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A call for ambition

As it has with COVID-19, government needs to exercise the same leadership in the face of the climate change state of disaster, writes Louise Naude.

© WWF South Africa Angus Burn
Urgent and ambitious action, especially in the energy sector, is needed to set us on a path to keep global warming below 1.5 °C
Let’s look at the global context

When WWF’s Earth Hour campaign launched three weeks ago, we called on South Africans to sign up to be part of the solution by calling on our president to take visionary action away from fossil fuel investments and for renewable energy. Since then government has declared a state of disaster in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and this matter has leapt to the top of our national agenda. The climate crisis, however, continues to be a pressing issue and one on which we cannot afford to drop the ball. At the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP21) in 2015, countries including South Africa signed the Paris Agreement. The United States is withdrawing and can be out by November this year.

Signatories to the Agreement commit to submitting Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) of adaptation and mitigation undertakings. The United Nations Environment Programme’s Emissions Gap Report 2019 looks at the gap between ‘where we are likely to be and where we need to be’ in terms of emissions levels. If current NDCs are fully implemented, there is a 66% chance that global warming will be limited to 3 °C above pre-industrial temperatures by the end of the century. Fantastic. While 3 °C may not sound like much, the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C reflects the unliveable climate impacts science shows will ensue should we exceed  just 1.5 °C increase in average global warming.

NDCs can voluntarily be revised every 5 years, and 2020 is the first opportunity to do so. The Emissions Gap Report 2019 reveals that collectively countries must increase their NDC mitigation undertakings threefold to achieve the well below 2 °C goal and more than fivefold to achieve the 1.5 °C goal. Given the time lag between commitments and action, and the imperative to be carbon-neutral by 2050, it is crucial to get improved NDCs submitted this year.

© WWF South Africa Ruan Wolfaardt
We’re pressing government to set mitigation targets that match the full mitigation potential in the economy.
Upping South Africa's game

In September last year, in his statement to the UN Secretary General’s Climate Action Summit, the President committed to tabling an improved NDC.
“We will be enhancing our current mitigation NDC by the end of 2020. Additional mitigation ambition by 2030 will require a bold programme which targets our key emissions source, the electricity sector, and goes beyond current plans to invest further in renewable energy.”
We believe in giving credit where it’s due and applaud the fact that already South Africa's NDC provides absolute values for its emissions targets, unlike many other countries which offer percentage reductions off moving baselines. Even so, our targets are inadequate, compared to what we could do and to our fair share of the global mitigation effort required. Using an evidence-based methodology, Climate Action Tracker rates SA’s targets as ‘highly insufficient’.
“Commitments with this rating fall outside the fair share range and are not at all consistent with holding warming to below 2 °C let alone the Paris Agreement’s stronger 1.5 °C limit. If all government targets were in this [‘highly insufficient’ rating], warming would reach between 3 °C and 4 °C” – and Africa is set to be hotter than the global average.

It comes down exactly to this

We’re pressing government to set mitigation targets that match the full mitigation potential in the economy. As it has with COVID-19, government needs to exercise the same leadership in the face of the climate change state of disaster. Given that close on half of our emissions come from electricity generation, a reduction in emissions through investment in renewables is a no-brainer which makes a more ambitious target entirely feasible.

© WWF South Africa Angus Burn
We can renew the future in South Africa if we invest in renewables now and let nature keep the lights on.
It's time for action

The IPCC 1.5 °C Special Report makes it clear that if we are to keep average global warming below 1.5 °C, globally we will need to have nett zero greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century. This means every country has to achieve this, whether developed or developing. The year 2050 may sound far away, but taking a straight line from here to there means we have to halve global emissions by 2030, just around the corner. It is going to take everyone – me, you, every business, all municipalities – doing everything possible, and starting immediately.

Louise Naude Photo
Louise Naude, Low-carbon Frameworks Programme Manager

For the last 10 years, Louise has worked on climate change policy advocacy based on the science, over which time the issue has become ever more urgent as we’ve dragged our feet.

Sign up for change

Ask government to switch to renewables now – for the future of our children, our country and our planet.