The Effect of Climate Change on South Africa’s progress toward: 

No Poverty, Clean Energy and Sustainable Communities.

Lilitha Ontjies

1) Sustainable Cities and Communities

2)Clean, affordable energy

3) No Poverty


In this report, the long-term effects of climate change were studied to determine their effect on South Africa’s progress towards the aims set in the Sustainable Development goals. It focuses on South Africa’s mitigation of the climate crisis to achieve its set goals: reducing poverty, production of clean energy and developing sustainable communities. The effect of sustained weather changes on water and land have negatively affected crop yield, efficient energy production and city air quality. The extent of regression caused by climate change and the South African government’s need to invest into counteracting its effect will be used as a measure to determine how the climate crisis has curbed or sped progress toward the goals set by the 2015 Paris Agreement. It is seen that the threat of climate change has put pressure on the government to invest in newer, greener energy production and distribution infrastructure not only to ensure affordable, clean energy but to curb the rising emissions in city areas. Therefore, it is concluded that the climate crisis aids as a catalyst for the government to act against the impact of climate change and put into effect countermeasures as stipulated by the Paris Agreement.


Climate change and its impact on natural resources has urged South Africa to mitigate its effects in hopes of advancing toward the Sustainable Development Goals. [1]In the current political climate, global heating has become increasingly topical as world leaders scramble to minimise its effect. The recent COP26 proved the urgency of leaders to find and implement effective strategies in reducing the threat of the climate crisis and finally taking action. The most important objective of world leaders, as decided upon at COP21, was limiting the increase in global average temperatures below 1,5 degrees Celsius.


In 2015, 196 countries adopted the Paris Agreement, a legally binding agreement on effective action to be taken against climate change. Amongst these states, was South Africa. Its role concerned the management and mitigation of the climate crisis. South Africa’s efforts are seen through the National Development Plans in reducing poverty as well as its role in encouraging renewable energy use through procurement programs and its role in sustainable city planning.

Presently, it can be argued that the current political climate, energy, poverty reduction and community development are amongst the most important of the 17 sustainable development goals. However, to a lesser extent, it appears as though the increasing threat of climate change could decrease the likelihood of South Africa achieving its aims by 2030, as agreed upon at the Paris Accords. But, to a greater extent, it could also provide South Africa with the urgency to invest in a cleaner, greener future. 

Report of the research:

South Africa continually strives to “reduce poverty and all its forms” as stated by the 1st Sustainable Development goal. For the developing Southern African region, agriculture accounts for more than 70% of the rural population’s livelihood. In South Africa, and many regions in the world, the extremely hot temperatures, attributed to global heating, have led to desertification.[3] This, in turn, fuels soil degradation and subsequent decline in crop yield. For a rural community, crop production is the main or only means of income and manner of feeding one’s family. The decrease of viable crops over the years has made it increasingly difficult to alleviate economic inequality between the wealthy and the poor, as the poor are thrown into a continuous cycle of poverty. [4]In aiming to achieve its goal, ensuring food security is imperative. Moreover, poorer communities still are susceptible to floods and storms, however lack adequate funding and resources to rebuild the damaged infrastructure. 

Extreme weather patterns: droughts, land storms and floods have become increasingly apparent and common in the recent decades and climate change only exacerbates the catastrophes and intensifies the inequalities[5]. However, the rampant effect of climate change on poorer communities, which account for 50% of the country’s population, has urged the government to act on reducing poverty and inequality. This is seen through the National Development Plan to alleviate the poverty crisis. [6]The findings from the implementation of the plan advocated for the need to recognize poverty beyond policies and reflect it in law. There’s a link between the threat and effect of climate change and the response from the government. Though climate change has had adverse effects on land quality and crop production, it is that very threat of land degradation and subsequently poverty that prompts the government to take climate action. 


The 7th Sustainable Development Goal aims to “ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all”. However, climate change is shifting energy needs and security. The climates in different regions of the world have become more extreme, with some areas facing desertification[8] while others are experiencing floods and cold weather. In both scenarios, there’s a spike in energy needs.[9]In hotter climates, there’s a need for cooling systems which require electricity to power them for extended periods of time. In colder areas, there’s a need for heating systems. In South Africa particularly, over the last few years there’s been an increase in the number of cold fronts [10]which are thought to be induced by the changes in regional climate patterns. This has an adverse effect on the global and national collective goal to conserve energy. The extreme temperature and climates, attributed to climate change, put immense pressure on increasing energy production. Energy production which relies largely on fossil fuels. In warmer climates, fossil fuel energy production becomes less efficient. The cooler the water, the cooler the system and therefore, the more efficient it is. The warmer the water, the less likely for the system to perform its best. It’s evident climate change poses threats to methods of energy production in the future. [11]Whether it’s warm or cools down, energy will always be needed and even more so with the rapid rise of global temperatures. The impact of the climate crisis will push South Africa and its energy sector to invest in greener energy for a sustainable future. 

There’s a need to find decentralised production of renewable, clean energy. The Climate crisis has encouraged countries to consider alternative energy sources outside of fossil fuels, namely, renewable energy sourcessuch as solar, wind and hydropower. Moreover, South Africa has 2 nuclear power reactors which supply 6% of the country’s electricity.[12] However, that pales in comparison to South Africa’s dependence on coal which supplies 77% of the country’s electricity. The excessive use and dependence on coal power is counterproductive in striving for a carbon-conscious state. Though rapid change in climate patterns has proved to have a negative impact on excessive energy usage and production,[13] it also serves as an opportunity for South Africa to consider and invest in renewable and nuclear power stations to offer cleaner, sustainable energy and consequently fulfil its obligation to the Paris Accords.The Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme, [14]generated capital for wind and solar facility construction. In the establishment of this program there is the potential for distribution of  cleaner, greener energy sources being distributed to wider communities.

