We need to talk about South Africa’s 2050 Net Zero Carbon... (2023)

South Africa is the 12th-largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world and the worst sulphur dioxide polluter on the planet – surpassing the combined emissions of the US and China. Our emission status can largely be attributed to our reliance on coal to produce almost 80% of our electricity. Yet we have met the Paris Agreement’s call for countries to set out long-term climate strategies by agreeing that we’ll achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. In the face of such an overwhelming reliance on fossil fuels for energy production, just how feasible is that goal?

The deadline is 28 years away, but, for the sake of timeline comparison, load shedding has been with us for 15 years already. In the mining industry - which is responsible for producing the coal on which we currently rely to power the country - mine lifetimes are calculated in decades, so 28 years is the blink of an eye in terms of their projections.

Mining accounts for 1.2% of the country’s GDP – and coal mining is responsible for the lion’s share of that – so moving away from ‘dirty power’ and replacing it with renewable energy needs to be managed intelligently. That’s where the Just Energy Transition Partnership agreement we signed with the European Union, Germany, France, the UK and the US to support our climate action goals at COP26 comes in. The R131 billion pledge to help finance the move to cleaner and renewable energy sources takes the form of grants, concessional loans and investment and risk-sharing instruments, including mobilising private sector funding. Crucially, in an economy with such a high unemployment rate, the funding will be used to ensure coal communities and workers are supported as we aim to help prevent up to 1.5 gigatonnes of emissions over the next 20 years.

(Video) What is net zero?

That is a lot of money – but when you consider that Eskom is nearly R400 billion in the red, it shows you the scale of the task we face. We have to wean ourselves off Eskom while trying to continue to fund Eskom; develop new green sectors like electric vehicles, green hydrogen and train and retrain hundreds of thousands of people who will be affected by cutting our reliance on coal. In the space of 28 years, not to forget need to repurpose the use of these sites

Government has a huge part to play in this transition. We can’t expect foreign countries to continue to fund our transition – the Just Transition financing is a nod to our status amongst the world’s worst greenhouse gas polluters, recognising that our output doesn’t just affect our environment, but the global environment, too. The Government has indicated its intent to adopt greener solutions – the Presidential Climate Commission being one - but the stance is somewhat compromised by the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy’s assurances to the mining industry that coal still has a major role to play in powering the country which practically it does.

The policy shift to allow independent companies to establish their own renewable power plants to produce up to 100MW of electricity has been embraced, particularly by the mining industry. It looks good on their sustainability report and helps them continue to operate when Eskom falters. The Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (REIPPPP) has procured a total of 6 329 MW of renewable energy to date – though just 3 876 MW are currently connected to the grid. The sixth bid window is now open and is looking to add 2 600MW. So let’s say that, optimistically, all of that sustainable production comes online next year – that’s 8929 MW by 2023, when the country needs just shy of 60 000 MW to function. ‘Thermal ’– read ‘coal’ production - is responsible for just over 48000 MW of that production. We still have a long way to go.
Coal miners need to play their part in the transition too - but we can’t simply ask them to stop producing coal. Indeed, as long as the country is reliant on Eskom’s fleet of coal plants, they’ll need to continue to operate to meet that demand. It’s going to be down to public/private partnerships to introduce initiatives that help coal mines transition to producing alternative energy, while they continue to meet Eskom’s demand. The two areas of operation will equalise over time and renewables will start to become more of a focus as we get the transition right. The land that they operate on can then be repurposed for other activities. That’s going to require a REIPPPP-type program, with incentives.

(Video) Will South Africa reach NetZero by 2050? Dr. Crispian Olver, Presidential Climate Change Commission

The 100000 people employed by the coal mining industry will need support to transition and acquire new skills in the green space. The narrative amongst employees at coal mines is that their livelihood is being phased out – but that’s because of poor communication on the part of Government and the companies who employ them. By properly outlining a plan that will help the country meet the 2050 goal, Government can assure employees of their futures.

There also needs to be incentives for private households, which Government brooked and then pulled back on. There’s got to be an incentive for private homeowners when they’re looking to install solar power systems to reduce the load on Eskom, because it’s currently such a costly exercise. Whether it’s encouraging banks to fund these sorts of installations at reduced rates or having the Government intervene directly, there’s plenty of space for households to make an impact in reducing demand.

