Changing Development Paths: From an Energy-Intensive to Low-Carbon Economy in South Africa

"Climate change mitigation poses significant challenges for South Africa and its energy development, historically highly energy intensive. At the same time, the country faces a host of daunting development challenges, exacerbated by the legacy of apartheid. Examining both challenges, this paper considers how alternative conceptions of a development path can be achieved. In the short term, energy efficiency provides large potential for mitigation – and energy savings at the same time. Changing South Africa’s fuel mix, dependent to three-quarters on coal, is at least a medium-term challenge. The minerals–energy complex is so central to the economy that it is likely to take decades to change dramatically. The most transformative change is to an alteration in economic structure, likely to take long to achieve. The article examines specific policy instruments that might be implemented to achieve such a transformation. A transition to a low-carbon economy will require a paradigm shift in industrial policy. It will require considered provision for sectors sensitive to changes in energy prices. Building up new, climate-friendly industries will be needed to sustain employment and investment. To enable a just transition, provision will have to be made for emissions-intensive sectors, if they are to be phased out over time. South African government has adopted a vision, strategic direction and framework for climate policy. Policymakers have begun to understand that the future will be carbon constrained and that South Africa’s emission will have to stop growing, stabilize and decline before mid-century. The challenge of climate change is a long-term challenge, requiring immediate action. This article examines actions at near-, medium- and long-term time scales. Its focus is on the most transformative change, that of seeking to shift development paths."