Key climate warnings for South Africa

The world has warmed one degree, and South Africa by two degrees. The government presented new emissions targets for 2030 to the UNFCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) in September 2021, which were a considerable improvement on the previous targets. Nevertheless, Carbon Tracker rates the new targets as insufficient:

The South African government has set a new and stronger 2030 target range, but domestic policies and their successful implementation will need an additional boost to achieve it … The ‘”Insufficient” rating indicates that South Africa’s climate policies and commitments need substantial improvements to be consistent with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5 degree temperature limit. 

To be in line with the Paris Agreement goals, South Africa would need to adopt more ambitious climate actions beyond the IRP2019, such as further increasing renewable energy capacity by 2030 and beyond, stopping the planned commissioning of 1.5GW of new coal capacity, fully phasing out coal-fired power generation by 2040 at the latest, and avoiding investing in natural gas.

Carbon Tracker further stated that the South African government has missed the opportunity to make use of a ‘green’ recovery to directly support the National Development Plan (NDP), which provides a 2030 vision on sustainable development, eliminating poverty and reducing inequalities. 

The Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) for electricy is South Africa’s main policy on greenhouse gas emissions. 


The National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy, published by the Department of Environmental Affairs in May 2019, outlined the following climate prospects for South Africa:

  • “South Africa is already experiencing significant effects of climate change, particularly as a result of increased temperatures and water variability.” –
  • “The observed rate of warming has been 2°C per century or even higher – more than twice the global rate of temperature increase for the western parts and the northeast,” the department said.
  • “There is evidence that extreme weather events in South Africa are increasing, with heat wave conditions found to be more likely, dry spell durations lengthening slightly, and rainfall intensity increasing.
  • “Climate zones across the country are already shifting, ecosystems and landscapes are being degraded, veld fires are becoming more frequent, and overused natural terrestrial and marine systems are under stress.”
  • If we don’t cut carbon emissions from oil, gas and coal, and land degradation, temperatures are set to increase ‘drastically’, with temperature increases greater than 4°C across South Africa; increases greater than 6°C possible in the western, central and northern interior.
  • If we don’t cut carbon emissions, there will be an increase in the number of heat-wave days and very hot days where these above temperatures will be common or even exceeded.
  • But if we cut emissions, the increase in temperatures in the interior could be kept to between 2.5 to 4°C (still very high)
  • Greater uncertainty around rainfall projections than in temperature projections.
  • With low mitigation, drier conditions overall, and an increase in ‘extreme rainfall events’ in the interior of the country.
  • With high mitigation, “generally wetter conditions over the central and eastern interior,” it said. “Other projections predict generally drier conditions.”
  • Also, an increase in ‘direct wave impacts’ and coastal flooding/inundation; flooding of low-lying areas and erosion; Quadruple burden of disease; Poor housing, infrastructure and service delivery; High water demand – highly problematic as current water usage already exceeds reliable yield; Deteriorating water quality in river systems, water storage reservoirs and groundwater.

Climate and energy in SA


Reforming energy systems in South Africa

In most countries, the ways in which we get our energy are a key determinant of national climate change impacts. South Africa is no different. This overview of the need for energy sector transformation in South Africa (pdf) was researched and written by Project 90 by 2030