As private individuals, we also need to review our love affair with owning our own vehicles. South Africans love their cars – but that’s principally because we don’t have safe and effective mass transport solutions. Families own multiple vehicles which are, more often than not, driven by individuals. Each vehicle contributes to congestion on the roads and that congestion increases carbon dioxide emission levels.

(Video) WATCH: The role of gas on path to net zero

Vehicle manufacturing in SA made up 2.6% of the country’s GDP in 2020 – more than double the mining industry’s contribution – which was largely due to exports. We only produce fossil fuel-burning vehicles, though, so as the countries to which those vehicles are exported make moves to reduce emissions by promoting electric vehicles, we place that industry in tremendous peril. By not producing electric vehicles for local use – and slapping a ridiculous 25% tax on their import when fossil fuel vehicles are only taxed at 18% - Government isn’t providing a single convincing reason for motorists to switch to EV’s.

So, faced with a challenge that looks insurmountable, how achievable is that 2050 goal? The coal miners aren’t going to voluntarily put their hands up and say they’re going to shift into other areas. Eskom can’t simply stop producing power to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

(Video) Net zero carbon in South Africa, What is the role to be played by the Structural Engineer

It’s going to take Intelligent, swift action, better communication and clear targets and milestones building up to 2050- from Government. Private sector companies can make their own contributions if they’re incentivised to do so. Individual households can contribute, if they’re given the opportunity. The effects of global warming are becoming more and more visible, so best we start putting serious plans in place to meet the deadline before climate events like the excessive rains in KZN over the last few months become the norm – but on a global scale.

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FAQs

What are some ways that we can achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050? ›

The most feasible pathways to net-zero emissions include four main strategies:
  • Generate electricity without emissions. ...
  • Use vehicles and equipment that are powered by electricity instead of fossil fuels. ...
  • Use energy more efficiently. ...
  • Remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
27 Oct 2021

What does it mean for the world to have net zero carbon emissions by 2050? ›

Put simply, net zero refers to the balance between the amount of greenhouse gas produced and the amount removed from the atmosphere. We reach net zero when the amount we add is no more than the amount taken away.

Which country has zero carbon emissions by 2050? ›

New Zealand. New Zealand also passed a law in 2019 to get to net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Why do we need to achieve zero emissions before 2050? ›

The science of 'carbon budgets'

Climate science is clear that, to a close approximation, the eventual extent of global warming is proportional to the total amount of carbon dioxide that human activities add to the atmosphere. So, in order to stabilise climate change, CO2 emissions need to fall to zero.

What do we need to do to get to net zero? ›

To reach net zero, emissions from homes, transport, agriculture and industry will need to be cut. In other words, these sectors will have to reduce the amount of carbon they put into the atmosphere.

How can we reduce carbon emissions? ›

6 Ways to Reduce Carbon Emissions
  1. Reduce air travel. As of 2017, the amount of transportation-related carbon dioxide emissions eclipsed the amount of electricity generation emissions. ...
  2. Make your driving more efficient. ...
  3. Plant trees. ...
  4. Switch to clean energy. ...
  5. Eat less red meat. ...
  6. Make your home more energy-efficient.
7 Jun 2021

What do we mean by net zero? ›

What is net zero? Put simply, net zero means cutting greenhouse gas emissions to as close to zero as possible, with any remaining emissions re-absorbed from the atmosphere, by oceans and forests for instance.

How do you build a net zero carbon building? ›

Buildings can achieve zero carbon (or zero carbon ready) performance by eliminating fossil fuel use for heating, using on-site and/or off-site renewable energy, reducing the use of high global warming potential refrigerants and using low-carbon, reused or recycled materials in construction.

What is the difference between net-zero emissions and zero emissions? ›

In short, carbon neutrality means that you can compensate for your emissions (again, typically with offsets), while net-zero requires abatement of your emissions—you have to actually get rid of them through efficiency, electrification, renewables, and other means.

What is a net zero country? ›

What is Net-Zero? Achieving net-zero emissions means our economy either emits no greenhouse gas emissions or offsets its emissions, for example, through actions such as tree planting or employing technologies that can capture carbon before it is released into the air.

What is the 2050 Challenge? ›

In 2015, the Toyota Environmental Challenge 2050 (Challenge 2050) was announced. Challenge 2050 has six challenges that seek to go beyond eliminating environmental impacts to creating net positive impacts on the planet and society: Three on reducing the CO2 emissions that cause climate change. One on conserving water.

