South Africa: The 2021 Climate Year in Review

South Africa: The 2021 Climate Year in Review


  • Countries Pledge Funding to Help South Africa Reduce Its Reliance on Coal
  • Passage of a National Climate Change Bill
  • Near Completion of 2 New Coal-Fired Power Plants
  • South Africa’s New Paris Agreement Pledge Is Insufficient



South Africa is the world’s 12th largest carbon dioxide emitter [1]. In 2021, the following events took place, and these will affect the level of greenhouse gas emissions in the country.

Foreign Investment

At the COP26 in Glasgow, the US, UK, France, Germany, and the EU pledged to give South Africa $8.5 billion dollars to assist the country in reducing its reliance on coal [1]. This is a game-changing event that can assist the country in gradually closing down its coal-fired power stations and transitioning to renewable sources of energy, thus leading to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. The Department of Mineral Resources and Energy will need to play a major role in monitoring the progress of South Africa’s transition to clean energy. Regular tracking of renewable energy projects and coal-fired power plants and monitoring of national greenhouse gas emissions need to be done in order to determine the impact of this funding on South Africa’s emissions.

National Climate Change Bill

South Africa published its National Climate Change Bill on 11 October 2021 [2]. This Bill requires the Minister of Forestry, Fisheries, and Environmental Affairs to publish a list of greenhouse gases which the Minister reasonably believes cause or are likely to cause or exacerbate climate change, to publish a list of greenhouse gas emitting activities, and to allocate a carbon budget to any individual who produces one or more of the listed greenhouse gas emitting activities [2, 3]. This Bill is likely to reduce emissions in South Africa as organizations will need to reduce their own emissions and transition to a green economy. The Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Environmental Affairs will need to monitor the impact of this Bill on South Africa’s emissions.

Medupi and Kusile Projects

Medupi coal-fired power station, with a total installed capacity of 4764 MW was completed in mid-2021. Kusile, with a total installed capacity of 4800 MW is currently under construction. Kusile consists of 6 Units, with one of the Units coming into full operation in March 2021. Kusile and Medupi are the 3rd and 4th largest coal power plants in the world, and they are both expected to have an operational life span of 50 years [4, 5]. The annual greenhouse gas emissions from Kusile are projected to be 36.8 million tons, and this would increase the emissions from South Africa’s energy sector by 12.8% [6]. The annual carbon dioxide emissions from Medupi are projected to be between 25 and 30 million tons [4]. These two new coal power plants will increase the level of greenhouse gas emissions in South Africa. Eskom, which is South Africa’s electric utility, would need to monitor emissions and plan a way forward to transition to clean sources of energy.

Under South Africa’s latest Paris Agreement Pledge, the country aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 398 – 510 MtCO2e by 2025, and to 350-420 MtCO2e by 2030, and to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 [7]. The Climate Change Bill and foreign investment are expected to assist in reducing emissions in South Africa. However, it has been claimed that these targets are still not enough to achieve the 1.5 degree Celsius global warming goal and are only enough to achieve a 2 degree Celsius global warming goal [8]. Thus, South Africa needs to make a faster transition to clean energy by implementing more renewable energy projects on a larger scale and by decommissioning old coal power plants.


This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard South Africa Country Manager Deepti Charitar


Climate Scorecard depends on support from people like you.

We are a team of researchers providing information on efforts to reduce global emissions. We help make you better informed and able to advocate for improved climate change efforts. Donations of any amount are welcome.