In recent years, the problem of global climate change has received increasing attention. Climate change has been caused by a significant increase in global greenhouse gas emissions (since the Industrial Revolution) and has led to various problems including increasing temperatures, rising sea levels and more extreme weather conditions including droughts and floods.
In response, the international community has adopted the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (‘UNFCCC’) and the Kyoto Protocol to the UNFCCC, which require the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by developed countries. Developing countries, including South Africa, are not yet required (by the international community) to reduce, or mitigate, their greenhouse gas emissions. Another aspect of climate change is adaptation, which will see many (mainly developing) countries being forced to adapt to the negative impacts of climate change, including reduced crop yields caused by droughts.
South Africa has a relatively high level of greenhouse gas emissions, due to the fact that most of South Africa’s energy is produced from coal. While South Africa is a developing country, and government believes that developed countries should take the lead in responding to climate change, the South African government has acknowledged the urgency in responding to climate change. However, it is important that any climate change-related measures that are implemented do not impact negatively on the poor.
A number of policy papers have been published by the South African government including the Initial National Communication under the UNFCCC (in 2000) and the National Climate Change Response Strategy (in 2004), the Long-Term Mitigation Scenarios (in 2007), the National Climate Change Response Green Paper (in 2010), the National Climate Change Response White Paper (in 2011) and the Second National Communication under the UNFCCC. These documents set out the climate change-related measures that could be implemented in the various sectors of South Africa’s economy. In addition, government has published a Carbon Tax Policy Paper. This document proposes to ‘put a price’ on carbon, so as to discourage the generation of carbon dioxide – as activities that generate carbon emissions will become more expensive – with the aim of reducing South Africa’s greenhouse gas emissions. The carbon tax will come into effect in 2016.
Some climate change-related measures have been implemented in South Africa, such as the establishment of targets for renewable energy and energy efficiency. In addition, government has indicated that it intends to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions below ‘business as usual levels’ by 2020. Government will also introduce the carbon tax in 2016.