Which is the first carbon negative country? ›

Bhutan has made possible what no other country has been able to achieve. This carbon-negative country has shown us how we can address climate change with compassion, commitment and creativity and come out on top.

Why is net zero Not enough? ›

In Ending Fossil Fuels: Why Net Zero is Not Enough, Holly Jean Buck argues that the framework of net zero and its concentration on emissions diverts public and policy attention from the fundamental task of ending the use of fossil fuels to ensure effective and lasting climate change mitigation.

Why is it important to reduce carbon emissions? ›

Because air pollution and greenhouse gases are often released from the same sources, cutting greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to slow climate change also reduces air pollutants, such as fine particulate matter (PM2.5). Reducing these co-emitted air pollutants improves air quality and benefits human health.

Which two countries have achieved net zero goals? ›

Japan, Korea, Canada, and New Zealand have passed laws committing to achieving net zero by 2050 while Ireland, Chile and Fiji have proposed legislation. The UK has a legally binding net zero target by 2050 and new interim targets to reduce emissions by 78% by 2035.

What is a net zero strategy? ›

The Net Zero Strategy is a UK government strategy that sets out plans to reduce climate-wrecking emissions and decarbonise all sectors of the UK economy, from transport to agriculture.

What is the government's plan to reach net zero? ›

The Net Zero Plan Stage 1: 2020-2030 is the foundation for NSW's action on climate change and goal to reach net zero emissions by 2050. It outlines the NSW Government's approach to protect our future by growing the economy, creating jobs and reducing emissions over the next decade.

How many countries have net zero committed? ›

Only five countries have net zero pledges set for after 2050, including Australia and Singapore, which haven't set a firm target yet. Targeting 2060, in addition to Ukraine and Kazakhstan, is the world's largest emitter, China.
...
The Timeline of Carbon Neutral Targets by Country.
CountryTarget Year
Andorra2050
9 more rows
8 Jun 2021

What are 10 things we can change to reduce greenhouse effect? ›

Things we can do to reduce greenhouse gases
  • Keep fossil fuels in the ground. ...
  • Switch to electric vehicles fast. ...
  • Be energy-efficient citizens. ...
  • Use renewables to power the world. ...
  • Change our diets. ...
  • Double the area of forests and restore habitats in the UK. ...
  • Stop funding fossil fuels overseas. ...
  • Empower women.

What causes carbon emissions? ›

There are both natural and human sources of carbon dioxide emissions. Natural sources include decomposition, ocean release and respiration. Human sources come from activities like cement production, deforestation as well as the burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas.

When did net zero start? ›

Bhutan was the first country to set a net-zero target in 2015. Now over 80 countries, representing more than 70% of global emissions, are covered by a net-zero target.

What is carbon free world? ›

In contrast to carbon-neutral, becoming carbon-free means directly reducing emissions to zero. For example, if a country or company is carbon-free, all the energy and electricity comes from renewable sources, like wind or solar. Realistically, carbon-free is much more challenging to achieve than being carbon-neutral.

What is a net zero future? ›

To halt changes in the climate, carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions must stop – reducing them is no longer sufficient. For Net Zero Futures, setting a net zero target means that any emissions are balanced by absorbing an equivalent amount from the atmosphere on timescales compatible with the Paris Agreement.

What is an example of a zero energy building? ›

1. The Unisphere, Maryland, U.S.A. Spread across an area of 135,000 square feet, The Unisphere stands in the middle of the city in downtown silver spring as a sterling example of technologies embodied, making it a fully sustainable, net-zero energy construction.

What is a zero carbon build? ›

A net zero carbon building is “highly energy efficient and powered from on-site and/or off-site renewable energy sources, with any remaining carbon balance offset.”

What is a carbon free building? ›

A Zero Net Carbon (ZNC) building is designed to meet all its energy needs from carbon-free sources such as solar or wind. ZNC buildings can help residents and businesses reduce energy use and emissions to support healthy, Climate Smart communities.

Which is better carbon-neutral or net zero? ›

Net zero is similar in principle to carbon neutrality, but is expanded in scale. To achieve net zero means to go beyond the removal of just carbon emissions. Net zero refers to all greenhouse gases being emitted into the atmosphere, such as methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O) and other hydrofluorocarbons.

Is it good to be carbon positive? ›

Carbon positive projects can make significant contributions by helping to address the carbon intensity and damaging impacts of past building practices and lifestyles, and by offsetting situations where carbon zero buildings are not possible.

