South Africa Emission Reduction Challenges

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Leading Emission Reduction Challenges: (a) Dependence on fossil fuels as energy sources; (b) Rising consumer and/or industrial demand for energy-intensive products

Current Greenhouse Gas Emission Levels

South Africa faces many challenges when it comes to reducing its GHG emissions. The most challenging remains it’s largely energy dependent economy. The South African economy is dependent on coal for 93% of its electricity generation, an energy-intensive industrial sector, and an energy sector responsible for 82% of total GHG emission (DEA, 2014). According to the latest draft National Greenhouse Gas Inventory that documents South Africa’s GHG emissions profile for the year 2010 and highlights trends for the 2000-2010 period- total GHG emissions have increased nearly 25%. Within the draft it was concluded that the increase in GHG stemmed largely from the energy and waste sectors that have increased from 75.1% to 78.7%, and 2.8% to 3.6% (DEA, 2014, p.68), respectively.

Emission Reduction Challenges

South Africa’s approach to mitigation is informed by two contexts: (1) its contribution as a responsible global citizen to the international effort to curb global emissions; and (2) its successful management of the development and poverty eradication challenges it faces.  With this, energy efficiency measures, the roll out of renewable forms of energy, and also a nuclear energy roll out are being considered as the best options in reducing GHG emissions. There are however major challenges that must be overcome to realize this, including issues of cost, lead times, and the speed with which low carbon options can be established. The historically low cost of electricity means that carbon intensive electricity is cheaper than any other source of power, which makes it difficult for renewable energy and energy efficient options to compete with coal based power. An additional challenge is for the country to identify alternative power sources most suitable for wide spread roll out in the country. For more information, see

Mitigation in the Energy Sector

Development in the energy sector has the biggest influence on GHG emissions. The key policy framework for the energy sector is contained in the 1998 White Paper on Energy, and the subsequent 2003 White Paper on Renewable Energy (DME, 2003). In 2005, the Energy Efficiency Strategy was formulated, which set a target for national improvement in energy efficiency of 12% by 2015 (DME, 2005)—however this was followed by very little implementation. Mitigation options in SA can be divided into three broad categories: (1) energy efficiency; (2) changing the fuel mix (moving to lower-or non-carbon emitting energy sources); and (3) structural changes to the economy which lower the energy intensity of the economy as a whole by shifting economic activity and investment to less energy-intensive sectors (Winkler & Marquand, 2009,p 55). Subsequently, key constraints in achieving implementation of the above can be grouped into three types: (1) markets, (2) institutions, and (3) lack of policy co-ordination. SA does not suffer greatly from a lack of technological capacity as do many other developing countries.  However, it does not pursue all projects with equal political will (Winkler & Marquand, 2009).

Key barriers to the development of energy efficient programs are low coal prices, and the uncertainty about the institutional structure of the electricity sector. There is no clarity under what terms the electricity sector would participate in a national effort to make SA more energy efficient; specifically there is uncertainty about the role that Eskom (the national public electric energy organization) will play.

As of yet, South Africa does not have a carbon tax but there is talk of its introduction within this year. The objective of a carbon tax would be to penalize companies and individuals that emit more carbon, and to reduce harmful GHG emissions. For more information, visit:

Overcoming Constraints

There is potential for international co-operation to assist with the removal of these constraints in the form of finance, technology, and capacity building. It is the view of many scholars that SA should use its own resources to support a range of mitigation options, but assistance on the more expensive options will be most needed if the country is to make a greater contribution to mitigation. A multilateral technology transfer facility can aid SA in promoting the ‘development and climate agenda’, addressing intellectual property rights barriers, accessing multilateral funding for technology development, and developing international technology standards, and research and development protocols (Winkler & Marquand. 2009, p 61). There also is a need for the training of officials and the seconding of experts to key strategic points in government. Although SA has significant technological capacity, external support in implementing certain types of mitigation projects would be useful.

Submitted by Climate Scorecard Country Manager Monique Classen


Useful Resources

DEA (Department of Environmental Affairs). 2013. Greenhouse gas inventory for South Africa 2000-2010. Pretoria, South Africa.

DME (Department of Minerals and Energy), 2003. Integrated Energy Plan for the Republic of South Africa. DME, Pretoria.

DME (Department of Minerals and Energy), 2005. Energy Efficiency Strategy of the Republic of South Africa. March 2005. Pretoria.

Winkler, H. and Marquand, A., 2009. Changing development paths: From an energy-intensive to low-carbon economy in South Africa. Climate and Development, 1(1), pp.47-65.


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