Climate activists in South Africa scored a small win last week, when the North Gauteng High court ruled that the Department of Environmental Affairs erred in granting authorization to coal-fired power station, without first establishing the impact it would have on the environment.
Earthlife Africa activists had approached the court charging that Environment Minister Edna Molewa had given the go-ahead for the Thabanetsi power station in Limpopo, without undertaking a proper climate change assessment of its impact.
In what has been called South Africa's first climate change lawsuit, the court ordered the minister to reconstitute the appeal process, and to consider a proper climate change assessment of the proposed power station. However, the court did not set aside the department's decision, as Earthlife had asked.
Judge John Murphy said in his judgment that the department's decision had been prejudicial because "permission has been granted to build a coal-fired power station which will emit substantial greenhouse gas emissions in an ecologically vulnerable area for 40 years without properly researching the climate change impacts for the area and country as a whole."
"Short-term needs must be evaluated and weighed against long-term consequences," Judge Murphy said.
The Department of Environmental Affairs argued that no South African legislation expressly stipulated that a climate change impact assessment must be carried out before environmental authorization could be granted. However, Judge Murphy found that this did not mean there was no legal duty on the department to consider climate change in its decision-making.
Makoma Lekalakala of Earthlife Africa said: "This judgment sends a strong message to government and developers proposing projects with potentially significant climate change impacts that permission cannot be given for such projects unless the climate change impacts have been properly assessed."