South Africa

Critically Insufficient4°C+
Commitments with this rating fall well outside the fair share range and are not at all consistent with holding warming to below 2°C let alone with the Paris Agreement’s stronger 1.5°C limit. If all government targets were in this range, warming would exceed 4°C.
Highly insufficient< 4°C
Commitments with this rating fall outside the fair share range and are not at all consistent with holding warming to below 2°C let alone with the Paris Agreement’s stronger 1.5°C limit. If all government targets were in this range, warming would reach between 3°C and 4°C.
Insufficient< 3°C
Commitments with this rating are in the least stringent part of their fair share range and not consistent with holding warming below 2°C let alone with the Paris Agreement’s stronger 1.5°C limit. If all government targets were in this range, warming would reach over 2°C and up to 3°C.
2°C Compatible< 2°C
Commitments with this rating are consistent with the 2009 Copenhagen 2°C goal and therefore fall within the country’s fair share range, but are not fully consistent with the Paris Agreement. If all government targets were in this range, warming could be held below, but not well below, 2°C and still be too high to be consistent with the Paris Agreement 1.5°C limit.
1.5°C Paris Agreement Compatible< 1.5°C
This rating indicates that a government’s efforts are in the most stringent part of its fair share range: it is consistent with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C limit.
Role model<< 1.5°C
This rating indicates that a government’s efforts are more ambitious than what is considered a fair contribution: it is more than consistent with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C limit.


Current policy projections are estimated to reach emissions levels of 530 to 536 MtCO2e in 2020 excluding LULUCF. This is equivalent to a 50% increase in emissions from 1990 levels excluding LULUCF. For 2030, the current policy analysis suggests a further increase in emissions to 471 - 493 MtCO2e, excluding LULUCF, representing an 33% to 39% increase in emissions above 1990 levels. South Africa thus overachieve the upper range of its NDC target. In this context, South Africa can consider downward revising its target for 2030 to be resubmitted to the UNFCCC as part of the Paris Agreement’s ambition raising cycle of 2020.

Historically, South Africa’s emissions have steadily increased, but have recently stagnated due to a slowdown of the economy. This reflects in a reduced energy consumption in industry, and a stagnation in process emissions from the mineral, metal and chemical industries. Further, methane emissions from enteric fermentation and manure management have decreased. The industrial and building sectors rely on electricity as their source of energy, which is produced with domestic coal: 90% of South Africa’s electricity was generated from coal in 2017 (IEA, 2019a). 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), a highly emissions intensive product.

The main liquefaction plant (“Secunda”) alone, owned by Sasol, emitted 58 MtCO2e in 2018 (Sasol Limited, 2019), about 10% of South Africa’s national emissions. South African regulation supports such production by indexing the price of liquefied fuels to the international market oil price (Villiers, 2019).

The Republic of South Africa’s National Development Plan (NDP), to be updated in 2020, provides a 2030 vision on sustainable development, eliminating poverty and reducing inequalities (National Planning Commission, 2012). The 2011 National Climate Change Response Policy (NCCRP) further elaborates this 2030 vision. There are various sectoral plans, of which the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) for electricity is South Africa’s main policy affecting GHG emissions (see ‘Energy supply’ section below).

South Africa approved a carbon tax in February 2019 covering fossil fuel combustion emissions, industrial processes and product use emissions, and fugitive emissions such as those from coal mining (Climate Home News, 2019; Reuters, 2019). The tax was implemented in June 2019 (KPMG, 2019), despite it previously having faced several setbacks and opposition from industry since first being proposed in 2010 (Trollip & Boulle, 2017).

A basic tax-free threshold for around 60% of emissions and additional allowances for specific sectors would result in tax exemptions for up to 95% of emissions during the first phase until 2022. While the full carbon tax rate is proposed to be R120/tCO2e (US$ 8/tCO2e), after exemptions, the effective tax rate is expected to be between R6–48/tCO2e (US$ 0.4–3/tCO2e) (KPMG, 2019). The Carbon Tax implementation will be accompanied by a package of tax incentives and revenue recycling measures to minimise the impact of the first phase of the policy (up to 2022) on the price of electricity and energy intensive sectors including mining, iron and steel (EY, 2017, 2018).

