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    Alex has been consulting to many of South Africa’s blue-chip companies for the past five years, using innovative thinking to help them reduce their impact on the environment and enhance their bottom line. He is also a founding member of Carbon Calculated, a carbon management consultancy, and is also the creator of Carbon Known, a carbon management software solution.
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  • Posts Tagged ‘South Africa’

    Populism will not fix problems of economy

    Tuesday, February 21, 2017

    Issues of poverty, unemployment and inequality threaten the fundamentals of South Africa’s democracy.

    Fast facts:

    • In late 2016 researchers convened to discuss the Research Project on Employment, Income Distribution and Inclusive Growth (REDI3x3), a three-year national project initiated by the Treasury to fill in key gaps in the evidence base in support of inclusive growth.
    • A major question sparked by this research is how to make growth more inclusive, but this is difficult to answer when it has barely nudged above 0.5% in the past year.
    • Research by Martin Wittenberg of the University of Cape Town (UCT) shows that earnings at the top end have increased faster than earnings at the bottom. Earnings in the middle, though, have stagnated.
    • Research by Arden Finn, Murray Leibbrandt and Vimal Ranchhod estimates that if your parents are poor, the chances of your being poor are 90%.
    • About 10% of the population owns 95% of the wealth. This profile, combined with youth unemployment of about 50%, is a recipe for anger and frustration.
    • Social grants, which now sustain more than 17-million people, have done much to alleviate poverty.
    • Personal income tax is the government’s largest source of revenue, yet only about 7-million people earn enough to pay income tax.
    • Only 4% of those who enter school are likely to get a tertiary degree — and most of those students attended former model C or private schools.
    • More than 80% of jobs are created in companies that employ 50 or more people.
    • People who live in urban areas and earn the least use up to 40% of their income to pay for transport because they live far from their work, researcher Andrew Kerr has found.

    Source: Business Day: Opinion, Murray Leibbrandt and Pippa Green, 09 February 2017

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    JSE firms in paucity of data on water use

    Tuesday, February 7, 2017

    One of the worst droughts in living memory could see an improvement in the dismal level of reporting on water consumption by JSE-listed companies.

    Fast Facts:

    • At present, only one-third of listed companies provide shareholders with details of their water consumption.
    • Access to reliable energy and water has been identified as the 11th most material issue facing listed companies in SA.
    • Water supply disruptions to its mines cost African Rainbow Minerals $26m in lost revenues in 2015.
    • Integrated Reporting and Assurance Services (IRAS) review reveals that only 108 of the 311 companies assessed reported water consumption data, up only slightly on the 106 that provided data in the previous year.
    • Only 36 of the 311 companies reviewed reported a target for reducing water consumption.
    • David Couldridge, head of ESG engagement at Investec Asset Management says that unlike South Africa’s recent energy problems, there is no working around water shortages.

    Source: BusinessDay: Companies/Land & Agriculture, Ann Crotty, 26 January 2017

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    SA’s water quality falls sharply

    Monday, February 6, 2017

    Water quality has deteriorated sharply, forcing the SA Dept. of Water and Sanitation to consider revoking the water licences of some municipalities.

    Fast Facts:

    • The Blue Drop tool is intended to measure the quality of drinking water and legal compliance by municipalities with requirements in providing water.
    • The Blue Drop ratings of six of the country’s nine provinces declined substantially between 2012 and 2014. One province had no system that was able to achieve Blue Drop status.
    • The Green Drop regulation process is an incentive-based regulation that compares the performance of water service institutions.
    • Nationally, the number of Blue Drop certifications awarded fell from 98 in 2012 to 44 in 2014.
    • According to the department, 152 water service authorities were assessed.
    • Blue Drop progress report for 2015 had been done and a draft report was expected by the end of April 2017.
    • The department has the authority to revoke council licences as a penalty for lack of management of treatment plants and water quality.

    Source: BusinessDay: Business and Economy, Khulekani Magubane, 26 January 2017

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    Over 70% of Africa’s energy to come from renewables

    Friday, February 3, 2017

    By 2050 about 77% of Africa’s energy capacity will be driven by renewables, according to Fransje van der Marel – partner at McKinsey & Company – speaking at the fifth annual Africa Power roundtable.

    Fast Facts:

    • Energy demand in Africa is expected to double by 2050.
    • There is more than 7 000GW capacity potential across the continent.
    • About 77% of this capacity will be renewable in the form of solar (48%), wind (29%) and gas (13%).
    • The cost of renewables has come down “massively” in the past 10 years. In dollar terms this is down from 20.4c/kWh in 2006 to 4.1c/kWh in 2015.
    • The lack of transmission and distribution capacity is preventing Africa from reaching its full potential.
    • About half of the world’s population which does not have energy, lives in Africa.
    • Further, the rural electrification rate across the continent is only 28%.
    • The African Development Bank has recently established a new deal to have 95% rural access to electricity by 2030, in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
    • In South Africa there are 38 Independent Power Producers (IPP), producing 5% of total generating capacity.
    • The role of IPPs in other African countries is much higher. In Ivory Coast IPP comprise 57% of generation capacity, Gambia 42% and Rwanda 38%.

    Source: Fin24, Lameez Omarjee, 31 January 2017

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    To add water, subtract weeds

    Thursday, December 15, 2016

    Mandela’s least known legacy may be his Working for Water programme, which employs thousands of marginalised people to clear invasive plant species, securing precious water supplies in perpetuity. 


