Important climate change measures for South Africa adopted by Cabinet

22 September 2021

South Africa’s efforts to address the effects of climate change on people and the economy in a manner which leaves no one behind, received a firm nod from Cabinet last week. The meeting approved the revised NDCs, the Climate Bill and SA’s negotiating position for COP26.

South Africa’s updated Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), will soon be deposited with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The NDC represents South Africa's contribution to global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and mitigate climate change.

The country’s NDC target range for 2025, has been updated from its original value of 398-614 Mt CO2-eq, to a range of 398-510 Mt for 2025. Of greater significance is our 2030 mitigation target range which has been updated from 398-614 Mt CO2-eq to a range of 350-420 Mt CO2-eq.

The top of the range of our revised NDC is consistent with the Paris Agreement's temperature limit of "well below 2 degrees", and the bottom of the range is consistent with the Paris Agreement's 1.5-degree temperature limit.

South Africa has also brought forward the year in which emissions are due to decline from 2035 in the initial NDC, to 2025 in the updated NDC.

The submission of the updated NDC follows widespread consultation with business, organised labour, government, civil society and the Climate Commission. This consultation indicated that current mitigation strategies in the energy, transport and waste sectors together with afforestation measures will allow us to achieve the upper range of the target. More ambitious achievement will require significant multilateral financial support and technological transfer. Discussions in this regard are ongoing with a range of governments and financing institutions.

The updated NDC also contains South Africa's first Adaptation Communication, detailing the country's adaptation goals to be implemented via the recently-finalised National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy, and updated mitigation targets for 2025 and 2030.

Cabinet has also adopted the long-awaited Climate Change Bill, South Africa’s negotiating position for the 26th international climate change (COP26) talks later this year, as well as our fourth Biennial Updated Report (BUR). This 4th BUR provides an update on the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions inventory for the period 2000 to 2017, including the GHG mitigation achieved in the same period, along with the support needed and received.

The Climate Change Bill, which will soon be tabled in Parliament, provides for a coordinated and integrated response by the economy and society to climate change and its impacts.  It provides for the effective management of inevitable climate change impacts by enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience and reducing vulnerability to climate change, with a view to building social, economic, and environmental resilience and an adequate national adaptation response in the context of the global climate change response. 

The Bill spells out that all adaptation and mitigation efforts should be based on the best available science, evidence and information. It further gives effect to South Africa’s international commitments and obligations in relation to climate change, and defines the steps to be taken to protect and preserve the planet for the benefit of present and future generations.

The tabling of the Climate Bill in the National Assembly will represent an important step forward in the development of our country’s architecture to manage and combat climate change. This follows the formation of the Presidential Climate Commission in February this year.

The Commission brings together government, the private sector, organised labour and civil society and is tasked with researching just transition pathways that will ensure our transition to a lower carbon economy opens up new opportunities for inclusive local industrialisation and growth, job creation and reskilling. Fundamental to the Commission’s mandate is ensuring that those most vulnerable to the consequences of the transition, particularly workers and communities in the coal value chain, are not left behind.

With regard to our country’s negotiating mandate for COP 26, Cabinet agreed that we expect negotiations to be conducted in a transparent, inclusive and balanced manner, with priority given to all core issues under the UNFCCC and its Paris Agreement as well as the Kyoto Protocol.

These include securing new commitments of support by developed countries for implementation of mitigation and adaptation measures in developing countries.  The Paris Agreement highlights the obligations placed on developed countries to provide the means of implementation including financing and technological transfer to developing countries.  In this regard we look forward to progress on a new and ambitious target for long term financial support in the post 2025 era. South Africa expects negotiations on the Market Approaches under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement to be completed, prioritising securing a share of proceeds for predictable financing for adaptation in developing countries.  We also look forward to the launching of the Work Program on the operationalisation of the Global Goal on Adaptation.

Recent research by the OECD has indicated that over the next fifteen years developing countries will require between three and four trillion dollars in financial support as they transition to lower carbon economies with more climate resilient societies.

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Editor’s Note:

South Africa’s GHG emissions, including Forestry and Other Land-Use (FOLU), were estimated at 436 734 Gigagrams of Carbon Dioxide equivalent (Gg CO2e) in the year 2000, which had increased by 45 282 Gg CO2e, to an estimated 482 016 Gg CO2e by 2017.  This signals a 10.4% increase in GHG emissions, over the 17 years.  Emissions, excluding FOLU followed the same trend as emissions (incl. FOLU) which were estimated at 448 874 Gg CO2e in 2000 and 512 661 Gg CO2e (512.66 Megatonnes) by 2017. The GHG emissions excluding FOLU increased by 14.2 % over the 17 years.  The primary contributor to this increase is the energy sector owing to heavy reliance on coal for electricity production.

South Africa’s 2015 mitigation target was to limit its emissions between 398 Mega tonnes (Mt) CO2e and 614 Mt CO2e by 2025 and 2030, aligned to the Peak, Plateau and Decline (PPD) trajectory range, respectively as outlined in the first Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC). 

Several policies and measures are being implemented to enhance the possibility of achieving South Africa's emission reduction targets.

The main measures that have been critical in reducing greenhouse gas emissions are primarily in the energy sector, including the Integrated Resources Plan, the National Energy Efficiency Strategy, the Green Transport Strategy. In the waste sector, the Waste Management Strategy has been key in reducing GHG emissions, as well as various afforestation and reforestation measures in the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (AFOLU) sector. 

In the Industrial Processes and Product Use (IPPU) sector, it is the Carbon Budgets and Pollution Prevention Plans for process emissions which support the identified measures. For this reporting period, the annual GHG emission reductions were estimated to be 16.8 MtCO2e, 18.5 MtCO2e, and 24.3 MtCO2e in 2015, 2016 and 2017, respectively. In 2017, the energy sector reductions accounted for 79.1% of the total emission reductions, while the IPPU sector contributed 10.3%. The AFOLU and Waste sectors contributed insignificantly at 8.2% and 2.2%, respectively.