South Africa

Overall rating
Policies & action
Almost Sufficient
< 2°C World
Domestic target
Almost Sufficient
< 2°C World
Fair share target
< 3°C World
Climate finance
Not assessed
Net zero target



Comprehensiveness not rated as

Information incomplete
Land use & forestry
Not significant

Paris Agreement targets

NDC description

South Africa’s updated NDC submitted in 2021 targets an absolute emissions level in the range of 350–420 MtCO2e including LULUCF for 2030 (Government of South Africa, 2021c). Assuming LULUCF remains at the average level over 2007–2017 (-16 MtCO2e), this NDC target range translates to emissions levels in 2030 of between 366–436 MtCO2e excluding LULUCF, equivalent to a 3–23% increase above 1990 levels excluding LULUCF.

The NDC document does not specifically mention whether the emissions range is an unconditional target, but the CAT interprets it as such. South Africa’s NDC assumes “that implementation and ambition will be enabled by finance and technology and capacity building support” (Government of South Africa, 2021c), similar to the previous NDC of 2016. It also highlights that equality, economic and social development and poverty eradication are South Africa’s top priorities.

The updated NDC of 2021 no longer makes reference to a peak-plateau-decline (PPD) trajectory, which foresaw South Africa’s emissions plateauing for approximately a decade between 2025 and 2035 and then declining in absolute terms towards 2050 (Government of South Africa, 2016).

The CAT rates South Africa's target as "Almost sufficient" when rated against modelled domestic pathways ("domestic target"), and "Insufficient" when rated against the fair share contribution ("fair share target"). South Africa does not specify a conditional target or an international element in its NDC, so we rate the unconditional target against the two rating frameworks.

Domestic target:
Almost Sufficient

We rate the proposed 2030 reduction target levels as “Almost sufficient” when compared to modelled emissions pathways. The “Almost sufficient” rating indicates that South Africa’s domestic target in 2030 is not yet consistent with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C temperature limit but could be with moderate improvements. If all countries were to follow South Africa’s approach, warming could be held at—but not well below—2°C.

Our methods do not provide a clear answer for the need for finance for South Africa. On balance, the CAT methodology shows that provision of a small but important amount of international support is consistent with the wide range of literature on fair share contributions to meeting the Paris Agreement's goals. However, South Africa currently relies on foreign investments and international finance support to implement a large percentage of its climate change programmes, and the government also emphasises in its updated NDC that the implementation of its NDC will be enabled by financial support as specified in the Paris Agreement.

The starting year for the modelled domestic pathways is 2015. The modelled domestic emissions pathways are based on regional scenarios and emissions in South Africa, as opposed to the region on average, are already stabilising. Because of this, the modelled domestic pathways deviate from the historical data and are higher in 2020.

Fair share target:

We rate South Africa’s 2030 NDC target as “Insufficient” when compared with its fair-share contribution to climate action. The “Insufficient” rating indicates that fair share target in 2030 need substantial improvements to be consistent with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C temperature limit. If all countries were to follow South Africa’s approach, warming would reach over 2°C and up to 3°C.

CAT interprets the full NDC target as unconditional. As South Africa only needs to reach its upper end of the target range to fulfil the NDC, we rate that emissions level. If South Africa committed to meeting the lower end of its target range, the rating would change to “Almost sufficient”, but close to the border to “1.5°C Paris Agreement compatible”, when compared to modelled domestic pathways, and to “Almost sufficient” when compared to the fair share contribution.

Further information on how the CAT rates countries (against modelled pathways and fair share) can be found here.

Last NDC update

South Africa submitted its updated NDC to the UNFCCC in September 2021 (Government of South Africa, 2021c). The updated NDC strengthened the country’s target range for 2030: the upper end is now 31% lower and the lower end 12% lower than in the previous NDC of 2016.

The Government of South Africa followed the recommendations of the South African Presidential Climate Commission from June 2021 (see our analysis here). The multi-stakeholder group established by President Ramaphosa provided advice on the country’s NDC update, proposing stronger 2030 targets, going beyond a first draft NDC published for public consultation in March 2021.

While the updated NDC increases South Africa’s climate ambition towards 2030 and increases clarity, transparency and understanding, the target range is not yet fully in line with the Paris Agreement 1.5˚C temperature goal as outlined above.

Under the CAT current policy projections, considering the potential impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic after almost two years into the pandemic, we estimate South Africa’s emissions will be well above the updated target range by 2030. The Government of South Africa could further strengthen and sustain existing policies mentioned in the updated NDC of 2021 and ensure their timely implementation, especially the 2019 Integrated Resource Plan and the Green Transport Strategy.

Net zero and other long-term target(s)

The updated NDC of 2021 no longer refers to a peak-plateau-decline (PPD) trajectory. The previous peak-plateau-decline (PPD) trajectory, outlined in South Africa’s South Africa’s Copenhagen Accord pledge, foresaw South Africa reducing GHG emissions to 212–428 MtCO2e by 2050 including LULUCF (Department of Environmental Affairs, 2018; Government of South Africa, 2010).

South Africa’s Long-Term Strategy submitted to the UNFCCC in October 2020 still refers to this PPD trajectory as a benchmark “in the absence of an agreed quantitative articulation of the vision” (Republic of South Africa, 2020).

The CAT no longer considers the previous 2050 target range an official long-term target for South Africa given it is no longer mentioned in the updated NDC of 2021 and merely used as a benchmark in the LTS of 2020.

In September 2019, President Ramaphosa announced the government would finalise a ‘Just Transition Plan’, “including defining a vision compatible with the 1.5 degree Paris Agreement temperature goal (Ramaphosa, 2019). South Africa also states its intention to commit to a net zero CO2 target (“net zero carbon emissions”) by 2050 as part of a visionary statement in its LTS (Republic of South Africa, 2020). In this context, the National Planning Commission is in the process of developing a common vision for South Africa in 2050 and will subsequently update its Low-Emission Development Strategy.

Given its preliminary nature, and the lack of more detailed information, the CAT currently does not evaluate South Africa’s net zero target. The CAT will do so once further information is communicated by the government.

2020 pledge

Under the Copenhagen Accord, South Africa committed to reduce emissions below BAU by 34% in 2020, and by 42% in 2025, incl. LULUCF (Government of South Africa, 2010). The emissions level derived from South Africa’s pledge is 414–599 MtCO2e excluding LULUCF in 2020.

Our CAT estimate for the 2020 emission levels suggests that the Government of South Africa managed to achieve its 2020 pledge. We compared the target range for 2020 to the latest CAT emissions estimate of 487 MtCO2e excluding LULUCF, accounting for the impact of COVID-19 on annual emission levels in 2020. The 2020 pledge would have very likely also been reached without any impact from the COVID-19 pandemic given the large target range and high upper bound.

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