'Deadly Air' Case Finally Goes to South African High Court

Heavy industries and Eskom power stations on the Highveld play a vital role in sustaining South Africa's economy, but this cannot be used to justify the excessive levels of air pollution that 'kill 10,000 people each year', environmental justice groups argued in the Gauteng High Court.

Advocate Steven Budlender SC made this point at the start of the landmark legal case on industrial air pollution, which seeks to compel the government to introduce tougher regulations within six months to reduce the overall level of air pollution levels in parts of Gauteng and Mpumalanga known as the Highveld Priority Area.

Mpumalanga, home to 12 of Eskom's coal-fired power stations, was ranked among the world's worst hotspots for nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide emissions by Greenpeace in 2019. The Deadly Air case comes as South Africa prepares to submit its latest draft Nationally Determined Contribution, the country's pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.

Any meaningful commitment will entail South Africa taking tangible steps to move away from its coal dependency - South Africa's coal reliance places it in the top 15 worldwide largest emitters of greenhouse gases, and makes it one of the most carbon-intensive economies in the G20.


Mpumalanga is home to a cluster of twelve coal-fired power plants with a total capacity of over 32 gigawatts owned and operated by Eskom. The satellite data further reveals that the cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria are also highly affected by extreme NO2 pollution levels which blow across from Mpumalanga and into both cities due to close proximity and regular east winds (file photo).

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