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Load shedding helped South Africa to decarbonise in 2021

Load shedding helped South Africa to decarbonise in 2021

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South Africa made some improvement on its decarbonisation targets last year, but there is a long way to go, according to a report by professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

The improvements in carbon intensity were outlined in PwC South Africa’s newly released Net Zero Economy Index 2022.

The World Bank also released its World Bank Country Climate and Development Report: 2022 on Tuesday, which highlighted the policies and investments needed to achieve South Africa’s climate target goals through a “triple transition” that is low carbon, climate resilient and just.

South Africa faces increasing pressure to decarbonise from developed countries and financiers and, for example, the Climate Action Tracker, an independent body that rates countries’ climate change policies and actions, rates South Africa’s efforts as “insufficient”.

“The ‘insufficient’ rating indicates that South Africa’s climate policies and actions to 2030 will 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. Under these current policies, South Africa will not achieve emissions reductions to meet its NDC (Nationally Determined Contribution) target range for 2030,” Climate Tracker said on its website.

The World Bank said financing South Africa’s decarbonisation, adaptation and just energy transition could reach an estimated R2.4 trillion by 2030, or around 4.4% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) per year, and the process would require strong political will to mobilise domestic and external financial resources.

“By expanding renewable energy, the country will not only reduce its carbon emissions, but also address its protracted energy crisis. Climate risks will affect all citizens, but the poorest South Africans will be affected disproportionately and must be at the centre of the transition,” the World Bank said.

PwC South Africa said in 2021 many countries made efforts to jump-start their economies following the deleterious impact of the pandemic. As part of these efforts, however, countries prioritised the use of fossil fuels.

Also, there were continuing geopolitical disruptions and mounting pressure to meet agreements under the Paris Agreement on climate change. PwC South Africa said it believed it was a good time to transition to renewables and decarbonise at a faster rate.

“Globally, the world reduced its carbon intensity by 0.49% in 2021. This was less than the average decline of 1.39% per year seen over the past 20 years due to the global economy largely returning to near pre-Covid levels of GDP output.”

South Africa fared better, seeing a reduction in carbon intensity of 4.61%, as economic growth (4.91% change in real GDP) was greater than the growth in energy-related emissions (0.08% increase).

PwC Africa environmental, social and governance (ESG) lead Lullu Krugel said: “This is the second consecutive year South Africa has been able to reduce its carbon intensity, and we would like to believe this shows the country is reaching a point where economic growth is beginning to decouple from increases in energy-related emissions.”

She said, however, that there was still much room for progress, as South Africa remained the worst performer in the G20 in terms of overall emissions intensity.

Matt Muller, PwC senior manager and climate champion, said yesterday that the lower emissions could largely be attributed to the reduced use of hydrocarbon-based fuels, compared to renewables.

South Africa used less coal and gas last year, while wind and hydroelectricity usage saw large increases from the quantities generated in 2020.

The lower coal use was not due to the country actively trying to use less coal, but was partly from record electricity load shedding in 2021.

PwC said the world and South Africa now faced the significant challenge of needing to achieve a global rate of decarbonisation of 15.2% per annum to limit global warming to 1.5°C — significantly more than the annual global intensity decrease of 1.4% between 2000 and 2001 recorded for the G20 countries.

“South Africa has seen increasing reports of failures to protect, maintain and develop both our natural and built environments. From a lack of service delivery and increasing production costs, to load shedding and social unrest, the country’s operating environment has become fractured over time,” Muller said.

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