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South Africa Current situation

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

Emissions profile

Between 2000 and 2015 the average annual growth of South Africa’s net GHG emissions (including Forestry and Other Land Uses) was 1.43%, with the energy sector being the dominant contributor (78% of emissions in 2017).7 South Africa’s GHG emissions are predominantly CO₂ from fuel combustion, while Methane (CH₄) and Nitrous Oxide (N₂O) combined constitute less than a quarter of emissions.7 The power sector produces 38% of total GHG emissions (excluding LULUCF), followed by industry (energy use), transport and buildings sectors.8

Mining, mineral beneficiation and coal-to-liquid fuel processing industries are the main drivers of industry energy-related CO₂ emissions, which are directly related to the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels. These industries accounted for approximately 17% of total GHG emissions in 2017.

The LULUCF sector provided a small, but increasing sink for emissions between 2009 and 2017 due to increasing forest cover and a decline in wood losses, due to increasing electrification.9

1 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).

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

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

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

5 Department of Energy, S. A. Integrated Resource Plan (IRP2019). (2019).

6 The Presidency of the Republic of South Africa. Political Declaration on the Just Energy Transition in South Africa. (2021).

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

8 Climate Analytics. Climate Transparency Report – South Africa. (2020).

9 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).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

20 United Nations. World Urbanisation Prospects. (2018) doi:978-92-1-151517-6.

21 International Energy Agency (IEA). IEA Data and Statistics, Data Browser. World Energy Outlook. (2021).

22 Cilliers, Z. & Euston-Brown, M. Aiming for Zero-Carbon New Buildings in South African metros., (2018).

23 Department of Forestry Fisheries and the Environment. South Africa’s 4th Biennial Update Report To the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. (2021).

24 Department of Forestry Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE). National GHG Inventory Report South Africa 2017. (2021).

25 Statistics South Africa. Economy slips into recession. (2019).

26 Statistics South Africa. Third wave of COVID and civil disorder pummel economy as GDP falls by 1,5%. (2020).

27 Statistics South Africa. National Household Travel Survey (NHTS) 2020. (2020).

28 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 Africaʼs current GHG emissions


Displayed values

By sector

  • Power
  • Industry (energy use)
  • Transport
  • Buildings
  • Fugitive emissions
  • Other
  • Agriculture
  • Industry (processes)
  • Waste
Energy (78%)⟵ LULUCF negative emissions

By gas

  • CO₂
  • CH₄
  • N₂O
  • Other

Sectors by gas

Industry (processes)

Energy system

South Africa’s primary energy supply is dominated by domestic coal, crude oil (mostly imported), renewables, gas and nuclear.10 Despite a rapid increase in renewables driven by early rounds of the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (REIPPPP), the proportion of renewables in the overall energy mix remains a tiny ~6.8% in 2017, while around 75% of total primary energy supply is from coal.8,11

Historically, the development of South Africa’s economy was driven by the exploitation of cheap coal. Energy intensive industries like iron, steel, chemicals, petrochemicals and mining still dominate its energy demand profile. The industry and transport sectors together consumed about 70% of energy supplied in 2016.10

On October 2020 the government announced a post-covid economic recovery plan. This plan does not support low carbon development, as the it continues support for carbon-intensive sectors like coal, oil and gas, and mining.3

Targets and commitments

Economy-wide targets

Target type

Fixed level target

NDC target

2021 updated NDC:

  • A medium-term goal of 398-510 MtCO₂e/yr (incl. LULUCF) between 2020 and 2025.
  • 350-420 MtCO₂e/yr (incl. LULUCF) between 2025 and 2030 which translates in 366-436 MtCO₂e/yr (excl. LULUCF) or 20-33% below 2010 by 2030 (excl. LULUCF).1
  • Conditional on international support.

Market mechanism

  • Not stipulated in 2021 NDC.
  • The Carbon Tax Act came into effect on 1 June 2019, implementing an effective (taking into account offsets and allowances) carbon tax rate ranging from R6 to R48 per tonne of CO₂e emitted. By design it will not have any impact on the price of electricity during the first phase (ending December 2022) and payment of the first tax installment was deferred by three months (to 31 October 2020) as a pandemic relief measure.12,13

Long-term target

  • South Africa’s Low Emissions Development Strategy (LEDS) targets an emissions level of 212-428 MtCO₂e/yr (incl. LULUCF) by 2050, translating to 229-445 MtCO₂e/yr (excl. LULUCF) or 21-59% below 2010 by 2050 (excl. LULUCF).3,14,15

Sector coverage


Greenhouse gas coverage


Sectoral targets


  • The Post-2015 National Energy Efficiency Strategy contains sector specific energy efficiency targets for industry, transport, public and commercial buildings, and agriculture to be achieved by 2030, but does not convert these into explicit emission reduction targets.7,17


  • No quantified sectoral target available.


  • No quantified sectoral target available.


  • No quantified sectoral target available.

Note: In its 2nd National Communication (2016/7), South Africa announced ‘Sector Emission Targets’ (SETs) – previously known as ‘Desired Emission Reduction Outcomes’. SETs will be quantified in rolling five year phases which will be reviewed and updated at the end of each phase. South Africa’s emission reduction system entered its second phase in 2021.16


  • The 2019 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) – the government’s capacity expansion plan for the electricity sector – introduced a carbon budget approach to constrain emissions from the sector to a cumulative 5470 MtCO₂ in the years leading up to 2050.


  • In its Green Transport Strategy: 2018-2050 the Department of Transport committed to a 5% reduction of emissions in the transport sector by 2050.18


  • No quantified sectoral target available.


  • No quantified sectoral target available.