In terms of energy, South Africa has more than a few lemons.

Sometimes wilderness first-aid professionals talk about lemons — not the fruit, but the strikes against the unaware hiker or climber that can add up to disaster, like an impending storm, a broken toe or a heart condition. Alone, they don’t suggest imminent death, but add them together, and the “lemons” have the potential for messing up up a perfectly good hiking trip.

South Africa is on the tremulous edge of an energy crisis — there isn’t enough energy to go around; frequent rolling blackouts are crippling the economy. A recent study by the S.A. government showed that if the country continued to increase its energy consumption at the current rate, it might quadruple demand by 2050.

“This is, in the most literal sense, not sustainable: If we continue with business-as-usual, we will go out of business.”

Said South African Environment Minister Marthinus Van Schalkwyk, in a recent statement.

Partly as a result of the energy crunch, and partly due to international economic conditions, the South African economy has started to stagnate. (That’s two lemons, if you’re counting). Add to that the fact that 90% of the country’s energy comes from South African coal, and you have three lemons.

It would seem that disaster is imminent, and that the ravenous coal power companies would be snapping their teeth at the prospect of putting online emergency (read: profitable) coal power stations.

Instead, Minister Van Schalkwyk, in the face of immense internal pressure, made this historic statement, holding developed countries responsible for reducing emissions 80-95% by 2050, and 25-40% by 2020 and committing South Africa to reducing its own emissions significantly:

“[South Africa’s] GHG emissions must peak, plateau and decline. This means it must stop growing at the latest by 2020-2025, stabilise for up to ten years and then decline in absolute terms.”

He went on to outline the specifics of future government and private investment in renewables, green jobs and conservation measures.

This is the first commitment by a developing country to significant CO2 reductions, and though it may not take effect until after at least two planned coal-fired power plants are built in South Africa, it is a significant step towards a strong global agreement.

To get to 350, we need more statements like this one from developing countries as well as significant commitments to reducing CO2 from those developed countries that are historically responsible for most of the CO2 emissions in the atmosphere.

Check out the full statement here.

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