A critical evaluation of the extent to which sustainability was considered in the Medupi power station
Sustainable development is described by the World Commission on Environment and Development as ―development that meets the needs of present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs‖. Sustainability assessments are an integrative process and framework for effective integration of social, economic and ecological considerations in significant decision-making processes. Sustainability is incorporated into South African legislation such as the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa (1996), the National Environmental Management Act (Act 107 of 1998), as well as Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Regulations. Despite the existence of such legislation, the challenge lies in the effective implementation of the EIA process, which has been identified as a useful tool in striving towards achieving sustainable development. This research uses Gibson‘s eight sustainability principles and Gaudreau and Gibson‘s sub-criteria to develop a case specific set of sustainability criteria for coal fired power stations in South Africa. The energy generation sector is a major source of social and environmental impacts. Coal power stations contribute to environmental degradation such as reduced air, water and land quality. This industrial process impacts on the environment and therefore needs to strive towards sustainable development by considering these criteria during the EIA process. The set of case specific sustainability criteria for power stations was then used to evaluate the EIA developed for Medupi Power Station in South Africa in order to assess, the extent to which sustainability was considered in the EIA process. The key finding is that sustainability is incorporated into South African legislation hence no change in legislation is required. Despite the existence of legislation, the challenge lies in the fact that is it not always effectively implemented. The EIA process is seen as a tool that can effectively deliver sustainability outcomes. However this process is not effectively utilised. In order for the EIA to consider sustainability the focus needs to be on the following criteria: Intragenerational Equity; Precaution and Adaptation for Resilience; as well as Immediate and Long term Integration, as these were recognised as weaknesses after the evaluation process. The recommendation is also to develop a set of case specific sustainability criteria for other large industries that have significant environmental impacts.