We rate South Africa “inadequate”. South Africa’s target is not consistent with limiting warming to below 2°C, let alone with the Paris Agreement’s stronger 1.5°C long-term goal. With implemented policies, South Africa will not meet its target. One of the key policies to reduce emissions is the Integrated Resource Electricity Plan (IRP) 2010–2030, which sets a renewable capacity target of 17.8 GW for 2030. However, this growth in renewables will not displace coal generation, which is likely to grow at a similar rate. Renewable deployment is also being hampered because Eskom, South Africa’s state-owned grid operator and owner of the majority of its coal plants, is stalling on signing power purchase agreements with renewable energy companies, putting the financial future of those companies at risk, along with the renewable energy capacity target, and reducing the country’s renewable energy investment attractiveness. A carbon tax has been planned since 2015, but the start date is still uncertain.
South Africa ratified the Paris Agreement on 1 November 2016. Its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) is a target to limit greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions including land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) to between 398 and 614 MtCO2e over the period 2025–2030. This target is equivalent to a 20–82% increase on 1990 levels excl. LULUCF. Although South Africa is one of the few countries that has put forward absolute emission reduction targets in their NDC, we rate this target “inadequate.” The “inadequate” rating indicates that South Africa’s commitment is not in line with a wide range of interpretations of a “fair” approach in line with holding warming below2°C, let alone with the Paris Agreement’s stronger 1.5°C limit. If most other countries followed South Africa’s approach, global warming would exceed 3–4°C.
South Africa’s NDC is consistent with its pledge under the Copenhagen Accord, which proposes emissions reduction below business-as-usual (BAU) levels, incl. LULUCF, by 34% in 2020 and 42% in 2025. Since South Africa’s pledge is relative to a BAU range, this represents a 20–73% increase in emissions excl. LULUCF in 2020 and a 20–82% increase in 2025 on 1990 levels, excl. LULUCF.
According to our analysis, South Africa will need to implement additional policies to reach its proposed targets. The Climate Action Tracker’s projection for South Africa’s emissions under current policies has an increasing trend, with emissions (excl. LULUCF) in 2020 and 2025 expected to increase by 110% and 141%, respectively, on 1990 levels excl. LULUCF.
Paris Agreement target
South Africa’s NDC, 2020 pledge and long term target pledge are consistent with its long-term goal to constrain its emissions to follow a peak-plateau-decline (PPD) trajectory. Based on this, South Africa’s emissions should peak between 2020 and 2025 (as targeted by the Copenhagen and NDC pledge), plateau for approximately a decade and then decline in absolute terms, as shown in the red shaded range in the figure above.
South Africa’s NDC (Republic of South Africa, 2015) targets an absolute emissions level in the range of 398–614 MtCO2e incl. LULUCF over the period 2025–2030. Assuming LULUCF remains at the average level over 2000–2010 (-19 MtCO2e), this NDC translates to an emissions level of between 417–633 MtCO2e excl. LULUCF, equivalent to a 20–82% increase above the 1990 emission level excl. LULUCF.
South Africa’s NDC is “premised on the adoption of a comprehensive, ambitious, fair, effective and binding multilateral rules-based agreement under the UNFCCC at the 21st conference of the Parties (COP21)” (Republic of South Africa, 2015). It also highlights that equity, economic and social development and poverty eradication are South Africa’s top priorities. To date, it is unknown how the government of South Africa interprets the Paris Agreement—which is the outcome of COP21—in terms of its ambition, fairness and effectiveness. As South Africa has signed and ratified the Paris Agreement, CAT thus interprets the South African NDC as an unconditional target.
Under the Copenhagen Accord, South Africa committed to reduce emissions below BAU by 34% in 2020, and by 42% in 2025, incl. LULUCF. The emissions level (excl. LULUCF) derived from South Africa’s pledge is 417–602 MtCO2e in 2020 and 417–633 MtCO2e by 2025. South Africa’s Copenhagen pledge is conditional on a fair, ambitious and effective agreement in the international climate change negotiations under the Climate Change Convention and the Kyoto Protocol and the provision of support from the international community.
South Africa’s aims to reduce GHG emissions to 212–428 MtCO2e by 2050 (incl. LULUCF). Excluding LULUCF, this long-term target is equivalent to 231–447 MtCO2e.
Depending on whether the low or high level of emissions range for 2025–2030 is analysed, South Africa’s NDC is categorised as “medium” or “inadequate.” We rate it “inadequate” based on the midpoint of the NDC range and due to the significant uncertainty of the target that is introduced by the large range. The “inadequate” rating indicates that South Africa’s commitment is not compatible with a range of interpretations of a “fair” approach in line with holding warming below2°C, let alone with the Paris Agreement’s stronger 1.5°C limit. If most other countries followed South Africa’s approach, global warming would exceed 3–4°C. The emissions reduction target should therefore be strengthened, for example to reflect South Africa’s responsibility to act based on its historical emissions, as well as South Africa’s relatively high emissions per capita. Similarly, we also rate South Africa’s Copenhagen pledge for 2020 “inadequate”.
Already implemented policies have so far had little effect on the emissions trend compared to BAU. Current policy-based projections are estimated to lead to an emissions level of 729 MtCO2e in 2020 excl. LULUCF. This is equivalent to a 110% increase in emissions from 1990 levels excl. LULUCF. For 2030, the current policy analysis suggests a further increase in emissions to 943 MtCO2e excl. LULUCF, representing a 172% increase in emissions compared to 1990 levels excl. LULUCF.
