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A Journalist’s Guide to Covering Net Zero Policies in South Africa

A factory using steam to produce electricity

Journalists play a vital role in raising awareness of climate change and its impacts, and in holding governments accountable for their climate change policies. This is why foundational knowledge of complex topics are essential. 

There are a number of reasons why it is important for journalists to report on domestic and international climate change policies:

  • To inform the public: Journalists can help to inform the public about the causes and impacts of climate change, and about the policies that are being implemented to address it. This information is essential for citizens to make informed decisions about climate change, and to hold their governments accountable for their actions.
  • To hold governments accountable: Journalists can hold governments accountable for their climate change policies by reporting on their progress and implementation, or lack thereof, in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. They can also report on the impact of these policies on the environment and on people.
  • To build public support for climate action: Journalists can build public support for climate action by reporting on the stories of people who are being affected by climate change, and by highlighting the solutions that are available. They can also report on the economic benefits of climate action, such as job creation and increased energy efficiency.
  • To give context to policy decisions: Often the public does not know how policy decisions directly affect them. Journalists can provide this context by linking policy decisions to everyday life. For example, if governments fund their own transitions to net zero the cost of living will sky rocket for ordinary people. Making this link helps the public understand why the private sector and international partners are important for the transformation.

 

Given the dense and technical nature of both policy and climate change science (which hopefully informs policies), journalists face a number of challenges when reporting on these issues. Among them are: 

  • The complexity of the issue: Climate change is a complex issue with a wide range of scientific and political implications. This can make it difficult for journalists to understand and explain policy and scientific issues to the public.
  • The lack of access to information: Governments often do not release information about their climate change policies, or they release it in a way that is difficult to understand. This can make it difficult for journalists to report on these policies.

 

This tipsheet is meant to serve as a guide and resource for journalists covering South Africa’s climate change policies that support its journey to Net Zero. To understand the local response to climate change it helps to be familiar with a number of key international agreements, protocols and accords that steer the direction and impact of global climate change action, and in turn, steer the domestic policies of all countries. The international agreements have been decades in the making and represent a culmination of robust and many times, tense negotiations between countries on how the world can collectively mitigate, adapt and build resilience against the threat of global warming.

Before you get into the policy side of the net zero conversation, check out the Earth Journalism Network’s tipsheet and introduction for covering Net Zero in South Africa.

Global climate policy drivers 

Global agreements on climate change are important informers of domestic policies. For example, South Africa formally committed to raising its ambition to reduce more emissions on the world stage two years ago but few journalists considered what that decision would mean for the country’s existing energy policies. Now in 2023, the 2019 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP2019) is under review as pressure mounts on the government to reflect its highest emission reduction commitments in domestic policy. 

Tip for journalists: This is an opportunity for journalists to asses what the new plan will mean for energy security and electricity costs for the average consumer who is more interested in "bread and butter" issues over the technical details associated with international agreements on climate change. 

All parties under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are expected to match their domestic policies with that of the convention.

The UNFCCC was born from the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992 and supports the activities of the various bodies and their meetings:

  • Conference of the Parties (COP);
  • the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties (CMP);
  • the subsidiary bodies (which advise the COP/CMP); 
  • and the COP/CMP Bureau.

 

Countries joined the UNFCCC in 1992 as part of an international treaty to begin reducing greenhouse gas emissions driving atmospheric warming as a direct result of human activity beyond the planet’s ability to withstand the effects shown in a growing body of credible scientific evidence from institutions in every region of the globe. 

A historical interactive timeline of the conventions can be found here.

In 1988 the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) spearheaded the establishment of a global collective to assess science and policy action on climate change that represented a renewed joint effort to recognize growing evidence of human accelerated disaster on planet earth. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) now produces the collective scientific basis for climate action that all countries accept as credible and fact based evidence of the problem. 

The IPCC releases headline, summary statements that are useful for policymakers and the media. The latest AR6 synthesis report notes that everyone should strive to reach net zero sooner than planned. 

Below is more from the AR6 headline statements. 

