SA climate plans ‘inadequate’
Mail & Guardian | News & Media 2015 | Sipho Kings
South Africa’s plans to lower carbon emissions will still see these increase by 80% over 1990 levels, according to research by Climate Action Tracker.
Many South Africans lament the country’s relatively high emissions-per-person rate. (Gallo)
South Africa currently emits over half a billion tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere every year. The emissions make it the 12th highest emitter per person in the world. These trap heat and warm the planet. That warming is set to unwind the ecosystems required for life on Earth.
In an attempt to mitigate that, world governments are putting together their plans to lower carbon emissions and deal with climate change. These Intended Nationally Determined Contributions will be submitted before the COP 21 climate change meeting in Paris next month. These will then be put together in order to create a roadmap for lowered emissions.
The 2°C threshold
At the heart of this process is a recognition by the UN body guiding the COP negotiations – the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – that average global temperatures should not increase by more than 2°C.
According to its research, any increase above this will be “severe, pervasive and irreversible”.
The UN’s latest comprehensive release on climate change, “Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability”, said climate change was already being acutely felt in Africa. “African ecosystems are already being impacted by climate change, and the future impacts are expected to be substantial.”
Even with substantial action taken to reduce carbon emissions, the report said the continent’s interior would be up to 6°C by the end of this century. Local data shows that South Africa’s interior is nearly a degree hotter than a century ago.
As a result, the African country bloc negotiating ahead of Paris has said the goal has to be to keep average global temperature increases below 1.5°C this century. South Africa is part of this bloc.
But influential climate research group Climate Action Tracker said this week that South Africa’s plans to lower emissions were “inadequate”.
Not cutting it
The country’s intended contribution gives a benchmark target of keeping emissions between 398 and 614-million tonnes of carbon dioxide. The group said this would mean South Africa’s emissions would be between 20% and 82% higher than 1990, even if it did all the work that it promised to do.
This year has become symbolic in pledges, with numerous countries promising to lower their overall emissions by certain percentages below their 1990 levels.
In its contribution, the European Union put forward a binding goal for its members states to collectively reduce emissions by 40% below their 1990 level, by 2030. Last week India said it would cut its carbon emissions per unit of GDP by a third by 2030.
But South Africa’s pledge was not consistent with the global goal of limiting global warming below 2°C, according to the carbon tracking group. “If most other countries were to follow South Africa’s approach, global warming would exceed 3-4°C.”
At the 2009 Copenhagen climate conference, South Africa said it would reduce its emissions by 42% below business-as-usual levels by 2025. The majority of this would come from decommissioning old coal-fired power stations and building renewable and nuclear energy plants.
Without implementing its intended contribution – and only through plans currently on the books – the group said South Africa would increase its emissions by 141% on 1990 levels by 2025.
Sipho Kings is the Mail & Guardian’s environment reporter