South Africa’s proposed INDC under review

By Rehana Dada

Since the Lima negotiations when countries were asked to communicate their INDC ahead of the Paris meeting, 29 countries have submitted their INDC to the UNFCCC see note and others are in the process of preparing or finalising their submissions. The Department of Environmental Affairs is preparing South Africa’s INDC, and this is currently undergoing a stakeholder consultation process prior to Cabinet approval.  A number of civil society organisations and groupings are reviewing the document and preparing responses.

South Africa frames its INDC by the National Development Plan and National Climate Change Response, and also states its intention to develop a National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy.  Under adaptation, it lists six goals, which include developing a National Adaptation Plan, building institutional capacity, and developing a vulnerability assessment and adaptation needs framework.  It outlines the country’s investment in adaptation to date, as well as the investment it requires between 2021 and 2030, saying that investment in adaptation increased from USD 0.64 billion in 2010 to USD 2.31 billion in 2015.  There is an intention to scale up a number of programmes beyond 2020 as part if its adaptation work, including a number of ecosystem restoration and job creation programmes and Water Demand Management.





Image Above: South Africa’s high use of coal for  electricity generation and liquid fuel  production makes it one of the highest per  capita emitters. It produces about one per  cent of global emissions.

Under mitigation, South Africa refers to the peak, plateau and decline (PPD) emissions trajectory committed to in its national policy, with emissions contained within a range of 398 to 613 Mt CO2-eq by 2025 and 2030. It shows its investments in mitigation to include 79 independent renewable energy projects with over 5,000 MW of capacity, involving private investment of R168 billion.  Investments have also been made in public transport infrastructure green economy initiatives.  A very significant aspect of the South African mitigation INDC is that it includes nuclear power as a “decarbonised energy” option.

South Africa states that its “aspirational” long term goal is to bring total emissions to within the range of 212 to 428 Mt CO2-eq by 2050, reserving the right to adjust this goal depending on factors such as other countries’ actions, socio-economic implications, technologies, and outcomes of the new climate agreement.   It also claims that, according to a carbon budget produced by South African experts, its mitigation contribution is greater than its fair share as determined using principles of responsibility, capability and sustainable development.  However, it acknowledges that other researchers have produced different results, and expresses willingness to engage further on ambition and fairness, “if others do so as well”.

The INDC is “premised on the finalisation of an ambitious, fair, effective and binding multilateral agreement’’ in Paris, “to enable the delivery of ambitious mitigation, adaptation, climate finance, technology, capacity building and effective transparency arrangements”.  South Africa requires support for adaptation and mitigation in the form of finance, technology and capacity-building.  The country acknowledges the need for transparent information.

A civil society caucus, facilitated by Project 90by2030, has developed a set of benchmarks against which the quality, appropriateness and adequacy of the South African INDC will be assessed.  A key request articulated is that South Africa works towards clarifying the link between the INDC and the new climate agreement – as yet there is no decision on whether the new agreement or INDC will be legally binding.  Contributors to the submission include South African Climate Action Network, WWF, Adaptation Network Secretariat, and Alternative Information and Development Centre.

Image above: KwaZulu Regional Christian Council supports women self-help groups around Inkandla to address the impacts of climate change through building concrete water tanks.


Under adaptation, the submission calls for adaptation programming to: support mainstreaming of climate change concerns into all aspects of development; enhance existing development programming as a way of reducing vulnerability to climate change; support investments in long term local and national planning; be supported by viable costing and resourcing; and be oriented towards building local knowledge and capacity in adaptation. It also requests that adaptation should not be premised on short-term project-based efforts and employment, and that it favours labour intensive initiatives over economic efficiency.  The caucus rejects genetically modified organisms, extended commercial agriculture and desalination and large dams as adaptation solutions.  Finally, it calls for increased transparency in disbursement of adaptation funds.

Under mitigation, the caucus calls on South Africa to: provide a clear signal of commitment to containing global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, consistent with a fair share of the required by science global emissions trajectory; present a clear carbon budget with a mitigation target linked to a specific base year rather than an uncertain BAU trajectory; and outline its potential financial trajectory to support greater efforts towards a low carbon economy.  Fracking, carbon capture and storage, and nuclear power are rejected as mitigation options.  It also calls for South Africa to express its intention to participate in a global reform of fossil fuel subsidies.

A number of other submissions from civil society are being prepared, and the stakeholder engagement meetings are open to all interested parties.

Please note that the summaries of the INDC and response above are subjective selections of the text in each document.  The full documents should be accessed and read for a comprehensive understanding of the positions they present. 

For more information on the Department of Environmental Affairs stakeholder engagement process and the schedule of meetings please email Dineo Ngobeni at

For more information on the civil society caucus submission coordinated by Project 90×2030 please email Happy Khambule at

For the submission by groundWork, please email Megan Lewis at

Useful publications:

  1. Decoding Intended Nationally Determined Contributions: A guide for understanding country commitments.  Published by the World Resources Institute.  Available at:
  2. Guide to INDC. Published by the Climate Development and Knowledge Network.  Available at:
  3. The World Resources Institute is also tracking country commitments, and you can access their database at:
  4. INDC submissions are posted on the UNFCCC website:

Note : The unwillingness of some developed countries to commit to mitigation targets unless less developed countries also do so led to a stalemate in negotiations. This was broken at COP17 in Durban in 2011 when the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) was established.  The ADP commits parties to negotiating a new global agreement that includes all countries and covers mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology transfer, capacity building and transparency, with a deadline of COP21, which is scheduled for December 2015 in Paris. Uncertainty about the legal form of the new agreement as well as reluctance from many countries to make binding commitments resulted in agreement that all countries would submit Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC).  Countries were asked to communicate their INDC to the UNFCCC in advance of COP 21.