South Africa‘s finance ministry has appointed a consultant to come up with a plan by August to allow utility Eskom to accept-billions in loans designed to help it cut its carbon emissions when the government has blocked it from taking on new debt.
Wealthy nations, including Britain, France, Germany, the European Union and the United States, committed $8.5-billion at UN climate talks in November 2021 to help South Africa cut its emissions and accelerate a shift from coal, which provides most of its electricity generation.
In February, the government said it would assume some of Eskom‘s debt, but on condition it did not take on any more loans for three years, unless the finance minister gives written permission.
Two diplomats, who asked not to be named because they are not authorised to speak to publicly, told Reuters the government’s conditions meant international pledges of green funding were in limbo.
The theoretically obvious solution of the treasury making an exception and giving permission would require complex recalculations and more parliamentary procedures, a top government official, not authorised to speak to media, said.
In a response to Reuters questions, South Africa‘s national treasury said it, along with President Cyril Ramaphosa’s office, had appointed a consultant that it did not name to find ways to resolve the issue.
The government is looking at “best mechanisms to disburse the $8.5-billion International Partners Group funding without negatively impacting Eskom‘s balance sheet,” it said referring to the consortium of countries and multilateral agencies providing the funding.
It said it was in regular contact with the international donors and would present a report on solutions by August.
According to official estimates, Eskom, which supplies over 80% of South Africa‘s power mainly through 15 coal-fired power plants, will have to invest over $7-billion into its transmission grid by 2027, its biggest share of expenditure over the next four years.
The grid upgrade is partly necessary to allow it to cope with more renewable energy.
It would also allow the decommissioning of three power plants, which the government is considering delaying because of the shortages of generation capacity.
Rudi Dicks, the head of project management at the South African presidency, said there was a need to “clarify as a matter of urgency” whether the international loans could be accepted.
Of the $8.5-billion pledged to South Africa, $3-billion is from the Climate Investment Funds (CIF), a leading multilateral investor in developing countries.