South African Government’s position on Climate Change

Climate Change will disproportionately affect the poor, who have contributed least to its causes. Africa is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.The causes and impacts of climate change cannot be addressed by a single country in isolation. This is a global problem requiring global solutions achieved through the concerted and cooperative efforts of all countries.

To meet its responsibility to the South African people to respond to the impacts of climate change, and to contribute to the international effort to mitigate climate change, the government, in consultation with business, labour and civil society, has drafted the National Climate Change Response White Paper. The white paper outlines the policies, principles and strategies the country will use to respond to climate change.


In keeping with scientific opinion, South Africa believes that it is critical that average global temperatures do not rise above 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels in order to avoid the most severe social and environmental consequences.

As a responsible global citizen with moral as well as legal obligations under the UNFCCC and its Kyoto Protocol, South Africa is committed to contributing its fair share to global GHG mitigation efforts. Accordingly, South Africa has committed itself to an emissions trajectory that peaks at 34% below a “Business as Usual” trajectory in 2020 and 40% in 2025, remains stable for around a decade, and declines thereafter in absolute terms. This is represented in the image below.


South Africa also believes that global greenhouse gas reduction efforts must work in tandem with a pro-poor adaptation agenda. Such an approach will empower the poor and vulnerable and ensure human dignity, whilst endeavouring to attain environmental, social and economic sustainability. This is because the poorest, such as those on the African continent, have contributed least to greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, but face some of the worst consequences and generally have the least capacity to cope with climate change impacts.

While South Africa’s effort to achieve these targets is not contingent on international support, as a developing country its ability to do so while meeting its urgent development priorities in job creation and poverty alleviation will to some extent depend on the existence of global agreements on the flow of financial and technical support from developed countries that have already industrialised. The onus therefore lies with developed countries to make and meet their commitments to providing financial, capacity-building, technology development and technology transfer support to developing countries.

South Africa is a signatory to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and will host its 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) from 28 November – 9 December 2011 in Durban.


  • The UNFCCC is called a framework convention because it is seen as a starting point of addressing the problem of climate change.
  • With 194 Parties, the UNFCCC has near universal membership. 
  • The Convention is an evolutionary document, which will be expanded upon by protocols such as the Kyoto Protocol. Protocols are usually separate legal instruments that are not strictly subject to the Convention. The protocols will therefore have their own Parties and ratification processes. 
  • South Africa ratified the Convention in 1997, at which stage the Convention became binding. This means that South Africa is obliged to adhere to all the obligations imposed on it in terms of being a Party to the Convention. It also means that South Africa can now benefit from provisions in the Convention, for instance by accessing international funds dedicated to mitigating climate change. 
  • South Africa is classified as a developing country in terms of the Convention and is not obliged to adhere to the more demanding commitments placed on developed countries. However, related South African policies such as the policy on Integrated Pollution and Waste Management, place an emphasis on cleaner technology and production, and a shift to sustainable development. This accordingly supports a proactive approach in formulating a climate change policy. In addition, a proactive approach including early mitigation action, adaptation plans and improvement of knowledge may have some advantages, including :
  • Helping to reduce the global problem proactively, giving South Africa more time to prepare for meeting greenhouse gas reduction targets when they are imposed on developing countries.


  • The Kyoto Protocol was adopted at a meeting of the UNFCCC in Kyoto, Japan in December 1997.
  • The major distinction between the Protocol and the Convention is that while the Convention encouraged industrialised countries to stabilise GHG emissions, the Protocol commits them to targets. 
  • The Kyoto Protocol sets binding targets for industrialized countries to reduce their combined greenhouses gas emissions by at least 5% compared to 1990 levels in the period 2008 to 2012. This legally binding commitment promised to produce an historical reversal of the upward trend in emissions that started in these countries some 150 years ago. 
  • The Kyoto Protocol was opened for signature on 16 March 1998. It went into force 90 days after it had been ratified by at least 55 Parties to the Convention, including developed countries, accounting for at least 55% of the total 1990 carbon dioxide emissions from the industrialised countries. 
  • The Protocol also reaffirms the principle that developed countries have to pay billions of dollars, and supply technology to other countries for climate-related studies and projects.
  • South Africa acceded to the Kyoto Protocol in 2002. South Africa is classified as a developing country in terms of the Convention and was not obliged to adhere to the more demanding commitments placed on developed countries to the Convention.
  • Thirty-nine of the forty industrial countries have ratified the Protocol. 
  • The Kyoto Protocol is set to expire in 2012 and all eyes will be on Durban end of 2011 (COP17) for a second commitment period.


