SACAN is ready for climate action!

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As the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) draws near, organisations from across South Africa and the globe are preparing for business unusual. As the South African Climate Action Network (SACAN), our priorities ahead of COP26 are tracking Climate Ambition and Climate Finance for both mitigation and adaptation — and some cross-cutting issues. 

South Africa is the 12th highest carbon emitter in the world, largely owing to our economy’s heavy reliance on coal for energy generation. Moreover, the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) plans to continue investing in fossil fuel technology to meet the energy demand, flying in the face of global pressure to decarbonise the economy. This does not bode well for South Africa’s global competitiveness as an investment destination, or for its export products. 


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that only by reducing annual emissions to 350 mtco2e by 2030 will South Africa be playing its part in keeping the globe under a 1.5oC increase. To illustrate, a 1.5oC global average temperature increase translates to a 3oC temperature increase in South Africa. According to the IPCC’s AR6 report published recently, we can expect extreme drought in the interior of the country and extreme precipitation along the coastal regions. To curtail this, South Africa will need support from the international community, through both funding instruments and political pressure on the state, to ensure that we do not move too far off the 1.5oC trajectory. 

The Presidential Climate Commission (PCC) submitted its recommendations on the updated Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to President Cyril Ramaphosa in July this year. The report recommended the decommissioning of coal-fired power stations (CFPS) once they’ve reached their end-of-life, increasing investments in renewable energy and rolling out green transport initiatives at scale to lower our carbon emissions. The Commission also recognises the importance of greater ambition to reducing emissions targets that will lower the transition risk, the inherent risk in changing strategies, policies or investments as society and industry work to reduce their reliance on carbon and impact on the climate (such as the reduction in the value of investments in carbon-heavy industries), improve energy security and attract additional international finance. 

Striving for more ambitious emissions targets now will lessen future costs from climate damage and limit opportunity costs from unaligned spending, while positioning the country as a globally competitive trading partner. 

Achieving this also requires developed countries to play their part in supporting developing nations like South Africa in meeting their NDC commitments. The current commitments by developed nations are insufficient to close the ambition gap. The United Nations Environment Programme’s Emissions Gap Report has been tracking the emission gap for over a decade now and their latest finding is that the global community is still on course for a 3oC temperature increase by the end of the century, despite a slight dip in greenhouse house gas (GHG) emissions in 2019/20 caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. 


COP26 needs to shed light on how parties, including South Africa, will obtain this support; $100-billion per annum was pledged for climate finance to address climate impacts, but this target has yet to be met since tracking started in 2013. This support needs to be in the form of grants, not loans, as the latter will only exacerbate the country’s debt burden and weaken our ability to service the loans. 

The South Africa Climate Finance Landscape, published in January this year, looked at the flow of Climate Finance to South Africa for the 2017-2018 period. Of the global share of Climate finance, the continent received 26% from Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries; of that, $4.2-billion came to South Africa. By comparison, in order for South Africa to meet its NDC commitments, it will need to invest $41-billion per annum over 15 years (from 2015).  The report goes on to highlight how much climate finance has been invested, and the share of this finance between mitigation and adaptation projects. The report finds that 81% of funds went to mitigation projects and only 7% for adaptation. The latest version of the report is expected to be published next week.

SACAN’s position is that a more even balance between finance for mitigation and adaptation must be achieved. This could be done through various mechanisms, including the recapitalisation of the Adaptation Fund or having specific targets for adaptation. The $100-billion per annum that was pledged is intended to support parties to meet their climate commitments, as extreme weather events present a clear and present danger to society, especially to those in developing nations and Least Developed Countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Not only have we witnessed flooding in Germany but we have seen flooding in West Africa and cyclones in Southern Africa, which puts pressure on governments to pay for damages caused by climate impacts. 

Loss and Damage Finance can play a significant role in plugging this gap.  We will push for a decision at COP26 for the operationalisation of the Santiago Network on Loss & Damage (SNLP), ensuring it is sufficiently resourced and has effective governance.

Cross-cutting issues 

SACAN will prioritise two key cross-cutting issues at COP26: gender and intergenerational equity. It is a commonly understood fact that women are the most affected by climate impacts, particularly those in developing states such as South Africa, and future generations are not able to represent their interests in today’s decisions that will affect them tomorrow. 

Climate actions must promote gender-responsive energy democracy. It moves us away from top-down, market-based approaches for energy production, distribution and control over natural resources and towards an economy of care. Communities, including women, should have control over their own energy systems as well as over other natural resources. A gender responsive, ecosystem based, community driven, participatory, and fully transparent approach to climate change adaptation and resilience needs to replace the corporatisation of agriculture and the promotion of large-scale industrial agriculture at the expense of women farmers, pastoralists, and indigenous peoples. A just transition to a green economy and green infrastructure must centre around resource-care work and enable women and girls to lead a just transition to a green economy, ensuring that there is equal opportunity in the green economy transition. Issues such as girls’ education, Sex & Reproductive Health and empowerment are climate issues. 

On intergenerational equity, parties must go beyond the acknowledgement that younger generations are severely threatened by climate change and its multiple impacts. This isn’t “future generations” anymore, it is the children alive now. Young people need a true demonstration that older people in power are upholding principles of intergenerational equity. This can be achieved through the institutionalising of mechanisms to promote the participation of youth in climate negotiations, establishing and promoting platforms to ensure collaboration and skills transfer between young people and, finally, establishing and promoting platforms to ensure meaningful, intergenerational dialogue and ambitious climate action.

These are the key issues SACAN will be tracking at COP26 and we will engage with the relevant stakeholders and partners to ensure effective climate action. 

– Thandolwethu Lukuko – South African Climate Action Network Coordinator, including contributions from members of the network

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