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South Africa is the second biggest economy in Africa. It is also heavily reliant on coal, and its struggles to address climate change without hampering development resonate with the whole continent.
But this conflict may be a false one, aired by big fossil fuel firms with an interest in protecting their profits, says South African energy expert Hilton Trollip from the University of Cape Town.
In the run up to the UN climate summit now reaching its climax, the world’s countries submitted proposals for a low-carbon transition to present at COP 21. The pledges, or intended nationally determined contributions, have been the starting point for thrashing out a global agreement for emissions reduction, which is due to come out tomorrow evening.
From next week, each member state will enter the implementation phase, which for many developing countries remains uncharted territory. Its success will depend on strong finance from richer nations to help sustain high upfront costs and on robust technology transfer, but also on domestic politics.
In this interview, Trollip details South Africa’s ambitions for a clean energy future and how this could be achieved, benefiting the poor. The real enemy, he says, is a private sector that makes money from exploiting the country’s natural resources, but does not reinvest its profits domestically.