South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs has told Parliament that emission reduction options in the power sector remain a priority to meet the country’s overall greenhouse gas reduction targets over the coming few years.

Its Deputy Director-General for Climate Change and Air Quality, Judie Beaumont, said this when the department and State-owned power utility Eskom briefed the Parliamentary Committee on Environmental Affairs here Tuesday regarding renewable energy and South Africa’s greenhouse emission reduction system at the National Assembly.

“Emission reduction options in the power sector are absolutely critical for South Africa’s overall ability to reduce our carbon emissions and to transition to a lower carbon economy overtime. If we are not able to reduce emissions in the power sector, the rest of the economy has to take deeper action,” Beaumonth said.

“So I think just to emphasize the importance of the power sector which really is the sector that generates — because of its reliance at the moment on coal-based generation — is the sector that produces the most greenhouse emissions.”

The Cabinet approved South Africa’s climate change mitigation system framework in 2005. The framework included a number of key elements — from a carbon budget for each company and desired emissions reduction outcomes for key economic sectors to pollution prevention plans by companies with carbon budgets and a reporting system to gather information on the actual emissions of users.

Other measures, including the introduction of a carbon tax, are amongst those that have been identified to support or complement the carbon budget system.

The system was introduced in phases. The first phase, which runs from 2016 until 2020, will be voluntary as there are no legal basis to set emissions limits for sector companies. Phase 2, which will begin after 2020, will become mandatory once the climate change response legislation is in place.

Beaumont said as the country was implementing the emissions reduction system, renewable energy was a critical component in that strategy.

Deborah Ramalope, the Chief Director at the department responsible for emission reductions, said the first phase was approved in 2015, together with the litigation potential analysis which will look at what is possible per sector in terms of emission reduction targets.

The department has so far completed carbon budget with 18 companies, including Eskom, and that soon there will be draft carbon reduction plans that will help companies achieve their carbon budgets, she added.

The key sectors that are being considered for the implementation of mitigation factors include energy, transport, waste, carbon sinks, among others. “From then on, companies will be required to report to the department on an annual basis to explain how they are doing in terms of meeting their carbon budgets and we will assess compliance,” Ramalope said.

Eskom Chairman Dr Ben Ngubane said Eskom remained committed to meeting the commitments of climate change. “We take the issue of climate change very seriously as well as the issue of adhering to commitments made at the Paris conference, which should be probably ratified at COP 22 (the 22nd session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC, to be held in Morocco from Nov 7 to 18, 2016).

“We hope that the country will sign the COP 22 agreement [in] of November 2016 so that we remain a player in the bigger parties and groupings relating to the discussions on climate change,” he said.

Eskom’s Chief Financial Officer Anoj Singh said Eskom is currently compliant with respect to meeting the requirements of carbon emissions. Eskom currently contributes about 44.5 per cent to the national greenhouse gas emissions, which is the budgeted amount, and this makes the power utility compliant.