  • Human activities, principally through emissions of greenhouse gasses, have unequivocally caused global warming.
  • Human-caused climate change is already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe. This has led to widespread adverse impacts and related losses and damages to nature and people.
  • Policies and laws addressing mitigation have consistently expanded since the last report (AR5). There are gaps between projected emissions from implemented policies and those from their international commitments at the UNFCCC (these are called nationally determined contributions). Finance flows fall short of the levels needed to meet climate goals across all sectors and regions.
  • Continued greenhouse gas emissions will lead to increasing global warming. Every increment of global warming will intensify multiple and concurrent hazards. 
  • Deep, rapid, and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions would lead to a discernible slowdown in global warming within around two decades.
  • Cumulative carbon emissions until the time of reaching net-zero CO2 emissions and the level of greenhouse gas emission reductions this decade largely determine whether warming can be limited to 1.5°C or 2°C.
  • Effective climate action is enabled by political commitment, well-aligned multilevel governance, institutional frameworks, laws, policies and strategies and enhanced access to finance and technology.

 

Here is why the IPCC is considered the most credible authority on climate change science:

  • It is a consensus-based organization. This means that its reports are approved by all of its member governments, which ensures that they are accurate and reflect the views of the entire scientific community.
  • It is made up of leading scientists from around the world. These scientists are experts in their fields and have been selected for their expertise and impartiality.
  • Its reports are peer-reviewed. This means that they are reviewed by other experts in the field to ensure that they are accurate and free of bias.
  • Its reports are transparent. The IPCC makes its data and methods available to the public, so that anyone can review them.

 

International agreements on climate change that have informed the net zero transition

The Paris Agreement is especially notable because it was the first universal (representing all countries), legally binding agreement, signed in 2015 by 197 parties, representing the globe. The Paris Agreement is not legally binding in the sense that countries can be taken to court for non-compliance. However, it is legally binding in the sense that countries are required to report on their emissions and on their progress towards their climate targets. Countries that do not meet their targets can be subject to diplomatic pressure and possible sanctions on things like trade and aid.

For example, in 2021, the European Union proposed a carbon border adjustment mechanism (CBAM). It is a policy that would impose a tax on imports of goods from countries that do not have a carbon pricing system in place. The CBAM is designed to level the playing field for European businesses and to encourage other countries to adopt carbon pricing systems.

Tip for journalists: Assess what the CBAM will mean for carbon intensive export products to the EU like automotives an steel. Will high taxes in these sectors affect job security? 

The ultimate goal of the Paris Agreement is to keep the temperature limit below 2C, to address the ongoing challenge of climate change and to ensure the world adapts to the existing and future dangers associated with it. It affirms that developed countries should take the lead in providing financial assistance to countries that are less endowed and more vulnerable. Importantly, the accord states that implementation must reflect,  “equity and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances.”  

2015 Paris was the final leg of difficult and intense discussions under what was called the Ad Hoc Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) - 2012-2015. This institution was established at the 2011 COP in Durban, South Africa and was mandated to develop the final protocol in 2015. The UNFCCC describes the Durban outcomes as, “a turning point in the climate change negotiations.”

An older but equally significant agreement, the Kyoto Protocol, was signed in 1997 to determine a set cause of action on binding emission reductions. Both China and the United States (US) refused to sign the protocol. Kyoto only came into effect in 1995. The Kyoto Protocol committed only 32 industrialized countries to limit and reduce greenhouse gasses (GHG) emissions in accordance with agreed individual targets. South Africa was not considered industrialized and did not sign up to the Kyoto Protocol. South Africa signed the Kyoto Protocol on 10 December 1997 and ratified it on 31 July 2002. 

The protocol’s second commitment period ended in 2020 when the Paris Agreement superseded it. This coincided with the COVID -19 pandemic lockdowns which shrunk global economies and was followed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Both these events impacted climate change ambition in both good and bad ways. Government's national interests shifted and so did the allocation of funding to respond to the pandemic, leaving little room for climate mitigation despite calls for a ‘green recovery’. Secondly, the invasion pushed up the prices of energy and thrusted the globe into an energy crisis that forced countries like Germany to turn to coal for the short term. This however coincided with a renewed commitment to increase the share of renewable energy in the country to 60% by 2030. 

