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Earthlife Africa, represented by the Centre for Environmental Rights, has won South Africa’s first climate change lawsuit. The organisation had petitioned the Pretoria High court to revoke the environmental licence of the new Thabametsi power station in Limpopo to be revoked as a result of the fact that the impact of climate change and greenhouse emissions were ignored in the issuing of the licence.

Climate change lawsuit victoryWhile the licence was not revoked, Judge John Murphy referred the appeal against the environmental authorisation for Thabametsi back to the Minister of Environmental Affairs on the basis that its climate change impacts had not properly been considered. The approval was granted by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), and 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.

According to the judgement, 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. Judge Murphy found that South Africa’s policy and legislative framework would “support the conclusion that an assessment of climate change impacts ... will be relevant factors in the environmental authorisation process”.

“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,” said Nicole Loser, an attorney for the Centre for Environmental Rights.

When she hears the appeal against the environmental clearance, Minister Molewa has to consider the fact that the coal station will send large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere for 40 years.
She also has to take into account the fact that the station is being built in an area of Limpopo that has water shortages and that the new station will use a lot of water.

In its argument, the DEA conceded that coal-fired stations were heavy greenhouse gas producers but said South Africa faced an energy crisis, which was impeding economic growth.

This judgement comes shortly after Earthlife Africa lost a legal action against the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa) to stop the construction and use of a small nuclear waste smelter. The Pretoria High Court dismissed the organisation’s application to set aside the authorisation for the nuclear corporation to operate the smelter.

The ruling was made by Judge Pierre Rabie, who awarded costs against Earthlife Africa.

I am really pleased at this most sensible outcome. Earthlife Africa has consistently refused to listen to any reason and has pursued this silly action as part of its ongoing attitude of obstruction of Necsa’s activities at every opportunity. Necsa has highly competent and responsible nuclear scientists and engineers who would not engage in silly irresponsible behaviour of the type that Earthlife Africa constantly implies,” said Dr Kelvin Kemm, Chairman of Necsa, on receipt of the judgement.

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