South Africa released a draft Climate Change Bill in June 2018, which was open for public consultation until the beginning of August 2018 (Department of Environmental Affairs, 2018b). The Government has not yet communicated a timeline for the law’s final adoption as of October 2019. The draft law aims for the establishment of a Ministerial Committee on Climate Change to oversee and coordinate the activities across all sector departments. Under the proposed legislation, the Minister of Environmental Affairs together with the Ministerial Committee on Climate Change would have to set sectoral emission targets (SETs) for each GHG emitting sector and in line with the national emission target every five years and carbon budgets will be allocated to significant GHG emitting companies. Carbon budgets will put a cap on emissions and make it mandatory for companies to constraint their emissions.

Energy supply

One of South Africa’s key policies to reduce emissions is through increased deployment of renewable energy. At the end of 2018, installed renewable capacity totalled 6.1 GW (IRENA, 2019).

Introduced in 2010, the Integrated Resource Electricity Plan (IRP) 2010–2030 is the government’s capacity expansion plan for the electricity sector until 2050 (Department of Energy, 2011), which contains targets for all technologies, including renewable energy technologies.

The IRP sets an overall emissions constraint of 275 MtCO2/year for electricity generation after 2024, meaning that the total emissions from electricity generation should not be higher than this threshold; this has been an important instrument supporting the inclusion of RE capacity targets.

The IRP2019 increases the installed renewable capacity five-fold by 2030 compared to today, to 31.2 GW. This figure is about a third of the electricity generation from all sources (fossil fuel, nuclear and renewable) in 2030 (Department of Energy, 2019).

Historically, electricity generation in South Africa has been among the most carbon-intensive in the world (see graph below).

Electricity emissions intensity

In October 2019, the Cabinet finally passed IRP2019 (Department of Energy, 2019). The recent approval of the IRP is a very positive signal to actively shape the future of South Africa’s power sector, after struggling for years to update the original document from 2010. The IRP2019 is similar to the draft for comment released in August 2018, but further increases the role of wind and hydro energy.

The revised plan aims to decommission over 35 GW (of 42 GW currently operating) of Eskom’s coal generation capacity by 2050. Interim steps are 5.4 GW by 2022 and 10.5 GW by 2030. The 5.7 GW of coal capacity currently under construction would be completed and another 1.5 GW of new coal capacity would be commissioned by 2030. Recent analysis suggests that these planned coal power plants will be significantly more expensive than their low-carbon alternatives (Ireland & Burton, 2018; Paton, 2018). Coal capacity additions are not in line with a decarbonisation of the global power sector to meet the Paris Agreement targets, where no new coal fired power plants should be added as of today and the world needs to phase out coal by 2040 (Kuramochi et al., 2018; Yanguas Parra et al., 2019). The significant volume of coal capacity to be decommissioned by 2030 and beyond marks a significant shift away from previous planning under President Jacob Zuma’s former government.

At the same time, the IRP2019 expects renewables-based power generation capacity from wind and solar to significantly increase by 2030 (an additional 15.8 GW for wind and 7.4 GW for solar by 2030).

The government’s IRP2019 includes no new nuclear capacity procurement but suggests extending the operational lifetime of the Koeberg power plant by 20 years, which was earlier expected to retire in 2024. The original IRP 2010 aimed to build 9.6 GW of new nuclear capacity.

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. At the end of 2012, the REIPPPP was extended to fund a further 3.2 GW of capacity (Department of Energy, 2013). By June 2019, 6.4 GW of renewable projects have been procured under the REIPPPP (Independent Power Producers Office, 2019).

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 most of the country’s coal-fired power plants—together with the Department of Public Enterprises and the Department of Energy had stalled on signing power purchase agreements, which guarantee grid access for renewable energy projects (Groenewald, 2017; Njobeni, 2018b).

A new bid round for renewable energy projects was announced in June 2018 by Energy Minister Jeff Radebe to launch in November 2018 with an estimated 1,800 MW in renewable energy capacity and a potential investment volume of up to USD 3.95 billion (R 50 billion) (Njobeni, 2018a; Reuters, 2018). In autumn of 2019, Eskom has taken first steps to expand its renewable portfolio, by tendering a 50 kW of solar inverters, and preparing a tender for a 1.4 GW battery storage facility (Bellini, 2019; Deign, 2019). Eskom’s ongoing financial solvency issues still exposes the future of the REIPPP and PPAs to high uncertainty.

