COP26: World's 'most-polluting' and 'corrupt' power company could benefit from green funding

"It's like living in hell, our kids are struggling, they are sick," environmentalists tell ITV News Senior International Correspondent John Irvine of the impact of living close to power stations

One achievement in Glasgow is the first ever agreement of its kind – a pact by wealthy countries to finance a developing nation’s transition away from coal to renewable energy sources.

The European Commission has already announced the agreement, which involves the US, UK, Germany and France. The beneficiary is South Africa. This is a test case and if it works out the arrangement could become a template for other developing countries. 

But the problems are huge.

The first is that the money is being sought by the South African utility giant Eskom, which provides 97% of the country’s electricity.

ITV News Senior International Correspondent John Irvine visited an Eskom power station near Johannesburg.

Such a monopoly should generate huge profits, but due to corruption and inept management Eskom is actually in debt to the tune of $27 billion (£20 billion).

Eskom also has the dubious distinction of being labeled the world’s most polluting power company.

Environmentalists claim its 15 coal-fired power stations are sufficiently old and neglected to pump out more sulphur dioxide than the entire energy sectors in the US and China combined.

Now the company’s CEO is in Glasgow seeking up to $35 billion (£25.6 billion) in loans to transition to green energy.

ITV News spoke to Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter (pictured) via videolink. Ironically, there was a power cut during the call.

Via videolink we asked Andre de Ruyter why international investors should trust such a dirty and poorly run power provider with such a vast amount of money?

He blamed his "less than illustrious predecessors" for Eskom’s problems and made pledges about oversight and "use it or lose it" responsible spending.

Unfortunately for him, our interview was interrupted by a power cut here in Johannesburg.

The man responsible for South Africa’s electricity was silenced by the failings of his company.  When we got him back, he smiled at the embarrassing irony.

Residents in the township of Phola (pictured) have complained of respiratory problems.

The township of Phola is surrounded by open cast coal mines and Eskom power stations. 

Researchers claim the air quality here is among the worst in the world.

Everyone we spoke to complained of respiratory problems.  People said they felt trapped in a dying community, but had nowhere else to go.

Not only does coal generate around 90% of South Africa’s energy, it is also woven into the fabric of the nation’s economy. 

It provides tens of thousands of jobs in a country where unemployment is running at 35%.  It also accounts for a huge chunk of GDP and export earnings.

South Africa’s known reserves could provide for at least another 100 years. Vested interests, as well as some political leaders, will be loathe to leave such potential wealth just lying there.

Burning coal may be environmentally destructive, but stopping South Africa doing so may be socially and economically destructive. 

Mitigating the latter to stop the former will be immensely costly and difficult to achieve.