Key climate warnings for South Africa

The world has warmed one degree – but South Africa is warming twice as fast. But while many other countries and regions have declared climate emergencies, South Africa is instead doubling down on fossil fuel emissions. Our national emissions reduction strategy is currently ranked ‘highly insufficient’ by the Climate Action Tracker:

To be in line with the Paris Agreement goals, South Africa would need to adopt more ambitious actions by 2050 beyond the IRP2019, such as even further increasing renewable energy capacity by 2030 and beyond, fully phasing out coal-fired power generation by latest 2040, and substantially limiting natural gas use.

The National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy, published by the Department of Environmental Affairs in May 2019, outlined the following climate prospects for South Africa:

  • “South Africa is already experiencing significant effects of climate change, particularly as a result of increased temperatures and water variability.” –
  • “The observed rate of warming has been 2°C per century or even higher – more than twice the global rate of temperature increase for the western parts and the northeast,” the department said.
  • “There is evidence that extreme weather events in South Africa are increasing, with heat wave conditions found to be more likely, dry spell durations lengthening slightly, and rainfall intensity increasing.
  • “Climate zones across the country are already shifting, ecosystems and landscapes are being degraded, veld fires are becoming more frequent, and overused natural terrestrial and marine systems are under stress.”
  • If we don’t cut carbon emissions from oil, gas and coal, and land degradation, temperatures are set to increase ‘drastically’, with temperature increases greater than 4°C across South Africa; increases greater than 6°C possible in the western, central and northern interior.
  • If we don’t cut carbon emissions, there will be an increase in the number of heat-wave days and very hot days where these above temperatures will be common or even exceeded.
  • But if we cut emissions, the increase in temperatures in the interior could be kept to between 2.5 to 4°C (still very high)
  • Greater uncertainty around rainfall projections than in temperature projections.
  • With low mitigation, drier conditions overall, and an increase in ‘extreme rainfall events’ in the interior of the country.
  • With high mitigation, “generally wetter conditions over the central and eastern interior,” it said. “Other projections predict generally drier conditions.”
  • Also, an increase in ‘direct wave impacts’ and coastal flooding/inundation; flooding of low-lying areas and erosion; Quadruple burden of disease; Poor housing, infrastructure and service delivery; High water demand – highly problematic as current water usage already exceeds reliable yield; Deteriorating water quality in river systems, water storage reservoirs and groundwater.

Further resources

This page will carry the best resources we know of for understanding the current and likely future impacts of climate breakdown on South Africa, in a global context. Please do make suggestions.

Is there a single indicator for the current level of global stress we’re placing on human civilisation, besides the warnings from the Global Footprint Network? Not that we know of, but a good substitute might be the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s summary of global grain stocks. (Scary fact: the world only ever has around three months of grain reserves): FAO Cereal supply and demand brief

Climate breakdown summaries

These sites offer complementary and contextual views of the direction of global emissions trends, and how far they go towards being sufficient to avert the worst of climate change:

Understanding related resource and ecological crises

GDP is a terrible indicator of national success; so what are the alternatives?

  • Happy Planet Index (shows which countries create the most human wellbeing with the least damage: Costa Rica on top, with Algeria scoring highest in Africa)

Climate and energy in SA


Reforming energy systems in South Africa

In most countries, the ways in which we get our energy are a key determinant of national climate change impacts. South Africa is no different. This overview of the need for energy sector transformation in South Africa (pdf) was researched and written by Project 90 by 2030.