The Paris climate deal could turn South Africa into a major market for U.S. natural gas.
South Africa, the largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions on the African continent, is undergoing an energy transition that will mean demand for natural gas will rise, according to a new report from the Energy Information Administration.
“In an effort to reduce [carbon dioxide] emissions, South Africa is planning to diversify its energy portfolio, replacing coal with lower CO2-emitting fuels such as natural gas and renewable sources,” the EIA analysis says.
Energy Secretary Rick Perry visited South Africa in October to meet with African leaders about importing more natural gas in 2018, several months before President Trump emphasized energy exports in his first State of the Union speech Tuesday night.
Much of the transition to natural gas is being driven by South Africa's commitment to the Paris Agreement. The country plans for carbon emissions to peak by 2025, remain flat for the next decade, and then begin to drop around 2035, the EIA said.
Trump decided in June to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, which former President Barack Obama signed onto in 2015. Trump sees other countries being allowed to continue increasing their emissions for a decade or more as fundamentally bad policy for the United States. The president argues that countries such as China and India can produce emissions unabated, while the U.S. must take immediate steps to cut its emissions, which would place the U.S. at a competitive disadvantage.
China has agreed to top out its CO2 emission in 2030, but meanwhile it is transitioning to massive amounts of cleaner natural gas and phasing out coal use. Recent demand for natural gas has soared in Asia because of China's increased use of the fuel.
South Africa, like China, is a huge consumer of coal for making electricity. Its coal reserves have been used to power its economy, one of the largest on the African continent, for decades. But that has made it one of the world’s leading emitters of energy-related CO2, ranking 15th globally for greenhouse gas emissions, and accounting for more than any other country in Africa, according to the EIA.
Coal accounted for about 70 percent of the country’s primary energy consumption in 2016.
Many climate scientists blame greenhouse gases emitted from fossil fuels for driving man-made climate change.
“Over the next five years, South Africa plans to replace some of its outdated coal-fired capacity with nearly 10 gigawatts of supercritical coal units, which are more efficient because they operate at higher temperatures and pressures than conventional coal power plants,” EIA said.
The country also plans to add more generating capacity fueled by natural gas and renewable energy by 2030.