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The cost of achieving South Africa’s ‘fair share’ of global climate change mitigation

Hugo Van Zyl, Yvonne Lewis, James Kinghorn and James Reeler

Climate Policy, 2018, vol. 18, issue 10, 1327-1339

Abstract: Global climate change mitigation action is hampered by systematic under-assessment of national ‘fair shares’, largely on the basis of perceived national interests. This paper aims to inform discussions centred on South Africa’s nationally determined contribution (NDC) by estimating (1) emissions reduction pathways for the country using the Climate Equity Reference Calculator (CERC) assuming a maximum 2°C aggregate warming target and (2) the likely economy-wide net mitigation costs or savings associated with reaching these pathways if known lower-cost mitigation measures, identified through the national mitigation potential analysis, are prioritised. The cumulative net savings associated with achieving the CERC ‘fair share’ emissions pathway, assuming the moderate use of low carbon power generation measures, would reach $5.3 billion by 2030. Net savings could be substantially greater reaching $46.8 billion by 2030 assuming power generation focuses on moving towards full decarbonisation. An unconditional commitment to the mitigation action implied by the ‘fair share’ emissions pathway therefore seems reasonable and prudent purely from the point of view of net country-wide savings. Only if power generation moves towards full decarbonisation would there be a reasonable chance of achieving the more ambitious CERC domestic emissions pathway. However, the significant additional cost associated with achieving the domestic emissions pathway should be conditional on international assistance.Key policy insights South Africa can only achieve its ‘fair share’ of the global mitigation effort if greater use is made of renewable energy options, and can realise significant net savings if it does so. Further emissions reductions would incur costs and require significant upscaling of the share of renewable energy and full implementation of all non-power generation mitigation measures available. Committing to this further mitigation action contingent on international finance would both strengthen the nation’s position in climate negotiations and support the provision of finance for those vulnerable developing nations that bear little or no responsibility for climate change.

Date: 2018
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