SASOL AGM Faces Onslaught from Frontline Communities, Activist Shareholders and Civil Society Groups

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  • On Friday 2 December, Sasol Limited will be hosting its 43rd Annual General Meeting of shareholders (AGM).
  • Frontline communities, activist shareholders and civil society groups including the Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance (VEJA), the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), Earthlife Africa, Just Share, groundWork, Greenpeace Africa, Justica Ambiental (JA!), and the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) will express their discontent and concerns around Sasol’s ongoing non-compliance with pollution laws.

At the AGM, questions will be asked on a wide variety of topics, including: Sasol’s air and water pollution; pending criminal charges against Sasol; Sasol’s continued push for fossil gas; Sasol’s involvement in securing gas from Mozambique; and Sasol’s climate change-related plans and targets. Communities will also march to Sasol’s headquarters in Sandton to hand-over demands for environmental compliance which would improve the health and wellbeing of fenceline communities.

Protest to demand answers and action

Fenceline communities that have been negatively impacted by Sasol’s toxic emissions for decades will stage a protest march on Friday, 2 December 2022 to Sasol’s headquarters in Sandton. The march will commence at George Lea Park, Sandton at 09h00. At 10h00, community members will start walking to Sasol’s head office at 50 Katherine Street, Sandton. The march will stop at Sasol’s main gate, where community leaders will speak about the impacts on their daily lives of pollution caused by Sasol’s operations. A memorandum of demands will also be handed over to Sasol management at 12h00.

“The science is clear, we are in a climate crisis, and it is being driven by climate criminals like Sasol. They do not prioritise the health of surrounding communities or the environment, only the health of their profits. We only need to look past their greenwashing to see it. Sasol’s entire business is built on historic injustices, rooted in the colonial practice of extractivism. A just transition to renewable energy is the best and most immediate solution to South Africa’s energy and unemployment crises, and will also help us to remain firm in our commitments to the Paris Agreement.” Nhlanhla Sibisi from Greenpeace Africa.

Climate-related financial risk 

Last week, after reviewing Sasol’s 2022 annual reports and other public documents, Just Share and the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), published two briefings addressing important issues related to climate change and air quality. Given the significant shortcomings in Sasol’s climate-related plans, shareholders are advised not to support Sasol’s resolution in which it asks shareholders to “endorse, on a non-binding advisory basis, Sasol’s climate change management approach, including its climate change ambition, strategy and progress towards achieving the 2030 target and 2050 net zero ambition”.

According to shareholder activist organisation Just Share, the rejection of Sasol’s climate change management approach will send a clear message that a great deal more detail is required to assess whether Sasol is actually capable of addressing climate-related financial risks.

“Sasol’s latest annual reports once again reveal the company’s lack of meaningful progress in addressing its significant climate-related risks. Sasol’s commitments remain too vague, without sufficient measurable targets and timelines. The first measurable commitment from the company is only set for 2026. This leaves Sasol’s stakeholders with little confidence that it will reach its long-term decarbonisation goals, not to mention the catastrophic environmental and financial risks posed to the company and SA’s economy by Sasol’s operations.” Ayabulela Quzu, junior analyst at shareholder activist organisation Just Share

Sasol’s insufficient decarbonisation plan is cause for serious concern 

Sasol’s decarbonisation plans have much leeway for “flexibility” and not enough concrete plans for emissions and pollution reduction.  Avena Jacklin from groundWork and Friends of the Earth, South Africa says that “Sasol’s decarbonisation plan includes an increased reliance on gas as a ‘transition’ fuel, which also involves building new gas infrastructure.” According to Jacklin, these plans will lock in greenhouse gas emissions and will crowd out space for least-cost renewable energy.

“Sasol’s plans for decarbonisation continue to be insufficient, and relies on false solutions such as carbon capture and storage (CCS), while failing to illustrate how science-based climate targets will be met. Moreover, their hydrogen plans are too vague to illustrate benefits to South Africa and local communities, who are concerned about the impacts of hydrogen production on scarce water resources,” says Jacklin.

Mozambican communities face the dangerous consequences of gas exploitation

Anabela Lemos, from Justiça Ambiental (JA!), says, “Since Sasol opened the floodgates to gas exploitation in Mozambique two decades ago, the communities around its Pande and Temane projects have been pushed deeper into poverty, the economy remains in tatters and only 30% have access to electricity. Since 2017, the gas industry in the north has left thousands of people without homes and livelihoods and has fuelled a violent insurgency and militarisation. This has destabilised communities, exposing them to displacement and loss of life.” In April this year, President Cyril Ramaphosa extended South African National Defence Force (SANDF) deployment to Mozambique at a cost of R2.8 billion to “combat acts of terrorism and violent extremists affecting the northern areas of Mozambique, and South African private security company, DAG, was accused of firing indiscriminately into groups of Mozambican civilians”.

Major contributor to Deadly Air    

Sasol is a fossil fuel giant and is the second biggest polluter in Africa. It is also one of the primary contributors to South Africa’s position as 13thlargest emitter of CO2 in the world, continues a dirty legacy as a major emitter of toxic air pollution resulting in dire health and climate impacts.

In the Deadly Air Case, High Court Judge Colleen Collis n her landmark judgment handed down in February 2022, she found that: “When failure to meet air quality standards persists over a long period of time, there is a greater likelihood that the health, well-being and human rights of people are subjected to that air are being threatened and infringed upon.”

According to Samson Mokoena of the Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance (VEJA):  “Communities have been negatively impacted by Sasol’s operations for decades. Sasol has done little to clean up their water and air pollution, and rehabilitate the land from current operations. They have no concrete plans with deadlines for emissions reductions, nor made evidence of rehabilitation plans available to us. Communities continue to be left out of decision-making processes, making it difficult for us to engage on issues which affect our health, well-being and livelihoods.”

A malodorous legacy

Rotten egg stenches plagued Gauteng during winter 2022 – attributed to elevated levels of hydrogen sulphide (H2S).  Apart from its unpleasant odour, H2S is toxic. Expert evidence has pointed to the source being Sasol’s Secunda facility.

Following multiple complaints, the Department of Forestry, Fisheries, and the Environment (DFFE) appointed a task team to investigate. Thetask team found that the smell “may have emanated from industry operations in the Secunda and Mpumalanga regions”. An October 2022 DFFE presentation at the Annual Air Quality Governance Lekgotla states that the intention is to set stricter H2S Minimum Emission Standards (MES).

Undisclosed criminal charges

Sasol failed to disclose in its South African reporting suite that it is facing criminal charges relating to its Secunda operations. Sasol appeared in the Mpumalanga Regional Court in Secunda on 20 September 2022 on various environmental charges after summons were issued on 27 July 2022. The charges relate to the illegal disposal of toxic waste and of contaminated and untreated water; illegal construction of its desalination plan without an environmental authorisation; and unlawful prejudice and/or dismissal of a whistleblower who “in good faith disclosed evidence of a potential environmental risk”.

These are serious offences, some of which are subject to R10 million fines, ten years’ imprisonment, or both, including extended criminal liability for directors, managers, agents, and employees of Sasol under certain circumstances. Various environmental authorisations could also be withdrawn by the court, and Sasol could be ordered to pay the cost of loss or damage caused by the offences – including the cost of rehabilitating or preventing damage to the environment. The criminal case has been postponed until 13 January 2023, to enable further investigation.

Author: Bryan Groenendaal

Source: Groundwork


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