South Africa Checkup

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South Africa—Falling Behind

The South African government has not made much progress in promulgating legislation to tackle carbon emissions. Its most important policy instrument—the carbon tax—has been on the table for a decade. No date is set for its implementation. South Africa’s power utility, Eskom, is the largest CO2 emitter in the country, because it is so coal intensive. Once its latest coal-fired power station (named Medupi) is completed, it will release more carbon than the whole of Kenya.

A prominent scientific research body concluded that South Africa could ‘decarbonize its electricity sector without pain’ as ‘clean and cheap are no longer trade-offs’. However, the Department of Energy has come under criticism for seemingly inflating the costs of renewable energy and their belief that a rapid shift to renewables will collapse the energy grid.

On September 25, 2015, South Africa submitted its INDC, which included a target of reducing GHG emissions to between 398 and 615 MtCO2e, over the period 2025 to 2030. South Africa ratified the Paris Agreement on November 1, 2016. The country’s INDC is consistent with its pledge under the Copenhagen Accord, which proposes emissions reductions below business-as-usual (BAU) levels by 34% in 2020 and 42% in 2025.
Notwithstanding that the South African INDC assumes the finalization of an ‘ambitious, fair, effective and binding’ multilateral agreement under the UNFCCC at COP21, it also highlights that economic and social development and poverty eradication are South Africa’s top priorities. However, South Africa’s commitment could be considered as ‘inadequate’ in reaching the 2°C pathway. Although South Africa is a developing country, it has comparatively high emissions per capita. Consequently, the country’s emissions reduction target should be strengthened.

Because of South Africa’s very slow pace in implementing a domestic carbon tax and aggressively pursuing renewable energy programs, it is ranked as ‘standing still’. There is clearly a lot of work that remains to be done.

Learn More

South Africa’s INDC is available at:
The Climate Action Tracker rankings are available at, accessed 29 March 2017.
See: Sipho Kings ‘Greening the Future 2017: How you can save the world’ at
See David Hallows ‘Death and destruction: What’s left out of energy planning’ at


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