Challenges to achieving a successful transition to a low carbon economy in South Africa: examples from poor urban communities

Mdluli, Thuli N.; Vogel, Coleen H.
March 2010
Mitigation & Adaptation Strategies for Global Change;Mar2010, Vol. 15 Issue 3, p205
Academic Journal
South Africa faces several development challenges including those linked to climate change. Energy usage in South Africa, for example, is already constrained because of a range of development challenges (the dependence on cheap coal as a heating source; energy availability; access; affordability of alternative energy sources; and a range of health impacts, including air pollution). Notwithstanding calls for a transition to a low carbon economy, there have been few, recent assessments in South Africa of the costs associated with such a transition, particularly the social and economic costs for the poor who use energy in a variety of ways. In this paper we focus on trying to unravel some of the complex energy-use behaviour including understanding what drives consumers in resourcepoor areas to choose and use persistently risky energy options. Analysis of qualitative data in two township areas, Doornkop and Kwaguqa, shows that township households, whether electrified or not, continue to burn coal. In both study areas, an estimated 80% of electrified households burn coal for space heating and cooking and also make use of multiple fuel sources for a range of activities. Although the major obstacles preventing people from discontinuing domestic coal combustion are poverty, the ready availability and social acceptability of coal together with other social customs cannot be underrated. This paper therefore highlights some of the persistent challenges associated with sustainable energy transitions in South Africa including implications for improved mitigation and adaptation for the energy sector in wider climate change efforts.


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