South Africa has committed to reach net zero because it is a signatory to the above protocols and conventions. As a result, it must shift domestic policy to align with this commitment. These commitments have made the country eligible for international funding from:

  • The Green Climate Fund
  • The Adaptation Fund
  • The Global Environment Facility

 

As a signatory, South Africa benefits from the Paris Agreement because it requires developed countries to provide financial assistance to developing countries to help them mitigate and adapt to climate change. This assistance can be used to fund a variety of projects, such as renewable energy development, energy efficiency improvements, and adaptation measures. At the Conference of the Parties (COP26) climate change conference in Glasgow, Scotland, in November 2021, South Africa signed a deal with several Western countries to receive $8.5 billion in funding to help the country transition away from coal and towards renewable energy.

The deal was signed by South Africa, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and the European Union. The funding will be used to support a number of projects, including:

  • The closure of coal-fired power plants
  • The development of renewable energy projects, such as solar and wind power
  • The improvement of energy efficiency
  • The development of new technologies to help South Africa reduce its greenhouse gas emissions

 

The deal resulted in the development of a Just Energy Transition Investment Plan that breaks down the country’s investment needs between 2023 and 2027.  

Tip for journalists: Scrutinize the conditions of international climate finance agreements to assess whether governments are using it for the desired intention. The "just" element in this regard is important here because this finance must also be used to cushion communities affected by the closure of old coal fired power stations. For example, in 2010, the World Bank granted state utility Eskom millions of dollars to build Medupi Power Station on condition that it had the best clean air technology. However, over a decade later, this power station has still not been fitted with the technology that is meant to reduce its levels of air pollution causing widespread respirator illnesses in local communities. Here is an example of such a report. 

At COP, South Africa is part of a few negotiating blocs that largely represent the interests of developing countries. These include:

  • South Africa is a member of the BASIC group, which is a coalition of four developing countries that have been at the forefront of the global climate change negotiations. The other members of BASIC are Brazil, India, and China. BASIC was formed in 2009 in response to the failure of the Copenhagen climate change conference to reach a binding agreement on emissions reductions. The group has since played a key role in the negotiations, advocating for the interests of developing countries and pushing for ambitious action on climate change. South Africa has been a vocal leader within BASIC, and its negotiators have been instrumental in developing the group's positions on a range of issues, including mitigation, adaptation, and financing. South Africa has also played a key role in building alliances with other developing countries and in mobilizing support for BASIC's positions. The BASIC group has been successful in raising the profile of the needs of developing countries in the climate change negotiations. The group's work has helped to ensure that the interests of developing countries are taken into account in the negotiations, and it has helped to push for ambitious action on climate change.
  • The G77 and China: The G77 and China is a group of developing countries that was formed in 1964 to promote the collective economic interests of its members. South Africa is a member of the G77 and China and has been a vocal advocate for the interests of developing countries at COP.
  • The African Group: The African Group is a group of African countries that was formed in 1967 to promote the collective interests of its members on a range of issues, including climate change. South Africa is a member of the African Group and has been a strong advocate for the interests of African countries at COP.
  • South Africa is not a member of the Least Developed Countries Group or the Small Island Developing States Group, but it has been a strong supporter of the group's work at COP.

 

Climate policy in South Africa 

South Africa is a notable player on the international climate action stage and was among the first developing and emerging market countries to voluntarily set emission targets in 2010.  It raised its emission targets in its latest NDC deposit to the UNFCCC in 2021 and will submit an updated target in 2025.

As an emerging market and developing country, South Africa has an elaborate climate governance system which includes consultative climate policy development in comparison to other countries in the same category. It was in 1994, the first year of democracy in South Africa, that the South African Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism established the National Climate Change Committee (NCCC) in response to growing international concerns around climate change. 

