SA has the highest carbon intensity among G20 countries

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About three-quarters or 74% of the country's primary energy supply is derived from burning coal.
About three-quarters or 74% of the country's primary energy supply is derived from burning coal.
Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg
  • South Africa has the highest carbon intensity among G20 countries, according to the Climate Transparency Report of 2021.
  • Carbon intensity is a measure of how much carbon dioxide is emitted per unit of electricity supply.
  • Most of the country's emissions are attributed to the burning of coal.

South Africa has the highest carbon intensity among G20 countries, according to the Climate Transparency Report of 2021.

The Energy Systems Research Group at the University of Cape Town on Wednesday launched the report.

According to researchers, despite South Africa adding renewable energy capacity to its energy sector, it still relies heavily on coal - which is contributing to high levels of emissions.

South Africa's share of renewables in the energy mix in 2020 was 7.6%, the G20 average is at 28.7%. By comparison, 87% of the country's electricity was generated from coal in 2020. "This is the highest share of coal in power generation of the entire G20," the report read.

About three-quarters or 74% of the country's primary energy supply is derived from burning coal, during 2020, according to the report. This is more than double the G20's average of 31%. In turn, South Africa's per capita emissions are 1.22 times the G20 average - although per-capita emissions decreased by 6% between 2013 and 2018.

The country's carbon intensity - a measure of carbon dioxide emitted per unit of electricity supply - dipped slightly because of the Covid-19 pandemic. "Still, South Africa has the highest carbon intensity in the G20. This high level reflects the continuously high share of fossil fuels in the energy mix," the report read.

"South Africa's reliance on coal highlights the need for a carefully managed, just transition to cleaner energy sources," said Bryce McCall, researcher at the University of Cape Town's Energy Systems Research Group. McCall is also lead author of the report.

"While the share of renewables in the energy mix is set to increase as new projects come online and ageing coal power stations are retired, the country's latest energy plan still makes provision for new coal and gas projects," McCall highlighted.

South Africa has a Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) - emissions reduction target of between 350 and 420 megatons of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2030. "To achieve the NDC, South Africa needs to enable effective implementation of the renewables capacity expansion as outlined in the Integrated Resource Plan 2019," McCall said.

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