Is Eskom, Africa's Biggest Polluter, Capable of Transformation?

The public utility which supplies the vast majority of South Africa's electricity, Eskom, is the biggest polluter on the continent, according to a local non-governmental organisation.

The Climate Justice Coalition (CJC), which includes trade unions, civil society and community organisations, is running a #GreenNewEskom campaign aimed at achieving a transition to clean, safe and affordable renewable energy.

In the past decade, Eskom has been besieged with financial and infrastructural difficulties that have cost the South African economy billions. Research from the Efficient Group estimates that the utility's woes have resulted in a reduction in GDP by 0.30% during 2019, roughly the equivalent of U.S. $617 million.

The parastatal is in dire need of transformation, not only in terms of economic turnaround but also to move from its reliance on its most fundamental resource: coal. South Africa's greenhouse emissions in 2015 totaled 512 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, an increase of 20% over the figure of 426 million in 2000, the government said in a 2019 report to UN Climate Change.

The power utility has an "aspirational vision" of producing net-zero emissions by 2050, in accordance with a government announcement in February 2020 that set the goal. The government aims to boost the shift to renewable energy through partnerships with private companies via the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer (REIPP) scheme, which has secured investment of more than $15 billion.


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 eastwinds.

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