Timeline of climate-related policy by sector, from 2004-2019
Credit: London School of Economics

 

The 2004 National Climate Change Response Strategy 

This was the first published climate change response and led to the development of a “Long Term Mitigation Scenarios” process that eventually gave way to the voluntary pledge under the 2008 Copenhagen Accord as well as the first NDC submitted in Paris in 2015. In 2011 South Africa released a National Climate Change Response White Paper (NCCRWP) which influenced several other pieces of legislation that included provisions on climate change, according to the 2019 case study quoted above. Among them were:

  • Disaster Management Amendment Bill, 2015 or implied provision 
  • National Greenhouse Gas Reporting Regulations and Pollution Prevention Plans issued by the DEA under the National Environmental Management and Air Quality Act

 

In addition, policy mechanisms to target various sectors were developed under the country’s initial Climate Change ‘Near-term Priority Flagship Programmes’ to kick off work with government departments. The flagship programmes focused on four key areas:

  • Mitigation: Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from South Africa's energy sector
  • Adaptation: Building resilience to the impacts of climate change
  • Research and development: Investing in research and development to develop new technologies to address climate change
  • International cooperation: Working with other countries to address climate change

 

Eight programmes kicked off and included:

  1. The Climate Change Response Public Works Flagship Programme 
  2. The Water Conservation and Demand Management Flagship Programme 
  3. The Renewable Energy Flagship Programme 
  4. The Energy Efficiency and Energy Demand Management Flagship Programme 
  5. The Transport Flagship Programme 
  6. The Waste Management Flagship Programme 
  7. The Carbon Capture and Sequestration Flagship Programme 
  8. The Adaptation Research Flagship Programme 

The success of each programme varied. The mitigation programme for example, helped to reduce South Africa's greenhouse gas emissions by 2.4% between 2016 and 2020. However, energy sector emissions increased by 2.4% between 2000 and 2020. Other programmes, such as the adaptation programme, were less successful. The adaptation programme was hampered by a lack of funding and a lack of coordination between different government departments.

Tip for journalists: As pressure mounts for countries like South Africa to honor their commitment to the Paris Agreement it is important for journalists to scrutinize whether the country has learnt from the mistakes made during the flagship programmes and to highlight the risks associated with failing to coordinate efficiently between government departments. 

The Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) finalized the National Climate Change Response Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) Framework in 2015, to inform the tracking of South Africa’s transition towards a climate resilient society and lower carbon economy. This helped the country collect data on greenhouse gas emissions, track progress on mitigation and adaptation initiatives, and assess the effectiveness of these initiatives. The system helped to identify areas where South Africa can reduce its emissions by switching to renewable energy sources, improving energy efficiency, and reducing deforestation. It showed that South Africa has made progress in reducing its emissions from the energy sector, but has made less progress in reducing emissions from the transport sector.

Main elements of South Africa's Climate Change monitoring and evaluation system
Credit: South Africa 2nd National Climate Change Report 2016/17

 

The GHG inventory is a critical part of South Africa’s transparency framework and informs the scope and form of national mitigation policy and actions. South Africa has recently introduced National Greenhouse Gas Emission Reporting Regulations, under the National Environmental Management: Air Quality Act, 2004 (Act No. 39 of 2004). The Regulations took effect in April 2017 as part of a single national reporting system for the GHG emissions, which will be used predominantly to update and maintain the National GHG Inventory (DEA, 2017).

It is worth noting that all reporting on emissions for the inventory are voluntary but most high emitters have adhered to the regulations. 

Tip for journalists: The inventory is useful for journalists to compare emissions in various sectors, to assess total emissions for top five highest emitters and to collect data relating to emission drops over certain periods. In this way journalists can hold both the public and private sector accountable for using more than their allocated carbon budget (emission limits) over a period of time. This will give the public an idea of who shares the largest responsibility for reducing emissions. The Centre for Environmental Rights has been instrumental in assessing whether many of these policies and systems are effective in assessing mitigation and other climate objectives. They are easily accessible to journalists and provide well informed comment on most environmental and climate justice issues in South Africa.

The Carbon Tax 

A carbon tax is the price that governments place on emissions from various industrial sources during production. Emitters of carbon or other greenhouse gasses must then pay tax on every ton of carbon emitted. It is a core policy for reducing emissions by taxing polluters. 

