Challenging the coal-fired mega-industrial development planned for the Limpopo Special Economic Zone
Protecting the Limpopo River, Protecting Limpopo
1. BIG, DIRTY & THIRSTY, THE EMSEZ IS BEING BULLDOZED THROUGH THE APPROVALS PROCESS
Despite the mind-boggling scale of the proposed noxious industrial development and the consequent severe impacts on national water and other natural resources, climate, biodiversity loss, protected areas, agriculture and tourism sectors, pollution of air, water and soil and hazards to human health, no proper feasibility study and no proper assessment of the environmental impacts has ever been undertaken:
Instead, the MM-SEZ has been designated, the operator license awarded to an opaque Chinese entity, and undisclosed Chinese investors have reportedly committed billions - and now the draft EIA report has been published recommending authorization, even though the actual scope of the assessment is limited to site clearance of the southern site, for the purported reason that full impact cannot be assessed, because each of the planned industrial plants, mines and mega dams to be built on the Limpopo River will need to be separately assessed after the EMSEZ is approved.
We object to the fatally flawed EIA process and consequently invalid recommendation by the Environmental Assessment Practitioner (EAP) in the DEIR that the EMSEZ be authorised. The DEIR must be be withdrawn pending a comprehensive Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) as argued for by the Centre for Environmental Rights, acting for groundWork and Earthlife Africa, and we reject Minister Barbara Creecy's claim that there is "no legal requirement for an SEA to be conducted at this time".
2. THE VAMPIRES IN THE BLOOD-BANK
Under the terms of the signed operator agreement, complete control of the land and the mega industrial development project has been surrendered for an effective 120 years to an opaque Chinese company called Shenzhen Hoimor Resources Holding Company with a dubious reputation, to whom all responsibility including for environmental protection, has been transferred - something that appears contrary to its authority, its competence and its own interests.
This deal with its vast ramifications for South Africa was signed by a small, under-resourced and conflicted provincial government department, the Limpopo Department of Economic Development, Environment and Tourism, LEDET, which has been given decision-making authority in respect of the proposed EMSEZ. It is also empowered to grant environmental authorisation, which will determine whether the project goes ahead, despite the fact that it also acts as the project's sponsor.
We believe that the operator agreement amounts to a total abrogation of government's duty to protect South Africa's interests. We object to LEDET's designation as the competent authority on the grounds that it lacks the jurisdiction and is conflicted in the matter. The DEFF must assume responsibility as provided for in NEMA, 1998 S24C(2)(d))iii).
3. COAL-FIRED DEFIANCE
The proposed EMSEZ - including the 3,300MW coal-fired power station that will be built to power a staggering number of industrial-scale smelting furnaces, together with a raft of new coal and other mines that will be built to feed it - will essentially be a coal-fired hell.
The greenhouse gas emissions that will be generated, wholly inadequately assessed but estimated at 1 billion tonnes of CO2 over its lifetime and about 10-16% of South Africa's total carbon budget annually, will constitute a flagrant violation of inter alia South Africa's commitments under the Paris Agreement and government's Constitutional obligations to reduce GHG emissions and the impacts of global warming.
We object to the wholly inadequate assessment of the climate impact of the EMSEZ. An accurate estimation of the amount and type of fuels that will be consumed by each component of the planned EMSEZ project annually during operation and over its lifetime, the annual emissions of carbon-dioxide and other air pollutants including mercury and other heavy metals, and the climate impact along with associated environmental, economic and social costs cumulatively from the EMSEZ and the raft of new mines that will supply it, must be undertaken.
4. THE PLUNDER OF LIMPOPO'S WATER
Despite the fact that the Limpopo is severely water-stressed, the assessment of the actual water resources required for the operation of the EMSEZ industrial complex in the DEIR is crude and grossly inadequate. Even the estimates given however, are gob-smacking - at 110million cubic meters per annum, equivalent to the water use of 1.43 million people. And yet the plans to supply those needs, as well as the impact assessment of these plans are even more ill-considered:
Essentially, buried in Annexure U of the 878page draft EIA report is a muddy explanation of how 95% of the water requirements will be met by building a mega dam on the already over-allocated Limpopo River at the confluence of the Sand River on the Maremani Nature Reserve - the 200Mm3/a "Musina Dam" - close to the northern site, to capture the annual flood waters of the Limpopo. The assessment of the impact of this water capture on downstream water-users in South Africa and Mozambique is limited to a reference to the averted loss of life and flood damage. The Integrated Water Services Report makes a further reference to additional plans to tap the Zhove dam in Zimbabwe; build a second 200Mn3/a on the Sand River and to siphon the "Eastern Alluvial Aquifer" in the event that the water in the Musina Dam proves insufficient. The series of dams are excluded from the scope of the draft EIA report completely, and the Musina Dam is mentioned not once in the 251-page EMPr. Curiously there is a reference to a R25Bn "unsolicited" quote to build the dam.
We object to the fundamentally flawed analysis in the DEIR of water needs of the EMSEZ and water availability and the unjust plan to use the Limpopo River water without proper assessment of the impacts. An full review in consultation with all affected water-users of the Limpopo Catchment Area Water Management Strategy must be urgently commissioned.
5. WHOSE GAIN AT WHOSE EXPENSE?
The real costs and benefits of the proposed EM SEZ have not been properly accounted for and are highly skewed in their distribution. The draft EIA report itself baldly states, "The proposed project is considered to have an overall high negative environmental impact, with low‐medium positive social and economic impact due to the site being very sensitive in terms of environmental features (ecology, aquatic features, etc.) and the introduction to possible greenhouse gases, air quality, noxious gases, climate change impacts, etc., all which will have a negative impact on the environment and surrounding areas."
On the other side the equation, the benefits of the project as set out in the EIA are vague and unsubstantiated. Although the DEIR argues for the project on the basis of export-driven economic growth, it also mentions the tax incentives on offer inside a SEZ to attract FDI, however, it fails to disclose the extent of the corporate income; VAT; customs and duty-tax relief granted to the operator (all deductions off South Africa's bottom-line). It provides no firm commitments in terms of job creation or supplier contracts for local businesses. Indeed, it is not at all clear from the DEIR how South Africa really benefits from the minerals extraction that will happen on our soil, using our coal, our water and contaminating our environment: On the face if it, the exporter is the foreign-owned entity that holds the rights. It looks rather as if China's gain is at our and the planet's expense.
We object to any authorisation of the EMSEZ being considered given the DEIR's stated conclusion that "The potential negative impacts of the development on the natural, tourism, and agricultural environment of the site and the region may in all likelihood, outweigh the identified positive impacts associated with the potential social and economic development benefits in the longer term." The authorisation must be denied on the grounds that the applicant (who is also the adjudicating authority) cannot reasonably comply with the conditions of authorisation set out in the DEIR, including with respect to guaranteeing a sustainable water supply.