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South Africa Sectors

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

South Africa is predominantly reliant on road travel for passengers and freight within and between its major metropoles and trade centres. This has resulted in the sector producing just over 13% of the country’s total CO₂ emissions (in 2017). Emissions increased from approximately 0.041 MtCO₂ in 2000 to 0.055 MtCO₂ in 2017.23

The transport sector is dominated by the use of fossil fuel-derived liquid fuels. The share of electricity and biofuels is minimal and there is no infrastructure to introduce hydrogen. In 2020, 78% of passenger transport was by road, with electric vehicles (EVs) making up only 0.06% of car sales.27

To achieve a 1.5°C compatible pathway, the transport sector’s fossil fuel reliance would need to be dramatically reduced for emissions to decline 51% to 77% from 2019 levels by 2030. However, the South African Department of Transport has only committed to a 5% emissions reduction from the transport sector by 2050.18

The 1.5°C scenarios analysed show a wide range of pathways leading to decarbonisation of the sector occurring between 2037 and 2062. Higher range of electricity penetration leads to a quicker decarbonisation of the sector (Low Energy Demand scenario). This pace of decarbonisation would only be possible with a rapid scaling up of the use of electricity, produced by renewables, in the sector (to between 70% to 97% by 2050).

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 transport 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 transport sector direct CO₂ emissions (of energy demands)


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

1.5°C compatible transport sector benchmarks

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

Decarbonised transport sector by
Direct CO₂ emissions
13 to 28
2 to 18
0 to 14
2037 to 2062
Relative to reference year in %
−77 to −51%
−97 to −69%
−100 to −75%
Share of electricity
11 to 85
40 to 95
70 to 97
Share of biofuels
1 to 18
2 to 14
3 to 10
Share of hydrogen
2 to 16
7 to 45
9 to 50