  • South Africa and its key allies in Africa, the G77 (a lobbying group that represents 133 developing countries) and China and the BASIC countries (South Africa, India, China and Brazil) appeal for an inclusive, fair and effective climate change deal, which is favourable to both developed and developing countries.
  • South Africa is committed to further develop unity of the African Group and a Common African Position in the multilateral climate change negotiations. In view of the fact that Africa is the continent most affected by Climate Change, it is important that Africa continues to speak with one voice.
  • South Africa seeks quantified and legally binding emission reduction targets for developed countries that address their historical responsibilities to climate change.
  • South Africa holds developed countries to their commitment to support developing countries with financial and technology capacity-building support to deal with climate change 
  • Developed countries, which historically were responsible for the current emissions should provide finance for developing countries to cope with the double burden of sustainable development and adapt to the effects of climate change. 
  • This finance should support research and development, early-warning and disaster-response systems, the building of emergency response systems and follow-up response, as well as developing sectoral resilience for slow longer-term changes in climate.
  • South Africa and its allies call on developed nations who pledged $30 billion of fast-track funding for developing countries through 2012 and committed to raise $100 billion annually by 2020 at COP 15 in Copenhagen to honour their commitments.


  • At the end of COP 15, delegates approved a motion to take note of the Copenhagen Accord. The Accord was drafted by the United States and the BASIC countries (China, India, South Africa, and Brazil).
  • It is not legally binding and does not commit countries to agree to a binding successor to the Kyoto Protocol. The Accord endorses the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol. 
  • The Copenhagen Accord recognizes the scientific case for keeping temperature rises below 2°C, but does not contain commitments for reduced emissions that would be necessary to achieve that aim. 
  • It pledged US$ 30 billion to the developing world over the next three years, rising to US$100 billion per year by 2020, to help poor countries adapt to climate change. 
  • It recommended the establishment of a Copenhagen Green Climate Fund, as an operating entity of the financial mechanism, to support projects, programme, policies and other activities in developing countries related to mitigation. 
  • As a responsible global citizen, South Africa committed at COP 15 in Copenhagen to reduce its carbon emissions by 34% in 2020 and 42% by 2025, conditional on finance, technology and capacity-building support from the international community. 
  • South Africa will continue the use of fossil fuels in the short to medium term while making a gradual shift to non-fossil fuel energy sources over the long term. In this regard, South Africa is committed to its emissions peaking between 2020 and 2025, plateauing for a decade and declining in absolute terms thereafter.


  • COP 16 affirmed that climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time and that all Parties must share a vision for long-term cooperative action in order to achieve the objective of the Convention, including through achieving a global agreement.
  • The Cancun Summit established a Green Climate Fund, to be designated as an operating entity of the financial mechanism of the Convention. 
  • COP 16 recognizes that deep cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions are required, with a view to reducing global greenhouse gas emissions so as to hold the increase in global average temperature below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and that Parties should take urgent action to meet this long-term goal, consistent with science and on the basis of equity.
  • It called on rich countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions as pledged in the Copenhagen Accord, and for developing countries to plan to reduce their emissions. 
  • COP 16 decided to establish the Cancun Adaptation Framework and the Adaptation Committee, inviting Parties to strengthen and, where necessary, establish regional adaptation centres and networks and noted that an international centre to enhance adaptation research and coordination could also be established in a developing country.
  • Developed countries should submit annual greenhouse gas inventories and inventory reports and biennial reports on their progress. 
  • COP 16 agreed that developing country Parties will take nationally appropriate mitigation actions in the context of sustainable development, supported and enabled by technology, financing and capacity-building, aimed at achieving a deviation in emissions relative to "business as usual" emissions in 2020. 
  • It decided to set up a registry to record nationally appropriate mitigation actions seeking international support and to facilitate matching of finance, technology and capacity-building support to these actions. Once support has been provided they are called internationally supported mitigation actions (ISMAs), that will be subject to international measurement, reporting and verification.

COP17 IN DURBAN (2011)

  • COP17 aims to build on agreements reached during COP 16 in Cancun, Mexico. It also hopes to establish a new global climate change regime.
  • South Africa expects a balance between climate and development initiatives, and calls for a balance between mitigation and adaptation to climate change. These interests will be better served by a legally binding global action that ensures that temperature increases from greenhouse gas emissions are kept below two degrees Celsius. Anything above this will result in dangerous climate change effects that could undermine efforts to eradicate poverty and under development. 
  • Countries will also have to design institutions that can provide developing countries with "adequate and efficient climate support."
  • As an African developing country South Africa will use the opportunity afforded by COP17/CMP7 to showcase the way in which climate change impacts on the country and continent, as well as the responses being implemented.

An initiative of the  Department of Environmental Affairs

Connect with Us

Newsletter Sign Up

To stay up-to-date on sustainability issues for your climate change project, please enter your E-mail below