South Africa’s Carbon Tax Act was published in 2019 (ten years after it was first introduced) which set out phases of implementation in the country’s economy. The preamble to the Act emphasizes that the cost of alleviating environmental degradation is to be carried by those responsible for the harm thus discouraging further harm. Shareholder activist organization Just Share has released a new report into corporate lobbying as a preamble to a more detailed second report on how corporate lobbying may have delayed and watered down critical policies like the carbon tax. This is largely due to the lack of regulations governing lobbying in South Africa. LobbyMap has also released its own assessment of corporate lobbying on climate change policies in South Africa by looking at the country’s biggest emitters such as petro -chemical giant Sasol. According to the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), Sasol and the Minerals Council have been lobbying against the carbon tax for over a decade. Business groupings representing high polluters have developed a joint position on the tax, calling for a higher carbon price only “post 2035”; a delay in annual carbon tax increases until “at least 2030”; and the retention and increase of tax-free allowances for big emitters. The CER believes that the proposal will hinder South Africa’s ability to meet its emission reduction targets. It sets out for reasons for this:

  • South Africa’s carbon tax – including the current proposed amendments thereto – is already too low to be effective: ignoring the significant tax-free allowances (ranging from 60-95%), the current carbon tax amounts to US$9 per tonne of carbon dioxide (tCO₂). If the maximum tax-free allowances are taken into account, the effective rate is US$0.45. The proposed amendments to the Carbon Tax Act envisage a tax rate of US$30 per tCO₂, before allowances, by 2030. This is still significantly lower than the rate of between $50 and $100/tCO2e recommended by most global benchmarking, to align with Paris Agreement goals.
  • Carbon tax is an essential tool to reduce emissions and combat climate change: the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirms that, unless there are immediate, rapid, and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gasses (GHGs), it will be impossible to limit warming to safe levels. Global emissions must be reduced by 45% (from 2010 levels) in just over seven years (by 2030) to keep warming to within 1.5°C of pre-industrial levels.
  • Fossil fuel companies have had sufficient time to prepare: following about a decade of intense opposition and lobbying by fossil fuel companies and industry associations, a carbon tax was introduced in South Africa in 2019. In order to give companies time to prepare, it was introduced in stages: the first phase was to run from 1 June 2019 until the end of 2022, and the second, from 1 January 2023 to 2030. Phase 1 included tax-free emission allowances of between 60-95%.
  • Delaying cuts now means that the majority of people in South Africa will suffer more later: claiming that the carbon tax will have dire socio-economic consequences ignores the very real socio-economic risks associated with delaying the transition, as well as the current and future impacts of failing to mitigate climate change.

 

According to the SA Revenue Services, SARS, as of February 2022, the carbon tax rate increased to R144 (about US$9). To put into context a ton of carbon in the EU costs up to $90. The tax is expected to lead to an estimated decrease in emissions of 13 to 14.5% by 2025 and 26 to 33% by 2035 compared with business-as-usual. 

“Over the last ten years, a worrying pattern has emerged: a persistent and well-resourced fossil fuel lobby has paid lip service to South Africa’s climate goals while simultaneously working hard to delay and weaken the country’s carbon taxes. This is done in the interests of securing short-term profits for corporations, but will have devastating long-term consequences for ordinary people who are already bearing the brunt of the climate impacts caused by these companies,” says Brandon Abdinor, Climate Advocacy Lawyer at the Centre for Environmental Rights.  

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has proposed a carbon price floor of  US$25 (R375) /tCO2e to help achieve a 23% reduction in global emissions below baseline by 2030, enough to bring emissions in line with keeping global warming below 2°C. According to Deloitte, the carbon tax was designed so that all revenues collected would be recycled back into green initiatives. An estimated R1.6 billion in carbon tax revenue was collected in the 2022 payment period. However, the amount of money that was recycled back into green initiatives is currently unknown, due to the revenue being pooled within the general budget. “To demonstrate the success of the carbon tax in promoting a sustainable economy and increasing compliance among SA companies, greater transparency should be implemented regarding the revenue generated by the tax and how it is utilized,” the firm said in an article in February 2023. Last year Sasol warned that the carbon tax threatened its financial viability and risked the closure of its SA operations. Sasol owns the highest point source of emissions on the African continent at its Secunda operations in Mpumalanga. The company told News24 that its tax burden was up some R20 billion to R30 billion. 

Tip for journalists: You can access data on how much carbon tax a publicly listed corporation pays through its annual financial statements. That data can then be compared to the company’s voluntary submissions to the country’s greenhouse gas inventory. This is likely to reveal the impact exemptions have on what the tax should have been, and what they may be in the future when the exemptions fall away. 

