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UN Warns of Climate Change Catastrophe Making South Africa’s Progress on Biofuels an Urgent Priority

Biofuels and Climate Change

According to a recently released landmark report, time to avert catastrophic environmental impacts from climate change is rapidly running out. Without urgent mitigation South Africa can expect worsening droughts, more powerful storms and rising sea levels. The Cape Town water crisis of 2018 is unlikely to be anomaly if climate change remains unabated.

The report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) makes it clear that we need a global commitment to move away from fossil fuels. The report maintains that in order to avert cataclysmic impacts, global emissions of carbon dioxide need to fall 45 percent over the next 12 years.

The report notes that significant investment in biofuels and associated carbon capture and storage could make a big difference. The biofuels scenario laid out in the report calls for feedstock covering an area twice the size of India to make the impact required.

Historically South Africa played a key role in the adoption of the historic Paris Agreement on Climate Change and made a voluntary commitment to combat climate change and set the goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 34 percent by 2020 and 42 percent by 2025.

But lack of any meaningful progress on the implementation of a national biofuels strategy seriously calls into question how South Africa will meet those commitments.

In 2014, South Africa issued a draft position paper on a regulatory framework for biofuels. The paper missed the mark on several fronts. But perhaps its most glaring deficiency was that it identified sorghum as the preferred feedstock for biofuels.

This year according to SA Grains, South African agriculture will produce 83,000 tonnes of sorghum compared to the 20 million tonnes of sugarcane. There is not enough sorghum in South Africa to feed even a single biofuels refinery. A far more sensible approach would be to promote a variety of biofuels feedstock not withstanding the obvious advantages of sugarcane, which is the preferred feedstock of biofuels production around the world.

The benefits of biofuels from sugarcane are well known. Compared to petroleum, sugarcane ethanol cuts carbon dioxide emissions by 90 percent on average. That’s better than any other liquid biofuel produced today at commercial scale.

South Africa has always tempered its commitment on climate change with concerns about its overriding priorities to eliminate poverty and eradicate inequality.

Eliminating poverty and eradicating inequality requires addressing major challenges in creating decent employment.
The fact is that poverty and inequality is rampant in South Africa’s rural communities. Progress on a biofuels strategy that puts ethanol from sugarcane in the forefront can create an estimated 100,000 new jobs, mostly in rural areas, and improve the prospects of over 20,000 small sugarcane growers.

Nowhere is poverty and in equality more rampant than in South Africa’s rural communities. Progress on a biofuels strategy that puts ethanol from sugarcane in the forefront can create an estimated 100,000 new jobs, mostly in rural areas, and improve the prospects of over 20,000 small sugarcane growers.

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