Setting Meaningful Targets for Climate Change Mitigation in South Africa

A position paper written by Richard Worthington for African Climate Reality Project

Abstract: South Africa lacks clear climate change mitigation objectives and what is stipulated in policy is inconsistent with the global mitigation objective that we have signed on to, under the Paris Agreement. There is an urgent need to elaborate the desired emission reduction outcomes, as required by the 2011 Policy, for the medium and long term, to allow for responsible planning and investment that is consistent with avoiding catastrophic climate change.

Focus of this position paper

This position paper makes the case for setting meaningful targets for climate change mitigation – the avoidance or reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) – in South Africa. Other environmental management imperatives, which need to be addressed in their own right, particularly at the local level, will also be served by climate change mitigation actions. Implementation of decisive and ambitious climate change response may offer the best prospects for such co-benefits of mitigation, such as the reduction of air and water pollution, particularly since coal has such a dominant role in our economy and in the full range of negative environmental and human health impacts.

The departure point is South Africa’s commitment to the global goal, as set out in the Paris Agreement adopted as an instrument of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC): holding the increase in global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius and pursuing efforts to limit global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. This paper focuses on the mitigation that needs to happen in South Africa and the case for setting clear targets to guide the decisions-making and initiatives that are urgently required to make it happen without exacerbating poverty or inequality. Determining appropriate mitigation objectives has been deferred for too long.

The Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has extensively modelled the range of global emissions pathways that are most likely to deliver particular global warming outcomes, the results of which are summarised in this graph showing potential emissions trajectories from 2000 to 2100, the lowest of which would result in about 2 degrees of warming, thus indicating a ceiling on emissions if warming globally is to remain well below 2 degrees. Warming in the Southern African interior occurs at up to twice the global rate.

The core argument is that the mitigation objectives that we currently have are inadequate in two ways: they are too broad or unspecific to guide decision-making and they are incompatible with the global mitigation goal[1]. Furthermore, our current development plans would result in overshooting the objectives that we do have. The only viable way forward is to re-calibrate and elaborate our national mitigation objectives, based on the latest science, through a process involving as much of society as possible in a short space of time. This is provided for in the 2011 National Climate Change Response Policy (NCCRP) White Paper, which also requires the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Climate Change to make this happen.

In June 2014 the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) issued a briefing document: ‘Development of Desired Emission Reduction Outcomes (DEROs) and Mix of Measures for Sectors and Subsectors of the Economy’, which served to reiterate the policy mandate adopted in 2011 (NCCRP Section 4.1). The Briefing Note also elaborates:

“The DEROs will consist of three successively nested frameworks for the long-, medium- and short-term (by 2050, by 2030, and from 2016 to 2020 respectively), … long-term DEROs have two primary functions: the first is to prevent the technology lock-in characteristic of high emission pathways (e.g. investment in new high-carbon technology that would make it much more difficult and expensive to implement future climate policies); the second is to allow decision-makers to cultivate an appropriate range of future mitigation options, both in terms of technology development, and also through measures taken by key institutions.”

[1] Even assuming maximum allowance for South Africa’s status as a developing country, the emissions ranges for 2030 and 2050 in policy and our international pledge are too high to be reconciled with the global mitigation goal.

National and regional context

South Africa is amongst the big emitters globally, with emissions just below double the global average per capita (total national emissions divided by population), while emissions per unit of economic activity (GDP) are more than double the global average. Emissions growth levelled off around 2010, as shown in the graph from the most recent national inventory, but a longer-term growth trend continues, with Eskom’s two new coal-fired plants Medupi and Kusile expected to add almost 10% (over 50 Mt/annum) to national emissions. The graph shows the contribution of different greenhouse gasses in the common unit of CO2equivalent (a Gg is the same as a kilo-tonne; a thousand of these is 1 Mt):

Figure 2.2 in the National GHG Inventory: Greenhouse gases: Trend and emission levels  (including FOLU: Forestry and Other Land Use, which absorbs about 20 Mt more CO2 than it releases, off-setting other emissions) for the years 2000 – 2012.

