Environmental activist organisation Greenpeace has condemned the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) for a court interdict preventing 27 contracts with renewable energy independent power producers (IPPs) from being signed.
"Greenpeace strongly condemns the court interdict, which is clearly a move to sabotage renewable energy in favour of coal. We no longer live in a world where renewable energy should be viewed as a threat, and to do so stands in the way of progress," said Happy Khambule, Greenpeace Africa's senior political adviser.
Numsa argued that the contracts would lead to job losses affecting 30 000 working class families as demand for coal power for electricity generation decreased.
However, Greenpeace said that renewable energy projects were also job creators.
"Given the current renewable energy IPPs that are already in production and in planning (this includes the 27 renewable energy projects that must still be signed), at least 100 000 full-time equivalent jobs would be created, through the current private renewable energy projects alone," Khambule told News24.
"There is a massive potential market of households, businesses and communities who could invest in solar and create an entire sector to support this, but this can only happen if the barriers to renewable energy are removed."
Rising global temperatures
Climate scientists agree that if global warming is limited to under 2°C from pre-industrial times, the worst aspects of climate change can be avoided.
According to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, between 1880 and 2012, global temperatures have increased by 0.85°C.
The organisation asserts that sea levels have risen by 19cm from 1901 to 2010 as a result of ice melting and glacial retreat.
"To avoid catastrophic climate change, we need to work to limit warming to 1.5°C to protect future generations. This means that we need to aim for 100% renewable energy by 2050. There is no time to waste, and the just transition to renewable energy-based jobs instead of coal must begin immediately in order to retrain and upskill workers," said Khambule.
Large global polluters such as the US have pulled out of the Paris climate agreement over concerns that coal workers are negatively affected by the deal and that it is harmful to the economy.
The position leaves the US virtually isolated on the global stage as Syria and Nicaragua have indicated in 2017 that they would also join the accord.
"Globally, coal is a dying industry because it is driving catastrophic climate change, it is creating significant air pollution and illnesses, and is increasingly being mechanised, which means fewer jobs. Meanwhile, despite the barriers, the renewable energy industry has been steadily creating new job opportunities and has the potential to create many thousands more," Khambule argued.
"Claims made by Numsa that renewable energy will push up the price of electricity are clearly false: Numerous studies have shown that renewable energy is the least cost electricity choice. It is inexplicable for Numsa to be defending and protecting the coal industry, which disproportionately exploits people and natural resources in pursuit of profits."
Beyond generating greenhouse gas emissions, coal mining consumes water to assist in the processing of coal. Some researchers say about 250 litres of water is required to produce one ton of coal, though 75% of water is recycled.
Greenpeace highlighted the importance of water amid South Africa's declaration of a national state of disaster over drought conditions in several provinces.
"We can't live without water; there are alternatives to coal, but there are no alternatives to water. It is time to make better choices," said Khambule.