SA’s climate policies not stringent enough for proper transition

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Cooling towers of South African petro-chemical company Sasol's synthetic fuel plant in Secunda, north of Johannesburg.
Cooling towers of South African petro-chemical company Sasol's synthetic fuel plant in Secunda, north of Johannesburg.
Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters


South Africa is putting its climate goals at risk through policy engagement activities that straddle advocating renewable energy while encouraging the continued use of thermal coal.

According to analysis on the engagement of South African industries on climate-related regulations and the energy mix in the country conducted by InfluenceMap, a think-tank that provides data and analysis on how business and finance are affecting the climate crisis, Eskom and Sasol are among the biggest air polluters.

READ: Mpumalanga ANC backs carbon capture project

Despite the country’s commitment to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions to between 18% and 31% by 2030, scientific analysis tool Climate Action Tracker currently rates South Africa’s climate policy as “insufficient” because its climate targets and policies are not stringent enough to limit global heating to 1.5°C.

“The majority of South African companies and industry associations appear to support certain types of climate policies while opposing others, and have low to moderate levels of engagement,” says InfluenceMap.

The research examined the climate policy engagement of 16 companies, among them 10 of the largest total greenhouse gas emitters and 10 of the largest entities by revenue (excluding financial institutions), including two recently formed pure-play coal mining companies – Seriti Resources and Thungela Resources.

It also covered 12 key industry associations that represent a broad range of industries in the country, as well as cross-sector associations.

There is a clear imbalance in industry engagement with flagship South African climate policies, such as the carbon tax and the Climate Change Bill, with companies and industry groups opposed to ambitious outcomes advocating more than entities, which have communicated more positive positions

Metals and mining sector companies and associations – including the Minerals Council SA, Sibanye-Stillwater and Thungela – engaged the most negatively, said the report, and they continue to strongly promote the role of thermal coal.

“However, large South African businesses such as Shoprite have communicated positively on climate in general, but do not appear strategically engaged at the government policy level.”

Eskom and Sasol were the most actively engaged on climate change policy.

“Both companies have expressed support for some policies while opposing others. Eskom has supported the policy to accelerate the uptake of renewable energy, however, it continues to advocate a continued role for fossil fuels gas and coal.

“Sasol has expressed a positive position on carbon pricing, but has also advocated weakening carbon tax and has expressed technological feasibility concerns for certain sectors under the Climate Change Bill,” the report said.

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Main cross-sector industry associations including Business Leadership SA, Business Unity SA and the Industry Task Team on Climate Change also expressed mixed positions on climate policy ambition.

“Each association directly advocated to weaken the South African carbon tax while engaging positively on the Electricity Regulation Act and the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme.”

The report emphasises that climate policy leadership in the corporate sector is critical for unblocking the country’s path to net-zero emissions.

This includes concerted efforts by the country’s most powerful companies to audit and align their climate policy engagement activities, including ensuring that critical cross-sector industry associations are advocating policy aligned with the advice of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

There is a clear trend across the South African mining sector of companies communicating positive top-line positions on the energy mix, including support for the integration of renewables while opposing the transition away from coal

Six of nine metals and mining companies appeared to support the continued role of coal in the country’s energy mix. This is misaligned with IPCC science, which explains that, by 2050, under most 1.5°C decarbonisation pathways, the share of coal must be reduced to between 1% and 7% in the primary energy mix, and close to zero in electricity generation.

InfluenceMap found that South African companies and industries appeared to engage more strongly on the country’s energy mix and, even though they supported the transition to renewable energy, they did not appear to support a move away from unabated fossil fuels in the energy mix.

Of the eight key climate-related policy areas, no company or industry association has engaged with more than five policies

“The only entities to engage with five or more policies were Eskom, Sasol and the Minerals Council SA. Six companies and two industry associations did not engage with any of the major South African climate-related policy areas assessed in this report.”

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