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South Africa In brief

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

Economy wide

A 1.5°C compatible domestic emissions pathway would require a 43% reduction below 2010 levels (or 304 MtCO₂e/yr by 2030), excluding LULUCF.

South Africaʼs total GHG emissions

excl. LULUCF MtCO₂e/yr

Displayed values
Reference year
Reference year
1.5°C emissions level
NDC (conditional)
Ambition gap
  • 1.5°C compatible pathways
  • Middle of the 1.5°C compatible range
  • Current policy projections
  • 1.5°C emissions range
  • Historical emissions

2030 NDC

In September 2021, the Government of South Africa submitted its updated nationally determined contribution which aims to reduce emissions 350-420 MtCO₂e/yr including LULUCF and conditional on international support by 2030. The updated NDC translates into emissions reductions of 20-33% below 2010 levels (or 366-436 MtCO₂e/yr excluding LULUCF).1 This is an increase in ambition compared to South Africa’s draft updated NDC circulated for public consultation in March 2021.2

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.

Long-term target

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.3,4

2050 Ambition

Our analysis of 1.5°C compatible pathways for South Africa shows a required reduction in total GHG emissions of 80-88% by 2050 from 2010 levels, when excluding LULUCF, or emissions of 65-107 MtCO₂e by 2050, more than half of the country’s current long-term target.28


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.



  • 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 2018.5
  • 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.
  • At COP26, a consortium of countries (South Africa, France, Germany, the UK, the USA and the EU) announced a financing partnership to support SA’s transition to a low carbon and climate resilient economy. By mobilising an initial $8.5 billion (R131 billion) over the next three to five years, the partnership aims to accelerate the decarbonisation of South Africa’s economy, and support development of new low-carbon sectors.6
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  • Direct emissions from the building sector made up 8% of total CO₂ emissions in 2020.
  • Analysed 1.5°C pathways show the building sector would need to be decarbonised between 2030 and 2041 with electrification (if produced by renewables) a critical driver of decarbonisation of the sector.
  • Current policies and measures such as mandatory energy efficiency codes and the Post-2015 National Energy Efficiency Strategy are unlikely to be sufficient to drive the necessary transformation of the sector.
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  • The transport sector accounted for 13% of total CO₂ emissions in 2017.
  • 1.5°C pathways analysis show that direct CO₂ emissions from transport would need to decrease between 51% and 77% (from 2019 levels) by 2030 and 75% to 100% by 2050, with electrification rate of South Africa’s transport sector reaching between 70% to 97% by 2050.
  • Current government transport strategy, aiming at a 5% reduction of emissions from the transport sector by 2050 is insufficient to achieve full decarbonisation by 2050.
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  • South Africa’s industry (process) emissions have decreased slowly since 1990 largely due to economic pressures, with little progress on decarbonising this sector. The main drivers of emissions in the Industry Processes and Product Use (IPPU) sector are the metal industries – principally the production of iron, steel and ferroalloys – and the mineral industries.
  • Achieving decarbonisation in line with the 1.5°C goal would require increasing the share of electricity (powered by renewable energy) used in the sector from 38% in 2019, to around 49% by 2030 and to between 69-82% by 2050.
  • When combined with hydrogen and biomass, electrification penetration could reach up to 95% by 2050.
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