The Conflicting Goals of Reducing Poverty and Reducing Carbon Emissions at the Same Time in South Africa

The Conflicting Goals of Reducing Poverty and Reducing Carbon Emissions at the Same Time in South Africa

This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard South Africa Country Manager Andrew John Hall

South Africa is already considered to be living on the edge, in terms of climate. Much of the country is arid or semi-arid and the whole country is subject to recurring droughts and floods. South Africa is faced with a difficult trade-off having to juggle three obligations-development (conventionally based on fossil fuels); the eradication of persistent poverty because of the past and current and future climate change issues. South Africa needs to fast track provision of adequate transport, power, communication networks, water sanitation and other services; these developments imply that South Africa’s GHG emissions are set to still increase further into the future. Providing these services is essential to reducing poverty as well as improving people’s well-being; however, they also contrast the country’s goal of reducing carbon emissions in the near-, mid- and far-future.

Energy production is of particular concern; South Africa’s dependency on coal fired power stations has resulted in a yearly per capita emission of ~ 10 tons of carbon dioxide. This value is 43% higher than the global average. However, this significantly high per capita use of energy has not meant that every individual in the country has access to energy. Roughly 30% of South African’s remain without electricity still. In addressing climate change the energy generation system of South Africa needs to be completely overhauled as 90% of electricity is generated from power plants burning coal. South Africa’s plans to transition to renewable energy has been a gradual and slow process. As a result of the current financial crises, South Africa has an opportunity to redevelop economies and create a new industrial revolution that develops and is powered by clean energy technologies.

With a third of households currently without access to electricity, any response to climate change will have to consider the effect of rising energy costs on poor households.  South Africa is tasked with the responsibility for not only— somehow—reducing South Africa’s greenhouse gas emissions, but also continuing to play a major leadership role in persuading the rest of the world to cut emissions and protecting South Africans from current environmental destruction. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions for South Africa is set to slow down economic development and the transition from a third to a first world country. However, if the country begins a rapid and focused transition to renewable cleaner sources of energy; the economic and development impacts are estimated to be less detrimental than the associated impacts of climate change.


Deputy Director-General Climate Change and Air Quality Management

Dr Thulie N Khumalo



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