Statistics compiled by the International Energy Agency (IEA) provide carbon dioxide emissions figures for most African countries – the most reliable recent comparative data available. IEA data for 2014 for a selection of countries has been compiled in the following table to provide perspective, including Goss Domestic Product adjusted for purchasing power parity, which is also used for the emissions intensity figures in the final column, in kg CO2 per US$-2010:

IEA Key World Energy Statistics for 2014 Population


GDP (PPP) billion US$2010 Total CO2 Mt t CO2 per capita CO2 per GDP-PPP
World 7 249 101 463 32 381 4.47 0.32
Africa 1 156     5 131    1 105 0.96 0.22
South Africa      54        658.7        437.4 8.1 0.66
Algeria      38.9        516.5        122.9 3.16 0.24
Democratic Republic of Congo      75          52.2            4.7 0.06 0.09
Egypt      89.6        882        173.2 1.93 0.2
Mozambique      27.2          28.7            3.9 0.14 0.13
Nigeria    177.5        981          60.2 0.34 0.06
Kenya      44.9        123.9          12.4 0.28 0.1
Zimbabwe      15.6          25.5          11.5 0.75 0.45
United Kingdom      64.6     2 441.5        407.8 6.31 0.17
China 1 364.3   16 841     9 087 6.66 0.54

Most sources put South Africa’s emissions of all GHGs at between 1.1 and 1.2 % of the global total (slightly less that the share of CO2  only as shown above), while our share of Africa’s emissions has declined from about 50% to about 40% since the turn of the century, for less than 5% of the population. The indicator most pertinent to perceptions of South Africa by the rest of the continent is the emissions intensity of the economy, which is one of the highest in the world and clearly shows potential for reduction.

Given very limited data on emissions from most African countries, which are generally understood to be more extensive than what has to date been included in available statistics, it will often be more appropriate for mitigation targets to be expressed in terms of key variables like land use management, deforestation and new energy supply infrastructure. Transport is expected to be a major contributor to emissions growth throughout the continent and thus the role of liquid fuels and the potential for electrification – with generation from renewable energy – is also a key area for developing low-carbon strategy and objectives for Africa.

South Africa’s mitigation policy

The National Climate Change Response Policy (NCCRP) was adopted in 2011 and includes the specification of an emissions range to 2050 called ‘Peak, Plateau and Decline’ (the PPD Range), derived from the Long Term Mitigation Scenarios (LTMS) adopted by Cabinet in 2008. The PPD Range proposes that South Africa’s emissions should be allowed to continue growing to 2025, followed by a Plateau to 2035, before starting to decline in absolute terms. This suggests that a significant reduction in emissions intensity (per unit of GDP) will not be attempted until 2025, from which time GDP growth is considered possible without emissions growth. The NCCRP also requires (section 6.1.2): “Defining desired emission reduction outcomes for each sector and sub-sector of the economy within two years of the publication of this policy”.

Following adoption of the NCCRP and to inform the setting of desired emission reduction outcomes (DEROs), the DEA commissioned the Mitigation Potential Analysis (MPA), for which the terms of reference focus on socio-economic assessment of a well-defined set of “abatement opportunities” through modelling and macro-economic analysis. It was agreed by the multi- stakeholder Technical Working Group that the MPA would not attempt to determine the full extent of possible mitigation, but rather the opportunities that were amenable to such analysis. The emissions trajectories resulting from 100% of the identified “abatement opportunities” being implemented, as well as of just 50% of the analysed mitigation potential, is shown below with the PPD Range and emissions to date (2013-16 estimated):

The PPD Range is the basis of South Africa’s Intended Nationally Determine Contribution (INDC), the pledge that has been formalised under the UNFCCC Paris Agreement – the shaded range in the graph above. The national submission states:

“Regarding mitigation, …analysis by South African experts reports that a fairly apportioned overall carbon budget for South Africa for the period from 2015 to 2050 would exceed the budget implied by the upper limit of the PPD trajectory range, although other approaches to equity report a much lower number.2 South Africa considers the PPD range to be an equitable contribution to the global mitigation effort, given South Africa’s current and historical emissions and its national circumstances (especially its development challenges). The PPD emissions trajectory range focuses on the trend in emissions over time. Additionally, defining a carbon budget or space over time provides flexibility in emissions for a given year. The national carbon budget range for the period 2021-2025 is 1.99 -3.01 Gt CO2-eq and for 2026-2030 is in the range of 1.99 to 3.07 Gt CO2-eq.

