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

Sectors

In this section we look at how the required reduction in greenhouse gas emissions can be achieved on a sector by sector basis and their policy implications.

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South Africaʼs total GHG emissions by sector

excl. LULUCF MtCO₂e/yr

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Energy
3403403933936565−120−120
Agriculture
5656535345453838
Industry (processes)
3131363625251313
Other
2000202020402060191934348899

South Africa’s power sector is dominated by coal (~90% in 2017). 1.5°C compatible pathways show the need to drastically reduce coal reliance by around 2030 to 10-14%. Similarly, carbon intensity would need to drop in the current decade from 900 gCO2/kWh to 80-150 gCO2/kWh by 2030.

South Africa’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP2019) aims to procure a total of 14,400 MW of Wind and 6000 MW of PV between 2022 and 2030, which would bring the annual energy generation of PV, Wind and concentrated solar power to approximately 24.7% of the power mix by 2030 – well short of the 78% and 90% required for a 1.5°C compatible pathway.16

While the IRP2019 outlines the decommissioning of several older coal plants, the commissioning of another 1500 MW of coal and 3000 MW of gas and diesel by 2030 is incompatible with bringing the carbon intensity of power production to zero.

Towards a fully decarbonised power sector

The carbon intensity of power production needs to reduce from 900 gCO2/kWh in 2017 to zero in 2035, and then contribute to negative emissions thereafter. Achieving this requires a far more ambitious decarbonisation plan than outlined in the IRP2019. This level of reduction requires coal to be phased out not later than 2033, and a share of renewable energy in power generation close to 100% by 2040.

Between 2011 and 2015 South Africa’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Procurement Programme (REIPPPP) added renewable energy to the power mix and drove down the cost of supply of electricity.10

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 Africaʼs power mix

terawatt-hour per year

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Scaling
Pathway
High energy demand - Low CDR reliance
201720302040205002004006008001 000
  • Negative emissions technologies via BECCS
  • Electricity
  • Nuclear and/or fossil with CCS
  • Biogas
  • Natural gas
  • Heat
  • Green hydrogen
  • Biofuel
  • Oil and e-fuels
  • Renewables incl. Biomass
  • Biomass
  • Coal
  • Unabated fossil
Select a reference pathway:

South Africaʼs power sector carbon intensity

gCO₂/kWh

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−20002004006008001 0002000202020402060
  • SSP1 - Low CDR reliance
  • 100%RE
  • SSP1 - High CDR reliance
  • High energy demand - Low CDR reliance
  • Historical emissions

1.5°C compatible power sector benchmarks

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Carbon intensity, renewable generation share, and fossil fuel generation share from illustrative 1.5°C pathways for South Africa

Indicator
2017
2030
2040
2050
Decarbonised power sector by
Carbon intensity of power
gCO₂/kwh
900
80 to 150
−120 to 0
−80 to −40
2036 to 2040
Relative to reference year in %
−92 to −83%
−114 to −100%
−109 to −105%
Indicator
2017
2030
2040
2050
Year of phase-out
Share of unabated gas
%
0 %
0%
0%
0%
Share of unabated coal
%
90 %
9 to 14%
0%
0%
2033
Share of renewable energy
%
4 %
78 to 90%
91 to 99%
96 to 100%
Share of unabated fossil fuel
%
90 %
10 to 14%
0 to 1%
0%

BECCS are the only Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) technologies considered in these benchmarks

All values are rounded

Footnotes