    Having eradicated apartheid and sown the seeds of real democracy, Nelson Mandela had to confront a looming threat to the security and hope of South Africans. Weeds.

    The rampant growth of invasive alien plant species (IAPs) was choking riparian areas, draining river systems and overrunning natural ecological habitats – all in a semi-arid landscape where there was not enough water to
    go around.

    Each species in isolation – and there were over 80 species – may have seemed little more than a noxious nuisance. But together they had grown to cover 16 percent of the country’s land area, and the cumulative effect was to reduce annual streamflow by 7 percent.

    Recognising this risk, Mandela’s team began, through labour-intensive plant removal, to claw back 4 percent of this water, and make it newly available for human use. The result led to an inter-governmental, multi-million dollar national response known as the Working for Water (WfW) programme.

    This approach could also make sense in other parts of the world. Christo Marais, Chief Director of Natural Resource Management Programmes, of which the largest is WfW, urges governments to consider upstream alien plants in the water supply/demand equation. “The degradation and transformation of wetlands,riverbanks and flood plains leads to a reduced amount of water being absorbed into the natural systems and later released into the aquatic ecosystems,” he says.

    A national problem doesn’t arise overnight or by accident. European settlers had deliberately introduced many plant species over three hundred years to support dune stabilisation, woodlots, and tannin production. Acacias, wattle, pine and eucalyptus have become among the most prominent species. Under dry windy conditions, a single Australian bluegum (Eucalyptus salinga) can absorb seven hundred litres per square metre of leaf cover each day. Invaded landscapes can annually consume 300-400 millimetres (mm) more than natural grassland, cutting runoff by 3-4,000 cubic metres per hectare.

    South Africa is caught between diminishing rainfall (now 464mm/ year) and a growing population of 55 million. It cannot afford to sacrifice water to alien plants.

    Indeed, there’s less than nothing to spare. The country’s 2013 National Water Resource Strategy stresses that the country’s financially viable freshwater resources are already “fully utilised”, putting its 4,395 dams under immense pressure as agriculture and urban demand runs apace. As 8 percent of the country’s landmass produces more than half its runoff, every drop must be harnessed for productive use.

    “The water needs to be captured before we lose it,” says Marais. “We can’t allow the natural ecosystems to clog with invasive alien vegetation.” He adds that every 3-10 hectares of densely infested land, once restored to full ecological function through alien plant eradication, releases enough water to irrigate a hectare of land in perpetuity.

    After amassing two decades of proof, WfW has become a poster child for innovative, strategic, and scalable responses to invasive vegetation – augmenting supplies in water scarce regions. But Marais says this isn’t an either/or approach to water security.

    “It is important to understand that the eradication of aliens works in tandem, and supports, necessary infrastructure,” he says. “All we are doing is improving the efficiency of existing water supply systems.”

    As a supplementary service WfW can focus on water replenishment while exploring the wider social benefits of a plant-clearing public works programme.

    The WfW model has attracted foreign visits and requests for presentation worldwide. While replicated nowhere in its exact form, other public employment programmes adapt its restorative focus. China’s “Grain for Green” project rehabilitates degraded mountainous areas while Ethiopia leverages labour, policy and official support to restore watershed services. Yet any city, agency or nation seeking to adapt the WfW recipe must grasp the five ingredients that underpin it.

    First, before eradicating existing alien species, stop new arrivals. National and local policy prohibits the continued introduction of invasive plants into the natural landscape, coupled with land use incentives against their detrimental effect. Trained customs officials practice stringent control at South Africa’s ports of entry.

    Second, strategic investment can yield multiple outcomes. By working directly with land users, WfW can direct government, corporate and development funding towards the most critical areas where eradication of invasive vegetation can yield the highest water resources. In the arid, northern part of the country, the state electricity utility, Eskom, led partners to invest US$3.3 million by clearing plants in order to enhance water availability and the productive land use for communities upstream of a newly built coal-fired power station.

    Also, research and development pays surprising dividends. For example, biological control of alien infestations may prove the most natural, safe and affordable tool. Officials annually invest US$3.5 million in the strictly managed introduction of host-specific species that drastically reduce seed production and even, in some cases, kill off the alien species.

    You also need to encourage diversified spin-offs. A strong focus on value-added enterprises from the WfW programme has germinated numerous small businesses. These convert cleared vegetation into building materials, energy sources and other economic activities. Rather than simply dispose of dead vegetation, people recycle it, even in the manufacture and distribution of school desks to the national Department of Basic Education.

    A final step is to highlight how plant eradication generates skills, income, and jobs in urban and rural areas alike. Against a national 30 percent unemployment rate, WfW forges linkages between ecosystem services and steady careers. Those benefits stand out as a double revelation. Since inception, Marais’ programme, of which WfW is part, has created more than 225,000 person-years of employment, with opportunities for the poorest and most marginalised. Indeed half of all recent WfW employment opportunities go to women, more than sixty percent are under 35 years old, and military veterans and parolees often find work through the programme.

    Even WfW proponents stress that alien-plant clearing is not a panacea for all water supply ills. Nor does it play the lead. Its importance lies in the ‘best supporting actor’ role: improving the performance of existing infrastructure. But if strategically manipulated, ecosystem service programmes like WfW can offer far wider socio-economic benefits than merely building and filling dams.

    Source: Alex Hetherington, The Source, September 2016


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