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Cabinet urged to adopt more ambitious climate change targets

4 August 2021 at 11:37 am

The Centre for Environmental Rights, along with many other civil society organisations, urges Cabinet to adopt an update on South Africa’s Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Climate Agreement that is aligned with the target of limiting global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

This means adopting a target that is more ambitious than both the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment’s March 2021 proposal, and the June 2021 Presidential Climate Commission recommendation.

An open letter, signed by 110 individuals and organisations under the Energy Governance SA network banner, urges President Cyril Ramaphosa and the Cabinet to ensure that South Africa’s NDCs under the Paris Climate Agreement meet the required target of limiting warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

On 30 March 2021, the Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, Barbara Creecy, released a draft Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) update for public consultation. One of the resounding messages to come from the consultation that took place over the following months was that South Africa can afford to, and therefore must, adopt a more ambitious NDC – much depends on it.

In written submissions, the Centre for Environmental Rights argued that South Africa has an obligation under international and South Africa law, including the South African Constitution, to take all reasonable measures to protect its people from the impacts of climate change.

The government’s draft NDC Update proposes that greenhouse gas emissions be limited to a range of 398 to 440 Mt CO2e.

After considering technical modelling evidence, the Presidential Climate Commission released a recommendation in June that the proposed range be reduced to 350 to 420 Mt CO2e. This recommendation was submitted to President Ramaphosa on 1 July 2021. It is due to be considered by the Cabinet this week.

The final NDC Update will be submitted to the United Nations ahead of the 26th UN Climate Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow in November 2021.

Not our fair share

Not every country’s fair share contribution towards global emission reductions is the same. Modelling undertaken by groups like the international Climate Equity Reference Project (CERP) takes into account the necessary global emissions reduction, and weighs each country’s required reductions according to its historical and current responsibility for contributing to global warming, as well as its socio-economic capacity to decarbonise.

Despite government’s claim that the draft NDC update represents a “fair share” of greenhouse gas emission reductions for South Africa, modelling done by CERP shows that the reduction proposed by government does not constitute South Africa’s fair share. Moreover, it shows that the proposed targets are not aligned with the Paris Agreement’s goal to limit warming to 1.5°C.

Why keeping to 1.5 degrees warming is so important for South Africa

The impacts of climate change are not and will not be spread evenly around the planet. South Africa is forecast to warm at twice the average global rate, and is therefore particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, particularly in respect of water and food security, as well as impacts on health, human settlements, and infrastructure and ecosystem services.

By way of example, our country faces increased likelihood of drought, with direct impacts such as decreased crop yields, and reduced labour productivity due to heat. The fisheries sector, which employs many thousands of people, faces warming waters which will threaten temperature sensitive fish populations.

If warming reaches 2°C above pre-industrial levels, more than 70 percent of Earth’s coastlines will be subject to sea-level rise greater than 0.2 meters, resulting in increased coastal flooding, beach erosion, salinisation of water supplies and other impacts on human and ecological systems (NASA).

Read more about the impacts of 1.5 degrees warming.

The CERP modelling shows that South Africa needs to submit and work towards achieving a range of 274 to 352 Mt CO2e to stay within safe warming limits.

Economic threats and opportunities in decarbonisation

Many stakeholders from civil society, business and Eskom have warned that the global struggle to contain the climate crisis is at a crucial stage in terms of accessing much needed financing to assist with decarbonisation efforts. Coal-reliant South Africa is well placed to access such financing, as the cost of decarbonising the country’s economy is substantially lower than in many parts of the world.

But in order to be a credible, or even eligible, destination for this finance, government has to send strong signals to the global community that it is serious about transitioning to a low carbon economy, and this is done by adopting a strong NDC.

All of this is taking place in the lead up to the COP 26 climate summit in November this year, which has been dubbed the “finance COP”. Climate and transition funding mechanisms and opportunities will be receiving heightened attention on the global stage.

As global climate change response intensifies, the South African economy will incur enormous risk by not demonstrating its best effort and staying in step with other countries – notwithstanding the climate risks and high costs that southern Africa in particular faces as a climate change hotspot. For example, the European Union is set to implement a Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism, which will see carbon intensive export goods punished by severe carbon based taxation.

Conversely, strong local NDCs, accompanied by sound policy implementation, have the potential to unlock many opportunities in the green economy, with the energy, transport, agricultural and other sectors standing to become net employment creators and enhanced revenue generators if the moment is seized.

  Lower Bound, in Mt CO2eq Upper Bound, in Mt CO2eq
Government’s proposed update emissions range 398 440
Presidential Climate Commission’s recommendation 350 420
Climate Equity Reference Project (endorsed by the Centre for Environmental Rights) 274 352

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