CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - South Africa, a major polluter due to its dependence on coal-fired electricity, will not agree to any emission-cutting targets if doing so hurts the country’s economy, a cabinet spokesman said on Thursday.
International talks resume in December in Copenhagen where countries will try to thrash out a new international climate change regime beyond 2012 amid increased discord over the role developing countries can play in reducing harmful emissions.
South Africa, echoing a view widely held by developing countries, including China and India, said emission-cutting targets would hit its economy during a global economic downturn.
“We are committed to taking responsible action to reduce our emissions but we are not ready to agree to any targets that would undermine our growth trajectory,” Themba Maseko told reporters in a post-cabinet briefing.
“We think that it is premature for South Africa to agree to targets,” Maseko said.
Britain said on Tuesday that talks in Denmark to agree a successor to the Kyoto Protocol would fail unless politicians from developing countries focused more on the longer-term climate threat and not an economic downturn.
African countries threatened to veto any climate change deal if rich countries did not meet its demand for money, which some experts said could be up to $200 billion a year.
South Africa, battling its first recession in 17 years, relies heavily on coal-fired power stations, responsible for harmful carbon emissions, to produce most of its electricity needs. It is Africa’s heaviest polluter.
Kyoto, which expires in 2012, committed most developed countries to cut their emissions, but did not set targets for poorer nations whose per capita emissions were much lower.
“If we were to agree to targets now, we think that it could actually hamper our economic growth... The only viable source of energy at this particular point in time is through the use of coal-powered stations,” Maseko said.
Climate talks are one of the priority items on the agenda of a SA-EU summit taking place on Friday, where President Jacob Zuma co-chairs a meeting with Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt. Sweden currently holds the European Union’s rotating presidency.
“Developed nations have a greater responsibility, in our view, they have contributed to emissions for longer than any of the developing nations and their economies have reached a certain level of growth which can enable them to actually reduce their emissions,” said Maseko.
Reporting by Wendell Roelf; Editing by Keiron Henderson