Statement by H.E. President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa to the United Nations Secretary-General’s Climate Summit, 23 September 2019

Statement by H.E. President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa to the United Nations Secretary-General’s Climate Summit, 23 September 2019


Mr Secretary-General, Excellencies


South Africa shares the sense of urgency expressed by you, Secretary General, for addressing the climate emergency, and welcomes this great initiative to gather the world’s leaders in New York. This ahead of the UNFCCC meeting in Chile this year and looking forward to 2020, the year in which all of us are expected to enhance the ambition of our Nationally Determined Contributions, and communicate long-term low emissions development plans to put the world on a path to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.


Although they have historically contributed the least to global emissions, developing countries are and will continue to be most affected by climate change and its impacts.


The world depends on us. We have seen the disastrous effects of climate change across the globe in the increased incidence and severity of extreme weather events such as flooding and droughts.


In fact, the recent IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C has identified southern Africa as a climate change hot spot.  Our region is likely to become drier and drastically warmer even under 1.5 or 2 °C of global warming.


Moreover, recent events have clearly demonstrated the vulnerability of the region to extreme weather. In March 2019, more than 1000 people died across four Southern African countries in the devastation caused by tropical cyclone Idai. This is the worst flood disaster in the recorded history of the region, and the second worst in history in the Southern Hemisphere. Also still fresh in the minds of South Africans is the Cape Town drought of 2015-2017, which brought the city to the verge of an unprecedented water crisis.


Climate change science is clear that the risk for flooding originating from intense landfalling tropical cyclones and for prolonged drought in Southern Africa is increasing under continued global warming.  Extensive research is ongoing in South Africa to quantify the likelihood of major climate change impacts occurring in the region over the next several decades, including multi-year droughts that compromise water security and heat-waves impacting on human health, livestock production and crop yield.


The view of South Africa and Africa, as developing countries and as global citizens, is that the climate crisis cannot be solved outside of a development context. We see the crisis as an opportunity to strengthen global governance and that in addressing the crisis, we can meet the aspirations of the UN Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals.


South Africa’s National Development Plan 2030 identifies poverty, inequality and unemployment as our most serious national development challenges. Overcoming these triple challenges fundamentally informs our approach to addressing climate change.


Building resilience must strengthen development. In shifting to a low-carbon, inclusive, climate change resilient development path and embracing the global energy transition, we must ensure that we leave no-one behind. At the same time, we must create new opportunities for all in our economy.


South Africa considers itself a good global citizen and our National Climate Change Response Policy requires us to make a fair contribution to the global effort in the context of our national development priorities. This is what informs our Nationally Determined Contribution.


South Africa places a high priority on the role of all countries to enable and support adaptation to the adverse effects of climate change, and build economic and social resilience to these impacts, particularly for those most vulnerable.


The mitigation challenge posed to South Africa is considerable. About 80% of our emissions are from our energy sector.


Like all countries of the world, we recognize the urgency with which we must reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and move towards a carbon-neutral future.


The rapid fall in prices of renewable energy technologies, coupled with our immense renewable energy resources, has created a massive opportunity for us to make this shift.


We are already doing so. South Africa’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producers Procurement Programme (REIPPP) is considered one of the world’s leading Renewable Energy programmes.


South Africa’s blueprint for energy security, the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) will soon be finalized. It calls for an energy mix that includes a significantly increased component of energy from renewable sources, as well as from traditional sources that includes coal, natural gas and nuclear energy.


As many other countries around the world including developed countries are experiencing, we have to minimize the impact of such a transition on workers, communities and our economies as a whole.


As part of ensuring a just transition we will need to put measures in place that plan for workforce reskilling and job absorption, social protection and livelihood creation, incentivising new green sectors, diversifying coal dependent regional economies, and developing labour and social plans as and when ageing coal-fired power plants are decommissioned.


Taking all of these factors into consideration, it is clear that strong and durable social compacts will need to be forged between government, labour, business and civil Society.


Your Excellencies, South Africa has already done much to address the challenge of climate change. So far, we have introduced a Carbon Tax and have implemented voluntary carbon budgets systems for large emitters.


We have also finalised a Green Transport Strategy and are implementing a national Green Economy strategy and an Energy Efficiency in Industry Strategy.