Given Eskom’s substantial financial, structural, and operational challenges, President Ramaphosa appointed an Eskom Sustainability Task Team in December 2018 (Reporter, 2018). The task team will review the Eskom’s recently submitted turnaround strategy, assess the appropriateness of the current Eskom business model and structure, and provide recommendations on resolving the debt burden and on how to reposition Eskom going forward.

In October 2019, the Finance Ministry increased the sum of the bailouts for Eskom to 138 billion rand, 10 billion rand more than previously allocated, increasing the pressure on the national budget (Cohen, 2019).

A post-2015 National Energy Efficiency Strategy (NEES) is under consideration to replace the first NEES adopted in 2005 (Department of Energy, 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.


Policy and planning documents for the South African industry sector generally address sustainable industrial economic development but barely mention mitigation targets for the industry sector or concrete measures for implementation. The post-2015 National Energy Efficiency Strategy (NEES) currently under consideration proposes industrial sector targets that would reduce the weighted mean specific energy consumption in manufacturing by a meagre 16% by 2030 and to realise a total of 40 PJ in cumulative annual energy saving by 2030 arising from specific energy saving interventions undertaken by mining companies (Department of Energy, 2016). Energy use from the mining and quarrying sector amounted to 185 PJ in 2015 (IEA, 2017a).

The South African government intends to achieve these targets through implementing several proposed measures such as the National Cleaner Production Centre South Africa (NCPC-SA) that promotes energy efficiency measures, its associated Industrial Energy Efficiency Project (IEE) that promotes energy management systems, or the Green Fund South Africa that financially supports green technology research and implementation. However, these measures may only induce small emissions reduction impacts. There are no signs of policy-driven emissions reductions in the near future for emissions-intensive subsectors as steel production and mining in context of the ongoing economic stagnation in South Africa.


The Department of Transport recently published the country’s first Green Transport Strategy (GTS) 2018–2050 (Department of Transport South Africa, 2018) with a list of measures that should be implemented to transition the sector to a low carbon future.

The Biofuels Industrial Strategy, which falls under the Petroleum Products Act, mandates biofuel blending of 2%–10% for bio-ethanol and a minimum of 5% for biodiesel from 2015 onwards. Even though this policy on the mandatory blending of biofuels has been legally put into force, as of 2019 it has not been enforced, mainly due to concerns over the impact of large-scale biofuels production on food security and financial support for biofuels (Fundira & Henley, 2017). Due to a lack of implementation, the mandatory blending of biofuels has not been included in our current policy projections. If the policy targets were to be met, they would lower emissions by up to 2.7 MtCO2e/a from 2025 onward.

South Africa introduced other road transport-related policies such as vehicle fuel economy norms for newly manufactured passenger and commercial vehicles (in 2005), vehicle labelling scheme (in 2008), and a carbon emissions motor vehicles tax as an environmental levy on passenger vehicles with emission levels above certain thresholds (in 2010). Under the GTS 2018–2050, the Department of Transport currently states its intention to revise the level of vehicle fuel economy standards (Department of Transport, 2017b).

South Africa’s Electric Vehicle Industry Roadmap (2013) aims to introduce electric passenger vehicles. However, as of February 2018, no local manufacturing or purchasing incentives for local manufactures have been introduced under the roadmap. The total number of such vehicles sold in South Africa remains marginal with only 170 registered vehicles in South Africa in 2015 and an increase to about 500 in 2017 (IEA, 2016; Snyman, 2017). Recently introduced Bus Rapid Transit Systems (BRT) have initiated the main switch in modal share of passenger transport in urban areas. These have commenced operation or are currently under consideration in public transportation planning in several South African urban areas (Department of Transport, 2017a). Initiatives to implement and expand BRT systems are currently taking place in eight cities and municipalities.


South Africa has implemented several building regulations and codes on energy efficiency and usage in buildings for new buildings and major refurbishments of old buildings (Sustainable Energy Africa, 2017). The South African government has introduced some energy efficiency and labelling requirements for household applications and a five-year retrofit project to retrofit 1,450 buildings with energy efficient installations (Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, 2017). The draft Post-2015 National Energy Efficiency Strategy foresees reductions of the final energy consumption by 33% in the residential sector and 37% in the public and commercial sector by 2030, compared to the 2015 baseline (Department of Energy, 2016).

