• Amy Musgrave, 4irsa.org

SA needs drastic policy changes to reach climate targets

A number of policy recommendations such as moratoriums on new coal plants have been suggested to G20 countries, including South Africa, to ensure that they reach targets on lowering carbon emissions.

Moratorium on the new coal mines, electrified public transport and stricter building laws recommended to help South Africa move from dirty economy

The “ambition calls” from global partnership, Climate Transparency, are in line with United Nations Secretary-(UN) General Antonio Guterres that the Climate Action Summit translates into key deliverables that will see the globe moving towards carbon neutrality.

South Africa falls in the top 20 countries with the highest greenhouse gas emissions. The policy changes will put additional pressure on the government to start acting on pollution otherwise it will not meet many of its international pledges on sustainability.

The UN estimates that the world needs to increase its efforts between three- and five-fold to contain climate change to the levels dictated by science – a 1.5°C rise at most – and avoid escalating climate damage already taking place around the world.

The recommendations for South Africa centre on three key pillars and for them to become a reality, the country will have to in many new technologies.


Coal makes up almost 70% of South Africa’s energy mix. A rapid shift from the fossil fuel is critical for both decarbonisation and development that meets the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDG), and South Africa’s Paris Agreement commitment on carbon emissions.

Climate Transparency says research shows that transitioning away from coal in the power sector offers the cheapest opportunity for decarbonisation in the country. Also, cheap and abundant renewable resources mean that 90% of South Africa’s electricity could be renewable by 2050.

Despite this, the country’s plan for the future of its electricity sector includes the completion of two mega coal plants – Medupi and Kusile – with additional new coal plants, and disregards air quality legislation.

The global partnership believes that if cheaper alternatives are adopted, not only will the country stand a better chance of enhancing its climate ambition, but it will improve air quality and public health.

It has called on the government to cancel the completion of units five and six of the Kusile coal power plant and place a moratorium on new and planned coal plants. Coal plants that cannot be economically retrofitted for air quality standards must be retired and the decommissioning of old coal power plants accelerated.

“A more ambitious decarbonisation pathway for South Africa would include closure of all coal plants by 2040 and have significant co-benefits, including less air pollution and water use, with higher levels of low carbon electricity investment,” the recommendations read.

“A moratorium on new coal plants and accelerated decommissioning of existing ones would mean more and sooner investment in low-carbon electricity capacity. This would need to be accompanied by an appropriate and properly resourced ‘just transition’ strategy. These two measures, coupled with a just transition strategy, would create additional jobs and address many of South Africa’s development challenges, boosting sectors that are more likely to form the core of the country’s future electricity supply.”


Unequal access to mobility is a pressing policy issue for local municipalities in South Africa, but there is huge potential for actors to accelerate climate action by decarbonising key areas such as urban passenger transport.