2 The carbon budget approach of Chinese (CASS / DRC joint project team 2011) and Indian researchers (Jayaraman , Kanitkar & dSouza 2011) allocates 7-11 Gt CO2 –eq to South Africa for the period 2000–2049, and a meta-analysis of different approaches shows that the analysis of different effort-sharing approaches yields carbon budgets for South Africa that are significantly smaller than the PPD trajectory range. Only the lower PPD is within the range calculated using the PRIMAP tool in 2020. In 2025 and 2030, none of the PPD values overlap with the calculated ranges.”

Global context and equity

Given the complexity of the climate system, some areas of uncertainty remain, for example regarding the rate at which carbon dioxide will be absorbed by oceans as concentrations increase; therefore findings are presented as ranges. The question of an appropriate limit on cumulative global emissions over time is therefore answered with different degrees of probability, e.g. a 66% probability (2:1 odds) of a particular global warming outcome, if total emissions are kept within a particular limit or carbon budget (‘carbon’ being used as shorthand for all greenhouse gasses). This is reflected in the highly aggregated analysis of IPCC scenarios (run from emissions as in 2010) by Climate-Action-Tracker:

The global scenarios that are consistent with the global goal do not include the on-going growth in emissions that has taken place since 2010. The more that is emitted in the short term, the more steeply emissions will have to decline in future, which is why an increasing number of stakeholders advocate for achieving net zero emissions by the middle of the century[1]. Propositions for an acceptable global carbon budget for a particular period – a period to 2050 is most commonly used – require assumptions about what will happen after that period, particularly regarding the extent to which we will in future be able to achieve net ‘negative emissions’ by removing more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than human activities emit, and technologies to achieve this at a relevant scale have yet to be proven.

This paper argues not for a specific national carbon budget, but rather the importance and urgency of setting medium- and long-term targets to inform current decision-making and that can be reconciled with achieving the objectives of the UNFCCC and the global mitigation goal.

For global climate change response to be equitable, an important point to keep in mind is that the impacts of warming of 2 degrees or more will greatly increase poverty and inequality, a trend that will accelerate with higher warming. This is part of the rationale for the goal being well below 2 degrees: no amount of ‘economic growth’ could compensate for the impacts upon the majority of humanity if we fail to achieve this. The impacts will not be uniform across the globe and are already severe in many areas, which is a major factor in Africa insisting that warming over 1.5 degrees is unacceptable. Average warming in regions of the Southern African interior occurs at up to double the global average rate. Equity requires that GHG emissions from human activity are kept within a tight global budget and pass below zero within less than 50 years.

The UNFCCC, defines equity between countries in terms of responsibility and capability. This is important in considering how and where to mobilise the resources required for the necessary effort, and which countries should be achieving net negative emissions before 2050, but equity cannot determine where emissions reductions must happen, which needs to be where the emissions are happening. The fact that some of the reductions required in South Africa should be delivered through international support (and are thus treated as conditional within international commitments) should not tempt us to ignore the full quantum of emissions reduction that is necessary, as a majority of South Africans are highly vulnerable to climate change and enjoy little of the benefits of carbon-intensive economic activity.

[1] For example the B-Team, led by Richard Branson and Jochen Zeitz, former CEO of Puma and co-founder, who states: “We believe the business case for net zero in 2050 is irrefutable.” (see:

The assessment concludes: “The “inadequate” rating indicates that South Africa’s commitment is not in line with interpretations of a “fair” approach to reach a 2°C pathway. This means it is not consistent with limiting warming to below 2°C. If most other countries were to follow South Africa’s approach, global warming would exceed 3–4°C.” Furthermore it notes: “According to our analysis, South Africa will need to implement additional policies to reach its proposed targets.” In other words the ‘Current policy’ trajectory illustrates the need to develop objectives and supporting policies even to achieve our inadequate pledges, with far greater reductions required for the global goal.