A number of other policy measures accompanied the introduction of the Act. As per the SARS these included: 

  • December 2019 – Media statement – Gazetting of the Carbon Offsets Regulations in terms of the Carbon Tax Act
  • December 2019 – Notice 1556 – Regulations on carbon offsets under section 19 of the Carbon Tax Act
  • December 2019 – Summary – Draft Trade Exposure and GHG Emissions Intensity Benchmark Regulations
  • December 2019 – Draft Regulations – Trade Exposure Allowance
  • December 2019 – Draft Regulations – GHG Emissions Intensity Benchmarks
National Climate Change Response Policy
Credit: South Africa 2nd National Climate Change Report 2016/17

Low Emissions Development Strategy 2050 (LEDS)

In 2020 South Africa submitted a Low Emissions Development Strategy to the UNFCCC committing to developing a pathway to reaching net zero emissions by mid century. The strategy is a blueprint for low emission development. It was the culmination of years of work. The Paris Agreement encourages its signatories to: formulate and communicate long-term low GHG emission development strategies (LEDS) to the UNFCCC by 2020, mindful of Article 2 of the Paris Agreement and taking into account their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances. 

The strategy, first introduced to the public in 2018, narrates how various sectors of the economy would implement policies and measures to reduce emissions up to the 2050 horizon. While principally focused on low-carbon development, the strategy will also take into account how mitigation options may affect or be affected by adaptation measures and potential combined effects of these interventions. 

Low carbon development is defined as a new pattern of development that seeks to reduce CO2 emissions while not affecting economic growth according to SpringerLink’s Encyclopedia of Quality of Life and Well-Being Research. This means producing electricity, fuels, buildings and even transport with lower emissions. A simple example is replacing coal -fired power with renewable energy or producing electric vehicles with non-combustable engines. 

Mitigation is the act of reducing emissions through low carbon development with the aim of preventing global warming. 

Adaptation is the act of building and developing societies in a way that is resilient to climate change and climate shocks. The idea of floating buildings in the context of floods and sea level rise is an example. 

The vision for the SA LEDS 2050 takes into account core messages from a climate change, developmental and socio-economic perspectives – from the following national and international commitments in no particular order of importance: 

  • UNFCCC – to prevent concentrations of GHG in the atmosphere at a level that would result in dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system and urge countries to respond in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities; 
  • Paris Agreement – to limit the global average temperature increase above pre-industrial levels to well below 2°C, and to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5°C and the communication by Countries, by 2020, their mid-century LEDS to the global community; 
  • Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) – to confirm the peak, plateau and decline GHG emissions trajectory range 
  • National Development Plan (NDP) – to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality by 2030, recognizing that South Africa is not only a contributor to GHG emissions, but also particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change specifically when it concerns the poor, women and children; 
  • NCCRP – to make a fair contribution to avoiding dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system, within a timeframe that enables economic, social and environmental development to proceed in a sustainable manner; 
  • National Strategy on Sustainable Development (NSSD) – to formulate a sustainability vision for the country in which South Africa aspires to be a sustainable, economically prosperous and self-reliant nation state that safeguards its democracy by meeting the fundamental human needs of its people. 

 

Objectives of the South African LEDS from SA LEDS 2020

  • Mitigate the threats posed by climate change;  
  • Support the implementation of policies and measures to reduce GHG emissions across sectors of the economy and sustainable development goals in an integrated manner;  
  • Provide strategic guidance as to which measures will be implemented to reduce GHG emissions in the short, medium and long-term; 
  •  Provide a high-level plan on how South Africa would transition to a lower carbon development economy in a “just transition” manner;  
  • Building the low carbon development culture;  
  • To mobilise finance for the funding of programmes to help South Africa achieve a low carbon development.

 

Tip for journalists: South Africa’s LEDS policy gives effect to the country’s international commitments on climate change. Journalists can use this policy to assess whether the country is developing and transitioning from high carbon to low carbon in a way that is just. It is also a helpful resource to identify affected sectors which could be an indicator of hotspot areas affected by job losses or new economic activity as industries decarbonise. It can also be used to assess how sectors should be developing to keep in line with low carbon development. 

