowledging that load-shedding would “remain a possibility for some time to come” he outlined the various steps that government was taking to diversify sources of supply and reduce the current reliance on Eskom.

He highlighted the revitalisation of the renewables procurement programme, which saw 25 more bidders selected to build new wind and solar plants, as well as the much-delayed emergency procurement round.

The reform allowing for the connection of distributed generation plants below 100 MW in size without a licence was also held up as one of the solutions to load-shedding and to addressing the current 4 000 MW to 6 000 MW supply deficit.

Leader of the official opposition John Steenhuisen, who heads the Democratic Alliance, sought a commitment from Ramaphosa that government would not obstruct municipalities from procuring electricity from IPPs as a way of reducing the risk of load-shedding.

The President responded by saying that municipal generation and procurement was part of government plans for improving security of supply and lowering the dependency on Eskom, which remained the “biggest risk our country faces”.

“Be assured that the national government is not going to obstruct the capabilities of local government at all,” Ramaphosa said in direct response to Steenhuisen.

He acknowledged that no solution had yet been found to Eskom’s unsustainable debt, but noted that various proposals, including unsolicited ones, were being made to resolve the problem.

The capability of the Eskom leadership, as well as the leadership of other State-owned companies, remained a “top of mind” consideration on an ongoing basis, Ramaphosa was not in favour of wholesale changes.

Instead, he described as “unfortunate” the fact that Eskom had, over the past 15 years, changed CEOs “almost every 18 months”.

“There are no easy solutions to all this, no matter what anyone may want to say – this is a complex problem.

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