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What is South Africaʼs pathway to limit global warming to 1.5°C?

In brief

This is a summary of the most important findings of our analysis. Get a brief overview over the most important figures and entry points into the various parts of the in depth analysis.

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Ambition gap

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South Africaʼs total GHG emissions

excl. LULUCF MtCO₂e/yr

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Displayed values
Reference year
−100 %−50 %0 %200020202040206012345
  • 1.5°C compatible pathways
  • Middle of the 1.5°C compatible range
  • Current policy projections
  • 1.5°C emissions range
  • Historical emissions
Legend
  1. 1
    1.5°C emissions level
    −39 %
  2. 2
    NDC (unconditional)
    −24 %
  3. 3
    Proposed 2021 NDC
    −24 %
  4. 4
    Ambition gap
    −15 %
  5. 5
    Reference year
    2010
Key messages

South Africa’s updated draft NDC reduces the upper end of its target in 2030 to 440 MtCO2e/yr including LULUCF, while leaving the lower end unchanged.1,2 This means that South Africa’s updated NDC range is from 17% to 25% reduction below 2010 levels including LULUCF.22

1 Department of Environment Forestry and Fisheries. Proposed updated Nationally Determined Contribution. (2021).

2 Climate Action Tracker. South Africa | Target Update Tracker. (2021).

3 Climate Action Tracker. South Africa 2020. Climate Action Tracker. (2020).

4 Department of Energy. Integrated Resource Plan (IRP2019). (2019).

5 Republic of South Africa. South Africa’s Low-Emission Development Strategy 2050. (2020).

6 Department of Environmental Affairs. South Africa’s 3rd Biennial Update Report to the United Nations Framework Convention On Climate Change. (2019).

7 Climate Transparency Report. South Africa. (2020).

8 Department of Environment Forestry and Fisheries. Draft 7th National Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report for the Republic of South Africa for public comment. Government Gazette. (2020).

9 Department of Energy. SA Energy Sector Report 2019. (2019).

10 Eberhard, A. & Naude, R. Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme. (2017).

11 Government of South Africa. South Africa’s Low-Emission Development Strategy. (2020).

12 South African Revenue Service. Latest on the impact of COVID-19 on SARS. (2020).

13 Government of South Africa. National Climate Change Response White Paper. (2014).

14 Department of Environmental Affairs. South Africa’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC). (2016).

15 Department of Environmental Affairs. South Africa’s 2nd Annual Climate Change Report. Department of Environmental Affairs vol. 3. (2016).

16 Department of Energy. Draft Post-2015 National Energy Efficiency Strategy for public comment. (2016).

17 Department of Transport. Green Transport Strategy for South Africa (2018-2050). (2018).

18 Surridge, A. D. et al. CCUS Progress in South Africa. in _15th International Conference on Greenhouse Gas Control Technologies (GHGT-15). (2021).

19 Values are expressed in Global Warming Potential (GWP) from the Second Assessment Report (SAR).

20 Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment. Proposed updated Nationally Determined Contribution: South Africa’s first Nationally Determined Contribution under the Paris Agreement. (2021).

21 It is not clear to us which Global Warming Potential (GWP) is used to calculate the 398-440 MtCO2 range. Our analysis assumes these figures are based on AR4 values.

22 Based on the Climate Action Tracker – South Africa Assessment.

23 While global cost-effective pathways assessed by the IPCC Special Report 1.5°C provide useful guidance for an upper-limit of emissions trajectories for developed countries, they underestimate the feasible space for such countries to reach net zero earlier. The current generation of models tend to depend strongly on land-use sinks outside of currently developed countries and include fossil fuel use well beyond the time at which these could be phased out, compared to what is understood from bottom-up approaches. The scientific teams which provide these global pathways constantly improve the technologies represented in their models – and novel CDR technologies are now being included in new studies focused on deep mitigation scenarios meeting the Paris Agreement. A wide assessment database of these new scenarios is not yet available; thus, we rely on available scenarios which focus particularly on BECCS as a net-negative emission technology. Accordingly, we do not yet consider land-sector emissions (LULUCF) and other CDR approaches.

South Africa’s 2016 NDC targets emissions levels of 398-614 MtCO2e/yr including LULUCF by 2030, which translates to 15% above to -24% below 2010 levels (or 414-630 MtCO2e/yr excluding LULUCF).3

South Africa’s NDC does not specify whether its NDC is conditional on international support however it highlights the need for financial support to implement its target. 1.5°C compatible domestic pathways would require a 39% reduction below 2010 levels (or 334 MtCO2e/yr by 2030), excluding LULUCF.

South Africa’s Low Emissions Development Strategy (LEDS) targets an emissions level of 212-428 MtCO2e/yr including LULUCF by 2050, translating to 229-445 MtCO2e/yr excluding LULUCF or 19-58% below 2010 levels.3,5

Our analysis of 1.5°C compatible pathways for South Africa shows a required reduction in total GHG emissions of 76-87% by 2050 from 2010 levels, when excluding LULUCF, or emissions of 72-134 MtCO2e by 2050, more than half of the country’s current long-term target.23

A comprehensive restructuring of South Africa’s economy away from its historical dependence on fossil fuels is required to reach a 1.5°C compatible emissions trajectory.

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Key messages

As the largest emitting sector, the power sector will be critical in the decarbonisation of the South African economy. For the sector to be on a 1.5°C compatible pathway it would need to phase out coal by 2033, and be fully decarbonised by 2035-2040. To achieve this phase out would require very substantial just transition measures given the high workforce involved in the coal sector.

The country’s electricity plan (IRP2019) does not include a near-term phase out of coal, instead it commissions another 1.5 GW of new capacity, which by 2030 would see coal make up 43% of total installed generation capacity, down from 65.5% in 2018.4

South Africa has huge renewables potential, in particular for solar and wind power. While the proposed procurement of 6800 MW of renewables in the IRP2019 is promising, renewable power generation to date (4% in 2017) falls far short of what is required to reach 1.5°C compatibility: 78-90% by 2030 and 96-100% by 2050. Current plans to decommission ageing coal plants are insufficient and undermined by plans for new fossil fuel capacity.

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Key power sector benchmarks

Renewables shares and year of zero emissions power Including the use of BECCS

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Current targets
Required targets
2030
  1. 2030 78 to 90% Renewable share
2036
  1. 2036-2040 Zero emissions power
2042
  1. 2042 92 to 100% Renewable share

Footnotes