The 11th Sustainable Development goal is concerned with building sustainable cities and communities. In developing countries, such as South Africa, there isn’t enough money to mitigate the negative impacts of climate change in more rural, agricultural communities.[15] The crops many depend on are destroyed due to environmental degradation and therefore there is a rise in poverty and food insecurity as the main source of income is stripped away for many people. On the other hand, cities both cause and are fallible to the negative effects of climate change. Manufacturing and production often happen in the city, therefore making it a hub for carbon emissions. There is a growing need for sustainable city planning and movement to a low-carbon economy. [16]It has been seen that global warming paired with urban heat [17]have intensified city air pollution. Poor air quality not only adversely affects the wildlife but also human lives in the city, therefore increasing their  risk of developing life threatening diseases. [18]This makes aiming towards building “safer” cities as stipulated by the goal, difficult to achieve. Cities situated alongside the coast or flood plains of South Africa are more at risk to the dangers posed by climate change. Rising water levels are likely to result in floods that damage public transport and extreme heat or storms destroy power lines. This becomes costly to replace infrastructure. This also contributes to the loss of lives. In informal settlements, which face rapid urbanisation[19],the effects of climate change are worse. This is due to the lack of resources available to withstand extreme weather and temperatures. South Africa, being a developing country, comprises many informal settlements. The effects of climate change in communities would be felt by a large number of South Africans. Climate change has continually proven to leave rural and informal communities vulnerable. This is seen through the food and resource scarcity brought about by harsh climates. This is worsened by limited infrastructural development that would only be available in the cities. However, city development is threatened by unpredictable weather patterns that subsequently destroy infrastructure. In all communities, there’s the threat of harming wildlife and human life, which would urge government intervention for the conservation and protection of all species. It can be argued that the increasing threat of climate change would urge change to sustainable community development. This can be achieved through implementing renewable energy sources and decreasing emissions by limiting industries. This way it’s ensuring sustainable energy usage and better air quality in cities thus adhering to the 2015 Climate Agreement.


The effects brought by climate change over the most recent decades has prompted urgent reaction and solutions to lessening its impact globally. The establishment of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals have been key in setting steps to mitigate the effect of the climate crisis. The extreme temperatures have played a crucial role in determining the livelihoods and economic standing of people; food and job security being the defining factors. The poor product yield brought upon by land degradation rid people of income and could potentially deepen the poverty crisis. However, South Africa’s implementation of the National Development Plan allowed for the progress of poverty reduction which was urged by the hazards of climate change. Moreover, the push for renewable energy was pushed by the rapid change in demands for energy production arguably affected by the change in weather patterns ascribed to climate change. Furthermore, the shift to cut emissions and investment in sustainable energy companies was encouraged by the concerns of pollution impacting human health. There is a clear connection between government intervention and the impact of climate change on resources and the population. The impact of climate change will induce the government to take action against the crisis in an effort to create a greener South Africa consequently upholding and implementing the aims of the Paris Agreement. Climate change could play a role in encouraging government action in reducing poverty, sustainable city development and providing clean energy. Moreover, it could exhort the government to implement effective action in furthering the progress of the 14 other Sustainable Development Goals[20]. Further research must be conducted on the effects of climate change on other aims stipulated on all the 17 Development Goals and how South Africa aims to achieve them with the threat of the climate crisis. The key factor being 

climate change’s high risk of slowing down progress towards the goals. For instance, a hindrance toward providing clean water. This could be proven through poor water quality caused by algae brought by excessive storms. To determine whether the threat of climate change stunts or promotes the country’s progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals can be gauged by the government’s willingness to invest in technology and policies which effectively counteract the damage caused by global heating. Whatever the outcome, it is imperative the South African government assumes responsibility for the diminution of climate change.



  1. Mitigation: reducing the severity or seriousness of something
  2. Climate changethe long- term changes in weather patterns and global temperatures
  3. COP26: 26th meeting of the Conference of the Parties. The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference headed by UK cabinet minister Alok Sharma.
  4. Desertification: land degradation in arid regions due to human factors of climatic changes
  5. Economic inequality: the unequal distribution of resources and income between the wealthy and poor
  6. Soil Degradation: an unfavourable change in soil health consequenting in an inability to produce goods and services. In this case, it causes the inability of subsistence farmers to secure food and jobs.
  7. Cold Fronts: leading edge of a cooler mass of air at ground level that replaces a warmer mass of air and lies within a pronounced surface trough of low pressure. The occurrence of cold fronts along the coastal regions of South Africa have increased. Therefore, increasing energy demand.
  8. Regional climate patterns: the weather in a particular region over a span of 30 years
  9. Fossil fuels:  material containing hydro-carbons formed from centuries of dead organic matter. This is used for energy production in the form of oil, coal and natural gas. The carbon emissions from electricity production are one of the creates contributors to global warming
  10. Decentralised: energy that is generated independent from the main grid 
  11. Renewable energy: energy that can be harvested from the Earth’s natural resources and can be replenished 
  12. Nuclear power: energy produced from the fission of uranium 235
  13. Solar: energy from the sun
  14. Food insecurity: the inability to access safe, nutritious food
  15. Urban Heat(ing) Island: an area that is significantly warmer due to industrialization and human activity
  16. Agriculture: the practice of raising livestock and cultivating crops in the preparation of advertising the finished product
  17. Air pollution: contamination of the environment by chemical agents which disrupt atmosphere’s natural state
  18. Flood plains:  an area of land adjacent to a river which stretches from the banks of its channel to the base of the enclosing valley walls . It is susceptible to flooding. 

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