The analysis notes that “sufficient” for South Africa is, for 2030, in the range of 190 – 290 Mt; for 2025 it is already below 350 Mt, when the PPD Range is 398 – 614 Mt. This is consistent with the acknowledgement in the INDC footnote regarding the PPD range not overlapping with “calculated ranges” from different approaches to effort-sharing. Historical emissions shown above were taken from the initial 2010 GHG Inventory, which was subsequently corrected with some revision downwards; the black line also excludes FOLU, the net removals of which appear below zero in the graph above.

The imperative for South Africa

For the purposes of national planning for sustainable development in South Africa and particularly for energy and long-term investment planning, the required emissions reduction outcomes will not be achievable if we do not plan for them. We may insist that international support is required to achieve them, but this will not be forthcoming if our national planning does not consider the options that could deliver the outcome that is required, as illustrated below:

Based on the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (2014), national emissions within the shaded area above from 2016 are the highest that could credibly be reconciled with keeping global warming below 2 degrees, i.e. cumulative emissions to 2050 of 10 000 Mt (10 Gt); the lower shaded area offers a stronger prospect, and is arguably compatible with efforts to achieve stabilisation at 1.5 degrees (2016-2050 total of 7 800 Mt). This shows how outdated the ‘PPD Range’, derived from analysis initiated in 2005, has become. It also illustrates the need to investigate all possible means to decarbonise our energy system in the medium-term and to set DEROs that can be reconciled with the global goal. In the absence of parameters being set by the Inter-Ministerial Committee, the energy planning processes currently underway should at the very least include some scenarios with emissions that fall within the range illustrated above.

South Africa is already over-invested in fossil fuels, as illustrated by analysis published by Carbon Tracker in 2012, which found that just the coal reserves listed as assets on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange would result in emissions of over 15 Gt CO2, i.e. more than double the amount of coal we can responsibly burn. Thus many among organised business argue that implementing even the short- and medium-term reductions modelled in the MPA is an unrealistic objective, suggesting that 50% of the analysed mitigation (the upper trajectory in the above graph) should be considered sufficient. However, the value of fossil holdings have fluctuated widely while the costs of low-carbon technologies, especially for solar and wind power, have declined so dramatically they now provide electricity at less cost that concentrated energy options (fossil and nuclear fuels), as clearly documented by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

Imminent decisions should be informed by medium- and long-term objectives

Energy supply and use accounts for over 80% of South Africa’s GHG emissions and government is conducting public consultations on energy planning into the first quarter of 2017, on the basis of documents released at the end of November. Most stakeholders have requested that the deadline for public comment be extended from mid-February to end March, as well as further public consultation once actual plans have been proposed. The Integrated Energy Plan (IEP) covers the entire energy sector, while the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), for which only a “Base Case” and sets of assumptions have been published, will cover electricity supply. It is treated as a component of IEP, alongside plans for the liquid fuels and gas industries. The Department of Energy (DoE) has presented the IEP as a policy development process, while the IRP will stipulate a new generation capacity build plan.

The big-picture ‘Integrated Energy Plan’ published in the Government Gazette currently consists of four ‘scenarios’ (including the base case) with different demand projections and combinations of supply, as well as 24 pages of conclusions and recommendations that endorse development of all energy supply options, with no over-arching strategy or prioritisation. None of the scenarios can be reconciled with the global goal for limiting global warming, or with the energy vision in the National Development Plan. There is no net decline in coal use for at least 20 years in any scenario and it is not clear from available documentation whether the one scenario with reduced direct end-use of coal – the only scenario that keeps national emissions below the top of the PPD Range – involves substantially less total coal use in 2050 than today, as it includes new coal-to-liquids (CTL) production.

