South Africa's Energy Security in the Context of Climate Change Mitigation

By Sheila Kiratu on August 27, 2010

Climate change science indicates that the South Africa has the "wrong" primary energy source—coal, which is a major source of carbon dioxide emissions. As such, there is an urgent need to diversify the country's energy sources away from the current high dependence on coal to renewable sources of power.

This paper examines the challenges that the country faces and their implications for Southern Africa.

Key Findings:

  • South Africa will need to redefine its competitive advantage by moving away from energy-intensive sectors that rely on cheap but dirty electricity, and instead shift towards a new advantage centred on climate-friendly technologies and systems.

  • South Africa needs to transform its institutional and regulatory environment to allow for the participation of clean electricity suppliers in a market currently dominated by coal and the national electricity utility.

  • As pressure for transition to a low-carbon economy mounts, investment in low-carbon goods and services will continue to accelerate. Economies that are efficiently run and free from the volatility of the fossil fuel market are at a competitive advantage; consequently, companies and governments that are moving fastest towards a low-carbon economy will reap the rewards.

  • While policy measures are in place to address energy and climate concerns in South Africa, they are undermined by policies in other areas of government. This lack of a coherent vision that includes all government departments results in fractured policies on energy and climate change.

  • To develop an integrated vision for energy security, the South African government must address institutional issues, diversification, and also take into account the opportunities available in neighbouring countries.

Key Recommendations:

  • The transition to a low-carbon economy in South Africa should be pursued concurrently with its other fossil fuel-based initiatives and not sequentially if the country is to secure its electricity supply and achieve the bold and exemplary commitment it made under the Copenhagen Accord.

  • South Africa's energy policies need to be tackled in a coordinated way, as they lie at the heart of major national and international foreign policy discussions on matters that affect the country's and the wider region's energy security.

  • The push toward decarbonization will be one of the major drivers of global and national economic growth over the next decade and South Africa's government and businesses need to stop viewing the transition to a low-carbon economy as a threat rather than an opportunity. If anything, as the most industrialized country in the region, the transition to a low-carbon society will provide a platform for the development of a clean-tech power generation industry and the creation of green jobs in South Africa.

Report details

South Africa
IISD, 2010