Climate change: it's probably not going to be grea
  • On Monday, South Africa deposited an update on its nationally determined contribution (NDC) under the Paris Agreement, spelling out its climate-change commitments.
  • It commits the country to a starkly different carbon trajectory than before, with upper-end targets nearly a third below SA's previous promises.
  • It also comes with a rather large price tag: up to R4 trillion up to 2030.
  • SA's ambitions are dependent on rejigging the electricity sector, and on rich countries making good on their promises, it says.
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South Africa has promised the world to dump a lot less carbon dioxide, and other greenhouse gasses, into the atmosphere, on the assumption that richer countries will make good on commitments to provide the money for climate-change mitigation and adaptation.

Because South Africa's new plan won't be cheap: it will require around R4 trillion in various types of financing by 2030 to achieve.

SA lodged an update on its nationally determined contribution (NDC) under the Paris Agreement with the United Nations on Monday, a submission that "updates and enhances" commitments from 2016 – and now "reflects our highest possible level of ambition, based on science and equity, in light of our national circumstances".

The targets are dramatically different from those SA set five years ago. For 2025, annual greenhouse gas emissions are set at 398 to 510 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, and for 2030 those numbers drop to 350 to 420 metric tons. That covers all South African industry and activity but not unpredictable wildfires, which can add another 5 to 30 metric tonnes to the total.

That will see South Africa move to declining emissions a full decade earlier than previously anticipated, in 2025 rather than in 2035, with the new target for 2030 set 32% lower than previously.

At the very least, the new numbers suggest, South Africa will be emitting 12% less greenhouse gas than its previous best-effort estimate. It could do better still; another update to the commitments due in 2025 "will consider whether the level of ambition for 2030 can be increased further, in the light of national circumstances, technology developments, and the availability of international support," South Africa says.

The new targets are a "fair contribution to the long-term mitigation goal" of the planet, South Africa says, and are built on the assumption that foreign money will be forthcoming to help meet them. That is an ongoing theme, with warnings that the ambitious targets "will require substantial multilateral support" for measures "including a very ambitious power sector investment plan".

The submission shows that South Africa will be looking for a somewhat more than $271 billion – the equivalent of over R4 trillion – to mitigate and adapt to climate change, in various forms of financing, including domestic loans for green projects. That total is made up of:

  • $13 million "to build evidence-based support for policy implementation", including provincial and municipal forums.
  • $8 million to develop tools and strategies around climate-change planning, such as long-term adaptation scenarios.
  • $3 billion to $4 billion to implement the National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy (NCCAS), which includes building flood protection, setting up early-warning systems for small farmers, and getting cities ready for trouble.
  • $16 billion to $267 billion for "climate change adaptation investment pipeline projects" that are not formally further defined, but covers a wide array of renewable generation and energy efficiency projects.

"It is anticipated that a growing number of South African cities and towns will be exposed to the impacts of weather-induced hazards such as flooding, heatwaves, droughts, wildfires, and storms," the document reads.

"This is partly due to the projected increase in the frequency and intensity of weather-related hazards, but also due to the high socioeconomic vulnerability inherent within communities, as well as poor land-use practices, growing informality, and a failure to rapidly deploy resilient infrastructure associated with accommodating a growing urbanising population."

(Compiled by Phillip de Wet)

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