What is the single most significant cause of carbon emissions? ›

Electricity and Heat Production (25% of 2010 global greenhouse gas emissions): The burning of coal, natural gas, and oil for electricity and heat is the largest single source of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Which country is carbon positive? ›

CO2—a greenhouse gas—has become a major concern as climate change becomes a bigger issue. The top five CO2 producing nations since 1975 are the United States, China, Russia, Germany, and the U.K.

Are any countries already at net zero? ›

The countries of Benin in West Africa, Bhutan in southern Asia, Cambodia in south east Asia, Comoros off Africa's east coast, Guyana in South America, Madagascar in the Indian Ocean and Suriname in South America, are the only ones to have achieved net zero so far, according to the Net Zero Tracker website, but the ...

Is net-zero emissions possible? ›

In fact, the technologies on the market today will provide nearly all of the emissions reductions needed by 2030 to put the world on track for the 2050 goal. But after that, getting to net zero carbon will require widespread use of technologies still in development today.

Which country one of the top oil exporters has declared that it will achieve a zero net emission target by 2060? ›

Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS Dubai: One of the world's largest oil producers, Saudi Arabia, announced Saturday it aims to reach "net zero" greenhouse gas emissions by 2060, joining more than 100 countries in a global effort to try and curb man-made climate change.

What are carbon footprints? ›

What is a carbon footprint? A carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gases (including carbon dioxide and methane) that are generated by our actions. The average carbon footprint for a person in the United States is 16 tons, one of the highest rates in the world.

What are the 3 carbon negative countries? ›

But did you know that three of the world's smallest nations – Bhutan, Suriname and Panama – stood out from the rest by showing that they absorb more greenhouse gas than they emit? The only three to seal the Carbon Negative Alliance in Glasgow, they have been dubbed 'the holy trinity of negative carbon' by many.

What two countries are carbon negative? ›

Carbon Negative Countries 2022
  • Bhutan. Bhutan became the first of two carbon negative countries by 2021. This means it removes more CO2 from the air than it emits into it. ...
  • Suriname. Suriname became the second of two carbon negative countries. ...
  • Tuvalu.

How can a country become carbon neutral? ›

Carbon offsetting

Another way to reduce emissions and to pursue carbon neutrality is to offset emissions made in one sector by reducing them somewhere else. This can be done through investment in renewable energy, energy efficiency or other clean, low-carbon technologies.

How do we get to net zero by 2050? ›

To reach net zero emissions by 2050, annual clean energy investment worldwide will need to more than triple by 2030 to around $4 trillion. This will create millions of new jobs, significantly lift global economic growth, and achieve universal access to electricity and clean cooking worldwide by the end of the decade.

Is carbon net zero enough? ›

But they are not enough. The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report highlighted that we need to end carbon emissions by 2050 to keep global average temperature rise below 1.5°C.

Is net zero by 2050 too late? ›

The global goal

Achieving global net-zero emissions by about 2050 is necessary but not sufficient to have a decent chance of limiting global warming to 1.5º C. And it matters how the world – and Australia – gets to net zero. As they are emitted, greenhouse gases accumulate in the atmosphere.

What are the benefits of net zero? ›

Achieving net-zero may also reduce the severity of regional hydrometeorological events such as drought and flooding due to heavy rainfall. Drought events can affect water quality and availability, food production and increase risks of wildfires as well as decreasing land carbon sequestration.

Is carbon good for the environment? ›

Studies have shown that increased concentrations of carbon dioxide increase photosynthesis, spurring plant growth. While rising carbon dioxide concentrations in the air can be beneficial for plants, it is also the chief culprit of climate change.

What is the impact of carbon emission to our environment? ›

CO2 emissions act like a blanket in the air, trapping heat in the atmosphere, and warming up the Earth [11]. This layer prevents the Earth from cooling, and thus raises global temperatures. Global warming would affect environmental conditions, food and water supplies, weather pattern, and sea levels.

What is a net zero product? ›

Net zero is all about 'balancing' or cancelling out any carbon we produce. We reach net zero when the amount of greenhouse gas we produce is no more than the amount taken away. Zero carbon concerns the emissions produced from a product or service – it means no carbon is given off at all.

