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

Ambition gap

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South Africaʼs total GHG emissions

excl. LULUCF MtCO₂e/yr

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Displayed values
Reference year
−120 %−100 %−80 %−60 %−40 %−20 %0 %20002020204020601234
  • 1.5°C compatible pathways
  • Middle of the 1.5°C compatible range
  • Current policy projections
  • 1.5°C emissions range
  • Historical emissions
  1. 1
    1.5°C emissions level
    −39 %
  2. 2
    NDC (conditional)
    −33 %
  3. 3
    Ambition gap
    −6 %
  4. 4
    Reference year
Key messages

Last updated: October 2021

In September 2021, the Government submitted its updated NDC of targeting 350-420 MtCO₂e/yr including LULUCF by 2030 and conditional on international support.

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.

24 Climate Action Tracker. South Africa’s Presidential climate commission recommends stronger mitigation target range for updated NDC: close to 1.5°C compatible | Climate Action Tracker. (2021).

South Africa’s updated NDC translates into emissions reductions of 20-33% below 2010 levels (or 366-436 MtCO₂e/yr excluding LULUCF).24 This is an increase in ambition compared to the South Africa’s draft updated NDC circulated for public consultation in March 2021.20

A 1.5°C compatible domestic emissions pathway 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
  1. 2030 78 to 90% Renewable share
  1. 2036-2040 Zero emissions power
  1. 2042 92 to 100% Renewable share