Climate Change Bill 

In 2008 a draft Climate Change Bill was released for public comment. It represents the first climate change law in the country. The Bill was only introduced to parliament a decade later in 2022 and public consultations are ongoing. The bill is expected to ‘enable the development of an effective climate change response and a long-term, just transition to a low-carbon and climate-resilient economy and society for South Africa in the context of sustainable development; and to provide for matters connected therewith.’

The Climate Bill is South Africa’s first law on climate change. Policies are aspirational plans that the government seeks to achieve while recommending laws that can enable them. A law sets out institutional and legal frameworks to achieve them. A law is binding and prosecutable in court while a policy is not. Up until the Climate Change Bill outlines here, the focus of this tipsheet has been on South Africa’s various policies. This means that the Climate Change Bill is the supreme guide of South Africa’s commitment to dealing with climate change. It means South Africa is moving from policy planning to implementation.

In a study on the ‘Governance of climate change policy’ in South Africa, authors Alina Averchenkova, Kate Elizabeth Gannon and Patrick Curran found that, “key cross-cutting strategies on climate change are in place, but policies are not aligned and implementation has been delayed.” It states that a systemic issue that could become a roadblock for the implementation of South Africa’s nationally determined contribution (NDC) to the Paris Agreement is the lack of alignment and policy coherence: in other words, “the gap between climate change goals and the objectives set in other key strategies and policy documents that determine the trajectory of development.”  An example of this is how the Integrated Resource Plan (2019) does not align with the NDC, whereas the NDC is a policy and the IRP is law. 

Despite the challenges, South Africa has a sophisticated climate governance regime as depicted in this figure from the AR6 report. 

A color-coded map of progress in development of climate change frameworks in Africa
Credit: Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Sixth Assessment Report

Among the key components of the Climate Change Bill are obligations placed on provincial governments and municipalities to undertake a’ Climate Change Needs and Response Assessment’ as well as establish implementation plans for their response. Several large metropolitan cities and provincial governments have already done so. The strategies vary in focus on mitigation and adaptation. Provincial governments are expected to update and review the strategies every five years in line with SA’s five year NDC cycle. See the status of each province below:

 

Energy policy efficiency

Coal makes up 80% of electricity generation in South Africa according to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) which released statistics for electricity generation in 2022. This means decarbonizing the sector is essential to meet a net zero 2050 goal. 

South Africa’s government announced a review of the Integrated Resource Plan (2019) in 2022. In May 2023 the Presidential Climate Change Commission released its recommendations for the new Integrated Resource Plan following a multi stakeholder colloquium.  

Tip for journalists: Speak to electricity systems researchers at various academic institutions on South Africa’s energy policy in the context of its international climate change commitments. Think tank E3G is a notable institution at the University of Cape Town with resources and experts who can discuss these issues further. Among the researchers who are well versed in this area is Jesse Burton. 

E3G has found that existing policies like the IRP19 plan for 1.5GW of new coal power plants, which will be significantly more expensive than their low-carbon alternatives. In the current IRP19 over 35GW of Eskom’s 42GW coal generation capacity will be taken offline due to end of life by 2050. This includes 5.4 GW by 2022 and 10.5 GW by 2030.

Climate Action Tracker has ranked South Africa’s updated 2022 Nationally Determined Contribution submitted to the UNFCCC as “Insufficient”. This is however an upgrade from the previous “Highly Insufficient” ranking prior to the 2022 NDC. 

 “The ‘Insufficient’ rating indicates that South Africa’s climate policies and action in 2030 need substantial improvements to be consistent with the 1.5°C temperature limit. If all countries were to follow South Africa’s approach, warming would reach over 2°C and up to 3°C” - Climate Action Tracker 

In the Africa focused chapter of the IPCC AR6 II report, in southern Africa temperature rises of 1.5°C, 2°C and 3°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels will see heat waves increase between 2 - 4 while hot and very hot days are virtually certain to increase under 1.5°C and 2°C of global warming. Summer rainfall could see 10% - 15% decrease while the western region will become drier, with increasing drought frequency, intensity and duration. 