Is net zero carbon emissions 2050 possible? ›

Over 100 countries have already pledged to do this. However on its own, reaching net zero in 2050 is nowhere near enough. To help limit global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees, the whole world would need to reduce emissions by 7% per year every single year between 2020 and 2030.

How do you build a net zero carbon building? ›

Buildings can achieve zero carbon (or zero carbon ready) performance by eliminating fossil fuel use for heating, using on-site and/or off-site renewable energy, reducing the use of high global warming potential refrigerants and using low-carbon, reused or recycled materials in construction.

Can carbon neutrality reach 2050? ›

According to the report, without a major acceleration in clean energy innovation, getting to net zero by 2050 will not be possible. In fact, the technologies on the market today will provide nearly all of the emissions reductions needed by 2030 to put the world on track for the 2050 goal.

What is the 2050 Challenge? ›

In 2015, the Toyota Environmental Challenge 2050 (Challenge 2050) was announced. Challenge 2050 has six challenges that seek to go beyond eliminating environmental impacts to creating net positive impacts on the planet and society: Three on reducing the CO2 emissions that cause climate change. One on conserving water.

Is net zero carbon enough? ›

But they are not enough. The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report highlighted that we need to end carbon emissions by 2050 to keep global average temperature rise below 1.5°C.

Why is net zero a problem? ›

A coal plant can be shut down in a day, while a forest takes decades to grow. Furthermore, many net-zero schemes rely on carbon markets, offset schemes, and using lands in the Global South as carbon sinks—a tactic that might mean forced removal of the people currently living on them.

What is meant by net zero carbon emissions? ›

Reaching net zero emissions means removing an equal amount of CO2 from the atmosphere as we release into it. Despite the growth of sustainable technologies in recent years, carbon emissions continue to increase. Current climate change commitments are not enough to keep the planet within 1.5℃ above pre-industrial times.

What is a zero carbon world? ›

Traditional energy sources like coal and gas produce carbon dioxide among other gasses when they are burned to fuel power stations. Zero carbon means that no carbon emissions are being produced from a product or service (for example, a wind farm generating electricity, or a battery deploying electricity).

What is an example of a zero energy building? ›

1. The Unisphere, Maryland, U.S.A. Spread across an area of 135,000 square feet, The Unisphere stands in the middle of the city in downtown silver spring as a sterling example of technologies embodied, making it a fully sustainable, net-zero energy construction.

What is a net zero structure? ›

A zero-energy building, also known as a zero net energy (ZNE) building, net-zero energy building (NZEB), or net zero building, is a building with zero net energy consumption, meaning the total amount of energy used by the building on an annual basis is roughly equal to the amount of renewable energy created on the site ...

What is the goal for carbon emissions by 2050? ›

Currently, the Earth is already about 1.1°C warmer than it was in the late 1800s, and emissions continue to rise. To keep global warming to no more than 1.5°C – as called for in the Paris Agreement – emissions need to be reduced by 45% by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050.

What four steps must our world take to reach zero emissions by 2050? ›

It is time to put a price on carbon; end fossil fuel subsidies and finance; stop building new coal power plants; shift the tax burden from income to carbon, from taxpayers to polluters; make climate-related financial risk disclosures mandatory; and integrate the goal of carbon neutrality into all economic and fiscal ...

What is difference between net zero and carbon neutral? ›

Net zero is similar in principle to carbon neutrality, but is expanded in scale. To achieve net zero means to go beyond the removal of just carbon emissions. Net zero refers to all greenhouse gases being emitted into the atmosphere, such as methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O) and other hydrofluorocarbons.

What countries have net zero targets? ›

Sweden and Germany have legally binding net zero targets for 2045. France, Denmark, Spain, Hungary and Luxemburg have set theirs for 2050. Japan, Korea, Canada, and New Zealand have passed laws committing to achieving net zero by 2050 while Ireland, Chile and Fiji have proposed legislation.

How many countries have net zero committed? ›

Only five countries have net zero pledges set for after 2050, including Australia and Singapore, which haven't set a firm target yet. Targeting 2060, in addition to Ukraine and Kazakhstan, is the world's largest emitter, China.
...
The Timeline of Carbon Neutral Targets by Country.
CountryTarget Year
Andorra2050
9 more rows
8 Jun 2021

What is the single most significant cause of carbon emissions? ›

Electricity and Heat Production (25% of 2010 global greenhouse gas emissions): The burning of coal, natural gas, and oil for electricity and heat is the largest single source of global greenhouse gas emissions.

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