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South Africa Sectors

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

In 2020, over 67% of the population lived in urban areas and by 2050 that number is projected to reach nearly 80%.20 South Africa faces the dual challenge of urbanisation and the imperative of building proper housing for existing inhabitants of the cities. The residential sector’s share of total final energy consumption has decreased slightly from about 20% in 1990 to 18% in 2019, whereas public and commercial share has increased from 4.7% to 7.7% in the same time.21 Direct emissions from the building sector made up 8% of total CO₂ emissions in 2020.8

Our analysis indicates that to achieve a 1.5°C compatible pathway the buildings sector would need to be decarbonised between 2030 and 2041. For this to be possible, electrification (produced using renewables) would need to be upscaled from 33% in 2019 to over 90% by 2050. Hydrogen is not likely to play a role before 2030 and is projected to remain under 5% of the total mix in the sector thereafter.

Mandatory energy efficiency codes have been introduced for new residential and non-residential buildings, but not for existing buildings. Building inefficient, poorly designed buildings in the present locks in future high energy use as buildings can have a lifespan of between 40-120 years.22 The Post-2015 National Energy Efficiency Strategy provides targets for energy consumption reductions relative to 2015 levels: a 50% reduction in public buildings, 30% in residential building stock, and 37% in the commercial sector.23

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 energy mix in the buildings sector

petajoule per year

SSP1 Low CDR reliance
20192030204020501 000
SSP1 High CDR reliance
20192030204020501 000
Low Energy Demand
20192030204020501 000
High Energy Demand - Low CDR reliance
20192030204020501 000
  • Oil and e-fuels
  • Coal
  • Natural gas
  • Biomass
  • Biofuel
  • Biogas
  • Hydrogen
  • Electricity
  • Heat

South Africaʼs buildings sector direct CO₂ emissions (of energy demands)


  • Historical emissions
  • Low Energy Demand
  • SSP1 Low CDR reliance
  • SSP1 High CDR reliance

1.5°C compatible buildings sector benchmarks

Direct CO₂ emissions and direct electrification rates from illustrative 1.5°C pathways for South Africa

Decarbonised buildings sector by
Direct CO₂ emissions
1 to 8
0 to 4
0 to 2
2030 to 2041
Relative to reference year in %
−98 to −75%
−100 to −89%
−100 to −95%
Share of electricity
64 to 94
81 to 99
90 to 99
Share of heat
0 to 1
Share of hydrogen
0 to 4
0 to 4
0 to 5