Buildings emissions intensity (per capita)

South Africa has made significant improvements by increasing the buildings energy efficiency per square metre, while the buildings emissions intensity per capita is only slowly decreasing (see chart above). The move away from biomass use for cooking and heating towards the use of more modern appliances that require electricity, which, in turn, is largely generated by fossil fuels, might significantly increase indirect emissions. Although retrofitting rates in the residential and commercial buildings sector are still comparatively low, green retrofitting of existing buildings is expected to be the largest sector of the green building industry in South Africa within the next three years (World Green Building Council, 2016a). It is expected that the proportion of green buildings in South African building activity will increase over the next years due to cheaper operations costs and higher returns on investments compared to conventional buildings (GBCSA, 2017; World Green Building Council, 2016b). The trend towards more energy efficient buildings has been accelerating. A pending regulation on stricter building and appliances standards and certifications could potentially further stimulate this trend (Sustainable Energy Africa, 2017).


There is a limited number of policies in South Africa’s agricultural and forestry sector targeted at climate change mitigation. The 2nd Biennial Update Report specifies two Long Term Mitigation Strategy (LTMS) measures on enteric fermentation and reduced tillage (Department of Environmental Affairs, 2017; Winkler, 2007). However, there is no information on their state of implementation.

The National Climate Change Response Policy further names climate smart agriculture (CSA) as a practice “that lowers agricultural emissions, is more resilient to climate changes, and boosts agricultural production” (Government of South Africa, 2011). A number of CSA activities are already in place in South Africa (Nciizah & Wakindiki, 2015), but their expected or actual mitigation impacts are not reported.

Agriculture emissions intensity in South Africa (GHG emissions per value added) has been declining significantly over the last decade and reached 1.73 tCO2e/thousand USD in 2014 compared to 3.13 tCO2e/thousand USD in 1995 (Climate Action Tracker, 2018). However, emissions intensity is still significantly above the world average of 1.25 tCO2e/thousand USD in 2014. Total GHG emissions from livestock declined by 5.6% between 2000–2012, attributed to the decline in cattle populations. However, the total livestock population over this period increased by 29.8% due to large growth in the poultry industry with low enteric fermentation emissions (Department of Environmental Affairs, 2016). Domestic meat production of 159 g/cap/day in 2013 remains comparatively high compared to the world average of 117 g/cap/day in 2013.

Agriculture activity (meat production) and agriculture emissions intensity


There are only a limited number of mitigation related policy measures in South Africa’s forestry sector. The 2nd Biennial Update Report lists work programmes on fire prevention, water, and wetlands, as well as a Long Term Mitigation Strategy (LTMS) measure on afforestation to plant an additional 760,000 ha of commercial forests by 2030 (Department of Environmental Affairs, 2017; Winkler, 2007). No information on their state of implementation is provided.

According to national data, the forestry sector has been a net sink over the period from 2000 to 2012, no official national data is available for later years (Department of Environmental Affairs, 2016), nor are projections1. In the inventory, crops and grasslands are sources of emissions, however, those are overcompensated by a sink from forest lands. Opposed to national data, FAO Statistics show a small emissions source for the land use sector in total, stable over the last two decades at around 2 MtCO2e (FAOSTAT, 2017).

Given the importance of the timber industry, the area of woody crops has almost doubled since the early 1990s, and stabilised over the last decade (FAOSTAT, 2017). However, at the same time, the overall forest area has continuously decreased (Department of Environmental Affairs South Africa, 2014; FAOSTAT, 2017). The planted trees are non-domestic species, and concerns about their negative impacts on water resources have been raised (Bosch & von Gadow, 1990).

The reason forests are a net sink despite decreasing forested area may be that the carbon content of the planted forests compared to the deforested area is higher. However, with different and contradicting data sources available, it is unclear whether this is the reason for this apparent mismatch, or whether there are methodological issues in the inventory.

1 | South Africa’s Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Potential Analysis excludes the sector and states “there is not sufficient evidence to be able to predict a change in either case so no sequestration is provided for (positive or negative)” (Department of Environmental Affairs, 2014b).

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