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Does South Africa know how much carbon it is emitting?

Last week, two very important documents were gazetted for public comment, namely the revised National Greenhouse Gas Inventory and the biennial report to the United Nations on South Africa’s greenhouse gas emissions under the UNFCCC. Both documents are extremely important for agro-processing and other manufacturing industries as it contains an estimate as to amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere each year by the various industries in the South African economy.

The former is particularly important for agribusinesses as it will form the information base that will inform the implementation of regulatory instruments such as Carbon Budgets, that will affect agribusinesses directly by placing restrictions on the amount of greenhouse gas they can emit at a company level without facing sanction. The latter document is important for South Africa as a country as it is intended to indicate the progress we have made in reducing our overall carbon footprint.

The trouble is that these documents do not align, which means that one or both of the document may be based on incorrect information. The Greenhouse Gas inventory in particular seems to overestimate South Africa’s overall emissions. The previous inventory was done as far back as 2010 and the latest draft inventory seems to indicate that our emissions have increased dramatically since then. This seems unlikely as the majority of our energy intensive sectors such as metal smelting and mining have actually reduced production due to the energy shortages we experienced since 2010. The fact that inventory shows a marked increase in emissions despite the prevalence of load shedding in this time warrants deeper investigation.   

There are likewise factors in the latest draft report to the UNFCCC that deserves closer scrutiny. We never previously reported on the estimated greenhouse gas emissions emanating from veld fires but have done so in the latest draft. This could again distort the picture as veld fires are a natural phenomenon and even where they are caused by humans, it has certainly been the case since before 2014 when the previous report was prepared. On the whole, by including items that were not included in previous reports, we could be presenting a skewed image of our national emission or at the very least we may have presented an underestimate in previous reporting cycles by not including these estimates. Either way, we should guard against the possibility of presenting a report which accidentally misrepresents the increase in emissions over a period of relative economic slump.

It is vital that these reports are closely scrutinised as South African industries, including agribusiness, may be faced with intensive regulation in the near future which may not be justified had the base information been correctly formulated. Agbiz will work with experts from various industries within BUSA to prepare inputs.  AGBIZ


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