As of end of March 2019 we have procured 6 422 Megawatts of electricity from 112 renewable energy Independent Power Producer (IPP) projects including from wind, solar PV, concentrated solar power, landfill gas, hydro and biomass.


We are also pursuing a largescale energy and climate change research and development programme geared towards mitigation solutions such as the use of fuel cells, using South Africa’s abundant platinum resources.


In addition to these and up to the end of 2020, we will be completing a number of key national processes:


  • Our National Planning Commission will update our National Development Plan (which was adopted in 2012 before the Paris Agreement), providing an integrated basis for our shift to a low-carbon economy, climate-resilient society;
  • We will also be finalising our Just Transition Plan, including defining a vision compatible with the 1.5 degree Paris temperature goal;
  • We are currently in the process of finalising our long-term low emissions development strategy, which will be submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2020;
  • We will be finalising our Climate Change Bill, which will provide a legislative basis for comprehensive climate action, provide for the updating of our long-term national emissions trajectory, the allocation of sectoral emissions targets, and the regulation of large emitters;
  • South Africa’s land sector is a net emissions sink, and we are currently developing programmes to enhance this, including through the restoration of subtropical thicket and grasslands, expanding forestry and reduced tillage.
  • We will also publish the final National Adaptation Strategy to assist all provinces, towns and cities to face adaptation challenges ahead.
  • Using own domestic resources, we have already implemented measures to help us cope with extreme weather. These include; the working for water programme, the working for fire programme and the restoration of wetlands.
  • In 2020, South Africa will be updating its adaptation NDC in 2020, to reflect national progress on implementing a comprehensive adaptation response, and updating international support requirements.


South Africa remains committed to meeting its obligations under the Paris Agreement, under the UN Framework for Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).


Excellencies, having heeded the warnings of the IPCC, considered the current inadequacy of international mitigation efforts and the urgency of further emissions reductions by 2030, having heard the pleas of citizens and in response to the urging of the Secretary General, we are announcing the concrete actions as South Africa.


We will be enhancing our current mitigation NDC by the end of 2020. Additional mitigation ambition by 2030 will require a bold programme which targets our key emissions source, the electricity sector, and goes beyond current plans to invest further in renewable energy.


To this end, a proposed Just Transition Transaction is being developed. The facility would consist of a blended finance vehicle and a just transition fund.


The plan we will develop will focus on the next decade.


It will include the process of decommissioning old coal powered plants. South Africa’s national power utility Eskom is already implementing a decommissioning plan for plants over 50 years old.


We will continue with this process in consultation with various social partners and importantly, at a pace that allows us to still meet our key development goals. It will also be taking place in the context of the problems currently besetting our electricity sector.


It will furthermore include adding significant additional renewable energy capacity, the funding of large-scale regional programmes to offset adverse impacts on workforces through economic development, and the financial stabilisation of our electricity sector.


South Africa’s reserves of platinum, manganese, chromium, nickel, vanadium, titanium, gold, fluorite are amongst the best in the world, with sizeable reserves of cobalt and copper. Our focus will also be on recirculation technologies for these minerals towards minimising the costs and environmental impacts of mining.


Mr Secretary General, we cannot overemphasise your call that this transition should not lead to winners and losers, and deepen global inequalities amongst and within states.


To ensure equity in the energy transition, we call upon you to champion initiatives that ensure not only that investment in renewable energy technologies is fast-tracked in developing countries, but that a large share of the value chain is located in these countries to support national development objectives. Especially in Africa, which is endowed with mineral resources critical to the production of renewable energy technologies. In addition, consideration should be given to the consideration of a global regime for investment in relevant patent pools – technology buy-outs for the global common good.


Meeting these commitments will be very challenging for South Africa. We need our partners in developed countries to step up and do their fair share by enhancing their NDC’s in line with the 1.5 degree Paris temperature goal.


They will also need to fulfil their obligations to provide the Means of Implementation for developing countries to enhance their climate actions through technology and skills transfer, financing and others.


They have an immediate opportunity to do so by committing to double their contributions in the second round of replenishment of the Green Climate Fund that is currently underway.


To conclude, let me emphasise that South Africa stands ready to contribute to the global climate change effort, and being a developing country, reiterates the importance of multilateralism and of global cooperation and support as we contribute our fair share.


I thank you.


Issued by the Presidency of the Republic of South Africa