The trajectories of emissions from energy supply and use provided in the IEP only record carbon dioxide emissions (not other GHGs such as fugitive methane from mining and liquid fuel production or nitrous oxide from combustion) and start at different levels at the dates shown (a result of having been projected from a 2006 start date). The Green Shoots scenario with 350 Mt CO2 in 2050, suggests total emissions no lower than the 438 Mt CO2eq set as the top of the 2011 policy range:

There are two well-established requirements to sufficiently reduce the carbon-intensity of 20th century energy systems: changing electricity supply to renewable energy and replacing the use of fossil fuels with electricity wherever possible, which has to include phasing out internal combustion engines in transport. However, there is no consideration in the IEP of expanding the role of electricity within the energy carrier mix or limiting the growth of liquid hydrocarbon fuel use and electrification is barely visible in the projections of total transport energy supply in 2050. Unlike the gazetted document, DoE presentations about IEP (available online) have announced the adoption of an “energy development framework” consisting of the IRP for electricity, a Liquid Fuels Road Map and a Gas Utilisation Masterplan, described as dealing with sub-sectors requiring dedicated attention. There is no recognition of potential competition between these energy carriers for shares of available finance or emissions allowance and no provisions for achieving alignment of such plans.

The potential of renewable energy in poorly represented in the IEP, which does not reflect the resources and opportunities presented in the DoE’s own report ‘State of Renewable Energy in South Africa 2015’, much less the more recent research of the CSIR. The issue of traditional biomass use, still the primary energy source for about 3 million South African Households[1] and 7-8% of primary energy supply, is largely ignored. Renewable energy is mostly relegated to electricity supply and the electricity supply mix of the four scenarios is shown only in terms of installed capacity, not share of power supply. However, the IEP does not prohibit the IRP from planning for 100% of electricity from renewable resources.

The IRP documentation does not mention the Integrated Energy Plan and takes the previous plan, IRP2010, as its departure point, apparently maintaining the assumptions that electricity will continue to account for 45% of national GHG emissions and not take a significantly expanded role in total energy supply. These and other assumptions, as well as the proposed “Base Case” with constraints on renewable energy, are being contested in stakeholder consultations. A committee of the Ministerial Advisory Council on Energy (MACE) has proposed updating of the technology cost assumptions and that the base case be generated solely by cost-optimisation, to provide a sound basis for sensitivity studies and policy-driven scenarios. The “CSIR Re-Optimised” case, produced with the model used for IRP, illustrates such a base case and the recent profound shift in relative costs of electricity supply options. It is shown below left, with the Base Case proposed by DoE on the right:

[1] Ref.: DoE 2013 New Household Energy Strategy

The IEP notes that emissions constraints to be applied in modelling scenarios to inform the final IRP are the subject of on-going interaction with the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), but if based on the out-dated PPD Range, such input may mandate less than the emissions reductions delivered simply by cost-optimisation, which results in 70% of electricity from solar PV and wind by 2050. However, greater reductions from electricity supply will be required and could be achieved through early retirement of the least efficient and most polluting of Eskom’s existing coal-fired power stations, an option not yet included in the scope of IRP. Furthermore, our improved knowledge of the renewable energy resource base has made it clear that we do not need the concentrated energy of fossil or nuclear fuels to meet ‘base-load power’ demand.

Plans for “gas re-industrialisation”, being promoted by the Minister of Energy as a potential major boost for economic growth, also need to be informed by clear mitigation objectives. Projects include a 2 600 km pipeline from Northern Mozambique and terminal(s) for importing and degasifying Liquefied Natural Gas. Since natural gas, in terms of life-cycle GHG emissions, is at best half as bad as coal, our planning needs to consider how much gas we can use consistent with the global mitigation goal and the scale infrastructure investments appropriate for a limited bridging role for fossil gas.

Building a new refinery for imported oil is not appropriate for a state-owned enterprise or as an investment for the Government Employees Pension Fund, but is being promoted as such by PetroSA. The electrification of transport provides mobility with about one third of the energy input required by combustion engines and is growing internationally far quicker than all previous expectations. It could be reducing the need for imported oil by the mid-2020s if an appropriate industrial and investment strategy is adopted, offering cost-saving mitigation over the medium term and reduced air pollution.

Clear and ambitious emissions reduction objectives (or DEROs) are required as a component of our energy planning, both for sound financial management and to have a prospect of achieving sustainable and inclusive development into the future.