/ 4 June 2021

South Africa’s nationally determined contribution plan for climate change must be more ambitious, say nation’s youth

Without action by 2030
Climate change poses a health risk to our society.

Friday, 4 June, marks the day the Presidential Climate Change Coordinating Commission decides its position on South Africa’s updated nationally determined contribution (or NDC, a plan highlighting climate actions, targets, policies and measures to implement in response to climate change, and as a contribution to achieve the global targets set out in the Paris Agreement.) 

South Africa’s updated NDC is woefully inadequate, and it is our hope that the committee will push for a far more ambitious plan. 

In light of this, we as South African youth, wish to publicly share the response that we submitted to the government’s call for engagements on the NDC:

We, the youth of South Africa, declare for all our country and the world to know: that we stand for a future defined by environmental, social and economic justice. The climate crisis is a top priority that needs to be tackled, but, in order for us to have a future worth living in, it must be addressed through an intersectional lens. 

Currently, climate change is still seen as an environmental issue in South Africa and it is dealt with as peripheral. But climate change will undermine every single aspect of life, and cannot be seen as mutually exclusive from how society or the economy works. A deep systemic change will be required to ensure that the most vulnerable people do not become shock absorbers for the impacts that will occur from climate change. 

In his statement on 26 April 2021, President Ramaphosa said that “the time for greater climate action is now. We have to reduce our emissions. We have to adapt and build resilience for our communities and for our economy.” The president also said that our NDC, which outlines our targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, is an “important part of our response,“ and that “it is only by working together to find solutions and by raising the level of our ambition, that we can reduce the impact of climate change on our country.”

These words are important, but words without real action are meaningless. We fail to see evidence of any significant raised ambition.

The president stated that “our new NDC proposes a significant reduction in emissions target ranges” and in consultations it was stated that the NDC aligns with the preferred equity (fair share) approach. Yet the truth is that the updated NDC still does not fall in line with limiting global temperatures increases to below 1.5 degrees Celsius — even in a best-case scenario. If we as a country only live up to some of the lower target ranges proposed in the NDC, we can only look forward to catastrophic heating scenarios. 

We also fail to see the bold and decisive action that is needed from the government in order for us all to be able to “work together”. 

Our NDC and the consultation around it is not progressive, inclusive or accessible enough. Important documents that pertain to the NDC, such as the Climate Change Bill, have not yet been finalised and the people who will be most affected by climate change are not being engaged in meaningful ways or given a voice at the decision-making table. Even the NDC youth consultation session, held on Thursday, 29 April 2021, was limited in how it gave youth the ability to contribute. 

We, the youth of South Africa, thus call upon President Ramaphosa and all decision-makers to make the NDC and its consultative process more inclusive and accessible, and to commit to raising South Africa’s climate ambition in a way that can practically bring about climate progress within the next five years. It will cost nothing to set a more ambitious lower target range on the NDC in order to facilitate a greater rate of change. 

Significantly raising the ambition of the NDC will not only position South Africa as a leader of a just transition on the continent, but it will also open up greater opportunities for international climate finance. At the leaders’ summit, Ramaphosa said that “developed economies have a responsibility to support developing economies to enable them to mitigate and adapt to climate change”. But if South Africa does not act quickly and decisively, we risk losing this opportunity to access such funding to implement our just and equitable transition.

We understand that a just transition cannot happen overnight. But the ravaging effects of the Covid-19 pandemic have underscored just how urgently we need to mitigate, adapt and build resilience for future crises. While the pandemic has posed great difficulties, including a delay in the delivery of South Africa’s NDC, it has also led to a decrease in emissions and an impetus for the country to embark on a “green” and just economic recovery. The pandemic has also demonstrated that, when it’s a matter of life and death, it is possible to manage previously unthinkable dramatic U-turns in public policy, and how “where there’s a political will, there’s a way”.

We implore the decision-makers of today to act with similar urgency and take decisive action now, rather than later regretting a lack of preparedness. The lack of leadership shown at this critical moment will not be forgotten by the youth when we are the ones left to bear the consequences.