Huge potential for South Africa’s energy transition by decarbonising power, transport and buildings: report

Press release

28 November 2018—South Africa has the potential to significantly reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by scaling up climate action in just three sectors, with positive impacts on access to urban mobility, improved housing and new employment opportunities, says a new analysis released today.

The three sectors—covering 50% of South Africa’s 2012 GHG emissions—electricity supply, urban passenger transport, and residential buildings, could each fully decarbonise around mid-century—in line with Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C temperature limit. This would result in total emissions reductions in South Africa of 17% below 2012 levels by 2050.

The analysis titled “Scaling Up Climate Action: South Africa”, submitted to the South African government’s Energy Plan consultation, has been undertaken by the Climate Action Tracker (CAT), as the first report in a series that looks at climate mitigation opportunities for various countries as governments consider increasing their Paris Agreement targets and submit their long-term low GHG emission development strategies, due by 2020 (1).

The CAT first looked at all emitting sectors in South Africa to identify opportunities for change, then focussed on three areas: electricity supply, urban passenger transport, and residential buildings.

“The South African Government’s proposed energy plan, if adopted, would be a very good first step in moving to a renewable energy system, but it needs to take more action to ensure a successful low-carbon transition by mid-century,” said Prof Niklas Höhne of NewClimate Institute.

That action should start with phasing out expensive and inefficient coal-based electricity generation, updating the grid infrastructure, and ramping up renewables deployment.”

Rapidly switching to a low-carbon electricity supply by mid-century in line with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5˚C warming limit is critical for change in other sectors—such as low-carbon electrification in urban passenger transport and in residential buildings.

The report found that urban passenger transport in three urban areas of Cape Town, Durban, and the Gauteng province whose emissions covered 25% of the transport sector in 2012 fully decarbonises by 2050 through shifting towards public modes of transport and increased electric mobility in a most ambitious scenario compatible with the Paris Agreement temperature goal.

Similarly, in the residential sector, energy efficiency gains through tighter building codes for new residential buildings, increased rates of thermal retrofits, and more efficient appliances can fully decarbonise the residential buildings sector by mid-century. Again, this relies on the electricity sector decarbonising.

“These transitions entail key opportunities to advance socially-just urban mobility and housing, while generating local employment opportunities and attenuating the adverse health effects of conventional forms of passenger transport and inappropriate housing,” said Thibaud Lemercier of Ecofys, a Navigant company.

The CAT also looked at the status of employment under the various scenarios, and found that making the switch away from coal would not cause job losses as new jobs in renewable energy and low-carbon industries would balance losses in coal mining. This highlights the need for a “just transition” for those communities affected by diminishing mining jobs.

“We found that South Africa switching from its current high carbon, coal-based electricity system to a low-carbon electricity supply by 2030 would provide jobs in technologies and sectors likely to form the core of future electricity supply, both at a domestic level, and globally,” said Bill Hare of Climate Analytics.

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