Historically, South Africa’s emissions have steadily increased. South Africa’s economy relies heavily on mining and. heavy industry. Energy consumption in the industrial and buildings sectors relies largely on electricity as an energy source, which is produced with high carbon intensity using domestic coal. 93% of South Africa’s electricity is generated from coal (IEA, 2016). Large amounts of coal are also liquefied: over 30% of South African gasoline and diesel needs are covered by liquefied coal (World Coal Association, 2015). Additional emissions come from industrial-process emissions, especially steel and cement production.
One of South Africa’s key policies to reduce emissions is through increased deployment of renewable energy. At the end of 2015, installed renewable capacity totalled 5.1 GW (IRENA, 2016). The Integrated Resource Electricity Plan (IRP) 2010–2030 aims to more than triple the installed renewable capacity to 17.8 GW by 2030. This figure is about a third of the 51 GW of electricity generation capacity from all sources (fossil fuel, nuclear and renewable) in 2015 (Republic of South Africa, 2016).
In 2012, the government replaced its feed-in-tariff scheme with the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (REIPPPP). This was originally intended to fund the procurement of 3.7 GW of renewable capacity up to 2016 through a bidding process. However, at the end of 2012, the REIPPPP was extended to fund a further 3.2 GW of capacity (DOE, 2013). As of June 2017 6.4 GW of renewable projects have been procured under the REIPPPP (Independent Power Producers Office, 2017). Despite the success of the REIPPPP in generating interest in renewable energy project development—with all bidding rounds significantly over-subscribed—there have been considerable delays in connecting the procured renewable projects to the grid. Eskom—South Africa’s grid operator and its largest utility company, which also owns the majority of the country’s coal-fired power plants—has stalled on signing power purchase agreements, which guarantee grid access for renewable energy projects (Groenewald, 2017). As of June 2017, Eskom has not yet signed such agreements with renewable energy projects procured under the fourth bidding window of the REIPPPP in 2015. This delay reduces the attractiveness of investments in renewable energy and may put the achievement of the renewable capacity target at risk.
Even if the growth in renewable energy proceeds as planned, it will not displace coal generation, as South Africa’s coal generation capacity is likely to grow at a similar rate to renewable energy. At the beginning of 2017, 7.94 GW of coal plants were under construction, with a further 6.29 GW in the pipeline (permitted, in the pre-permit development phase or announced) (Global Coal Plant Tracker, 2017). Under the IRP’s base case for 2030, coal generation will still account for 48% of capacity, while renewable generation will contribute to 21% (Republic of South Africa, 2013).
South Africa also plans a carbon tax. While the full carbon tax rate is proposed to be R120/tCO2e (US$8/tCO2e), after exemptions, the effective tax rate will be between R6–48/tCO2e (US$0.4–3/tCO2e) (World Bank, 2016). The implementation of the carbon tax has faced several setbacks and opposition from industry (Trollip and Boulle, 2017); it was initially scheduled to begin in 2015 but as of June 2017, the start date remains unclear (World Bank, 2017).
Finally, a post-2015 National Energy Efficiency Strategy (NEES) is under consideration to replace the first NEES adopted in 2005 (DOE, 2016). This strategy aims to build on the achievements of the first NEES, which saw higher than targeted improvements in energy intensity, by stimulating further energy efficiency improvements through a combination of financial incentives, legal and regulatory frameworks and enabling measures. It is expected to reduce economy-wide final energy consumption by 29% below 2015 levels by 2030.
To quantify the pledge, we used data provided by the South African government in their White Paper on Climate Change in 2011 (DEA, 2011a), as well as South Africa’s NDC (Republic of South Africa, 2015). To obtain the emission level excluding LULUCF, it was assumed that the LULUCF sector continues to represent a small net carbon sink with the emission level in 2030 equivalent to the average emissions from this sector over 2000 – 2010 (-19 MtCO2e).
Current policy projections
For historic emissions, we use the 2000 – 2010 GHG Inventory for South Africa (DEA, 2013). The current trend analysis is the “With Existing Measures” scenario developed by the Department of Environmental Affairs (2014). We assume a constant value for LULUCF in the future, which is based on the average LULUCF value over the period from 2000–2010.
Department of Energy (DOE) (2016). Draft Post-2015 National Energy Efficiency Strategy.
DOE (2013) Renewable Energy IPP Procurement Programme
DOE (2012), New bidding process for Renewable Technologies .
Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) (2015) Discussion Document: South Africa’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC)
DEA (2013), GHG Inventory for South Africa 2000 - 2010.
DEA (2012). South Africa's BAU.
DEA (2011a). Explanatory note: Defining South Africa’s Peak, Plateau and Decline Greenhouse Gas Emission Trajectory.
Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT) (2007). Long Term Mitigation Scenarios. Strategic Options for South Africa.
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Groenewald (2017). Dilly-dallying endangering SA's renewable programme.
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Republic of South Africa (2015). South Africa’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC).
Republic of South Africa (2013) Integrated Resource Plan for Electricity (IRP) 2010–2030: Update Report 2013.
Republic of South Africa (2011). National Climate Change Response White Paper (5 December, 2012).
Republic of South Africa (2010). South Africa's pledge to the Copenhagen Accord. Compiled in: Compilation of information on nationally appropriate mitigation actions to be implemented by Parties not included in Annex I to the Convention, UNFCCC (2011)
Trollip and Boulle (2017). Challenges associated with implementing climate change mitigation policy in South Africa.
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World Bank (2017). Carbon Pricing Watch 2017.
World Coal Association (2015). Coal to Liquids