Increases in drought frequency and duration are projected over large parts of southern Africa at 1.5°C and unprecedented extreme droughts (compared to the 1981–2010 period) emerge at 2°C. The result is a knock on effect on health, biodiversity, water, food, infrastructure and economies. 

Infographic of Climate Action Tracker for South Africa
Credit: Climate Action Tracker 

 

“Considering South Africa’s planned but not yet implemented policies, our rating of policies and actions would go up to “Almost sufficient”. The stringent implementation of proposed economy-wide and sector-specific policy measures would enable South Africa to come close to achieving its 2030 target.” - Climate Action Tracker 

For South Africa to aim for 1.5C it would have to meet the lower end or highest ambition in its emissions targets set in the latest NDC. However, South Africa maintains that its most ambitious targets are conditional on international support. For context, if everyone fails to meet the 1.5C target set out in the Paris Agreement, the global south will begin to feel the worst impact of climate change.

An infographic showing key risks for Africa according to increased global warming
Credit: Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Sixth Assessment Report of the IPCC

 

Below is a schematic illustration of impacts in AR6 of the interconnectedness of different sectors and impacts that spillover to affect the health and well-being of African people.

schematic illustration of impacts in AR6 of the interconnectedness of different sectors and impacts that spillover to affect the health and well-being of African people
Credit: Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Sixth Assessment Report of the IPCC

Media covering policy, climate change and net zero

Policies on climate change have so far been historically difficult to implement. In 2022 Harvard University along with the OECD and the Social Economics Lab conducted a study to understand why. It concluded that three specific concerns need to be addressed if people are to support climate action:  

  • The effectiveness of policies in reducing emissions, 
  • the distributional impact of those policies on lower-income households, 
  • and how they affect the self-interest of the respondents’ households

 

“We show experimentally that information specifically addressing these key concerns can substantially increase the support for climate policies in many countries. Explaining how policies work and who can benefit from them is critical to foster policy support, whereas simply informing people about the impacts of climate change is not effective,”  the authors said. 

This is an important insight into how journalists can cover policy issues around climate change. Data can be effective in telling stories but framing and “speaking to the heart” does a lot more according to the European Broadcasting Union 2023 News Report on Climate Change Journalism. In dozens of interviews with various academics, experts and media practitioners it was also found that there was a massive disconnect between the political appetite to reach net zero and the public knowledge (and therefore the mandate) of how to get there. This shows the enormous responsibility journalists have when it comes to both policy making and implementation. 

This useful resource and guide for all media can be found here. 

“Rational scientific data can lose against a compelling emotional story that speaks to people’s core values.” - George Marshall, Co-Founder Climate Outreach (EBU 2023 News Report)

“No one is going to open a magazine and read depressing stories back-to-back. How can you do funny stories, stories about products you use? How can you get out of the traps of climate journalism? Becoming net zero by 2050 is the biggest business story of all time. This should be exciting!” - Aaron Rutkoff, founding editor of Bloomberg Green (EBU 2023 News Report) 

Story ideas

  • Is SA’s updated Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) in alignment with domestic energy policies like the Integrated Resource Plan (2019). How can this be improved?
  • How has inadequate and weak implementation of existing policies inhibited the country’s alignment with the Paris Agreement temperature goals?
  • How will the Climate Change Bill cap emissions in various sectors and how will this affect those industries?
  • Will the Just Transition Framework adopted by the Presidential Climate Change Commission effectively address the risks on people and jobs in regions most at risk?
  • Will the current state of disaster as a result of the electricity supply crisis make room for emergency procurement of new fossil fuels not accounted for in the NDC or IRP19?
  • How has successful lobbying by vested fossil fuel interests watered down South Africa’s potential to meet the Paris Agreement goals?
  • How will South Africa’s mitigation commitments affect cost of living and household income? Is it comparatively worse if no mitigation commitments are met?
  • Are South Africa’s climate change and/or net zero policies considering the poor and vulnerable? How? 

 

Further reading

For a list of useful contacts to help your reporting please download the PDF: Contacts.pdf 


This tipsheet was produced by Tunicia Phillips. 

Banner Image: Bokpoort solar farm in Groblershoop in The Nothern Cape, South Africa, where these large salt tanks are heated to produce steam and make electricity / Credit: Suzanne Paxton.