South Africa, already the continent’s biggest polluter, saw a rise in carbon emissions last year

Steam rises at sunrise from the  Lethabo Power Station, a coal-fired power station owned by state power utility Eskom near Sasolburg, South Africa,
Steam rises at sunrise from the Lethabo Power Station, a coal-fired power station owned by state power utility Eskom near Sasolburg, South Africa,
Image: REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko/File Photo
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South Africa, which is often identified as Africa’s worst polluter, saw a 1.5% increase in carbon emissions last year, says a  study published this month.  Africa’s most advanced economy contributes about 33% of the continent’s steadily rising air pollution from fossil fuel combustion, oxidation, and cement production.

The increase in South Africa’s and the region’s surge in emissions is despite commitments by governments to curb air pollution as a way of managing global warming and to reduce the resultant effects on climate change.

In spite of global campaigns for a shift away from high carbon emitting fossil fuels, South Africa has seen its stock of emissions rise from 2018 to 2019, according to a new report. South Africa tops Africa’s big carbon emitters, with 471.6 million metric tons of carbon (MtC) emitted in 2019, up from 464.4 million MtC.

South Africa relies on coal to fire up 30,000 MW of electricity, which serves about 80% of the country’s energy needs. Last year Greenpeace found that the country’s reliance on coal influences its environmental policies, allowing coal-fired plants 10 times more nitrogen oxide emissions than China and Japan. Despite the country’s potential for renewable energy, Eskom is only now beginning to make good on its renewable energy goals.

Mpumalanga, in eastern South Africa is home to coal mining towns, and has been described as one of the world’s most air-polluted regions with the largest single area infected by deadly air pollutant nitrogen dioxide, based on satellite imagery analyzed by Greenpeace.

But it’s not all bad news in The Global Carbon Budget 2020 report by Friedlingstein et al, which was published on Dec. 11. Due to the global pandemic and subsequent lockdowns around the world, global emissions declined by 7% in early 2020, say the researchers.

Pollution from Egypt declined last year to 241.2 million MtC from 248.4 million MtC in 2018. The World Bank recently estimated the annual economic impact of air pollution on health in the Egyptian capital, Cairo at about 1.4% of the north African country’s GDP.

Algeria is in third place, with a nominal increase of air pollution of about 4.4% to 169.2 million MtC emitted in 2019. Nigeria and Morocco complete the top five biggest polluters from fossil combustion, oxidation and cement production in Africa with 136.8 million and 72 million MtC emitted in 2019 respectively.

In general African countries are still far behind their counterparts in advanced, industrialized economies around the world in terms of the worst polluters, but Africa is often cited as being most vulnerable to the impact of climate change such as rising temperatures.

These values and amounts of pollution do not include emissions from aviation and maritime transport. In addition to carbon taxes, some governments in Africa have started to act on vehicle emissions from old vehicles by cutting the age of pre-owned vehicles that can be imported from manufacturers such as those in Japan.

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