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Earthlife wins SA’s first climate change case

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The North Gauteng High Court has ruled in favour of environmental justice organisation Earthlife Africa Johannesburg (ELA), and referred the appeal against the environmental authorisation for a new coal-fired power station back to the Minister of Environmental Affairs on the basis that its climate change impacts had not properly been considered.
In South Africa’s first climate change lawsuit, ELA challenged Environmental Affairs’ Minister Molewa’s rejection of its appeal against the approval given to the proposed Thabametsi coal-fired power station in Limpopo. The approval was granted by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) despite there being no comprehensive assessment of the climate change impacts of the new coal-fired power station.
The court ordered that the Minister reconsider the appeal, now taking into account a full climate change impact assessment report, and all public comments received.
The judgement indicates that the DEA and the Minister should have given proper consideration to the climate change impacts of the proposed coal-fired power station before a decision could have been made to allow it to go ahead.
The ELA’s Makoma Lekalakala says: “We welcome this judgement, which sends a strong message to government and to all developers proposing projects with potentially significant climate change impacts in South Africa that permission cannot be given for such projects unless the climate change impacts have been properly assessed.
“South Africa is a water-stressed country, and the Waterberg, where the power station would be located, is a particularly water-stressed area. Climate impacts are a big deal for communities and farmers who depend on the limited water available.”
The Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), on behalf of ELA, submitted comments on Thabametsi’s draft climate change impact assessment on 27 February 2017. The final climate change impact assessment is due to be submitted to the DEA and made available for final comment this month.
CER attorney Nicole Loser notes: “A climate change impact assessment requires far more than just an assessment of the proposed project’s greenhouse gas emissions. Climate change is going to have significant impacts for South Africa’s water availability and will result in extreme weather events such as floods and droughts. We are very relieved that the court has recognised the need for an assessment of the power station’s contribution and exposure to these impacts.”
Lekalakala adds: “We now call upon the minister to give full and proper consideration to Thabametsi’s climate change impacts – which the project’s environmental consultants have found will be significant – in making a decision on whether to uphold Earthlife’s appeal.”