'Developed countries need to provide viable alternatives to coal'

South Africa's transition to renewable energy somewhat challenging, says envoy

by

Abdulla Mohamed Al-Riyami

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KT Photo: Rahul Gajjar
KT Photo: Rahul Gajjar

Published: Wed 22 Nov 2023, 4:00 PM

Last updated: Mon 27 Nov 2023, 6:30 PM

Despite being a developing country, South Africa has an advanced fossil fuels industry. Mining forms a significant portion of the economy and is home to large fossil fuel reserves, particularly coal. In fact, according to energy think tank Ember, South Africa is ranked eighth in the world in terms of coal use for electricity generation.

Saad Cachalia, Ambassador of South Africa to the UAE, notes that this makes the country's transition to renewable energy somewhat challenging.

"We have to reassess how our entire economy works. We were pioneers in creating liquid fuel from coal, and since then, we've used our coal to power our energy. But now we must relook how we energise our country," he says.

"We export our coal to other countries and it drives our economy, it gives our poor people a source of energy. Moving away from it will not be easy but it is essential. Climate change is a reality. I've seen it. South Africa is flooding and getting snow. But if we remove all our traditional fuel resources, it's going to create huge problems, particularly in terms of jobs in areas where mining is prominent. So, if we tell people they can't use coal anymore, we must give them an alternative. We know that this will be an extremely expensive challenge."

He reminds us that developed nations are responsible for making the biggest efforts to tackle the climate change crisis. After all, they are the ones who have contributed to it the most.

"The less wealthy people are most impacted by climate change; this is ironic as they have contributed to it the least. The developing nations have hardly used their natural resources, whereas the developed nations have almost depleted theirs. Therefore, the developed nations are responsible for actively, physically and financially assisting the developing nations so that they don't make the same mistakes they did," he declares.

Cachalia explains that financing developing and undeveloped nations is critical for helping them implement sustainable alternatives to coal and fossil fuels. He believes that the subject will be central to the discussions at COP28, and the ways that private companies can assist with diversification towards clean energy will be another core pillar.

"Financing will ensure we can provide suitable replacements for our traditional fuel sources. Money is central to this, and I know that the UAE understands its importance," he states.

Cachalia has been based in the UAE for six years and deeply admires how the UAE puts its words into action. He says that the country's commitment to tackling climate change is demonstrated through the sustainable development of Masdar, Masdar City, the mega solar energy plant by Taqa and other forward-thinking projects.

"The UAE has set a tremendous example," he states. "It consistently lends a hand and gets involved in developing countries. It puts its money where its mouth is, so to speak. Other developed and developing nations need to learn from the UAE's example and work with them to ensure tangible outcomes of COP28. The UAE has come forward and shown the developing nations what can be done and it is prepared to help them financially."

Cachalia is confident that COP28 will be as successful as Expo 2020 Dubai.

"In South Africa, we are beginning to see the fruits of our participation at the Expo, and we forged many valuable trade relations there. I can see that the UAE is hosting COP28 with the same energy as it hosted the Expo. I predict that this COP will take the climate change discussion forward in huge leaps and bounds," he concludes.

A testament to South Africa's commitment is the president's presence at the COP28 discussions, which reflects how seriously South Africa takes the issue of climate change and how committed the government is to tackling it.


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