South Africa’s Sustainability Efforts

South Africa, a country to watch: Before we begin to look at the issue of sustainability that affects South Africa, we note a couple points on the country:


    • South Africa is a rapidly-developing country that maintains the largest African economy.
    • The country was admitted to BRICS, a group of emerging national markets previously composed of only Brazil, Russia, India, and China, in 2011.


While South Africa and other developing countries face strong levels of economic growth due to the low hanging fruit found in the early stages of economic development, that growth generates high levels of carbon emissions – those higher than in developed countries. However, the negative global effects of these emissions have put the issue on the developed countries’ radar, drawing increasing focus by world leaders.


Hence, many developed countries have banded together, committing funds to combatting such high global levels of carbon emissions. In the McNicoll et al. paper “Estimating publicly-mobilised private finance for climate action: A South African case study,” the authors note a commitment by developed countries to contribute USD 100 billion per year by 2020. As a result, their research goal was to monitor and track both public and private climate finance. Their findings “suggest that, in the South African context, domestic public actors play the biggest role in mobilization by providing support through targeted policies.” So while this issue is a macroeconomic one, it seems that it is being handled rather internally in South Africa.


One way the government of South Africa is promoting sustainability: the ‘New Growth Path’, set out in the Green Economy Accord. The plan suggests that development of ‘green’ technologies, such as in manufacturing of renewable energy technologies, recycling, and biofuels, can lead to the creation of millions of jobs. The South African government not only wants to show a commitment to sustainability and facilitating the development of green technologies but also views this mission as a pathway to economic development and stronger industrial and innovation sectors in the country.


Things to consider:


    • How does the way the country has responded to carbon emissions differ from the response of an OECD country, for example? Or if you have done research on your developing country: how does South Africa’s response of targeted policies differ from the response of your developing country?
    • Furthermore, should climate change be a high priority for South Africa and other developing countries, or should they simply focus on economic growth and then turn to sustainability? Is it fair to possibly limit economic growth through foreign interference, or is it for the greater good?
    • How can a country strike a balance between sustainable energy practices and economic development? Given that transitions to renewables can be expensive, what are ways that a developing country can make renewable energy production and consumption accessible?


Matt & Carson




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12 Responses to South Africa’s Sustainability Efforts

  1. the prof says:

    Good to have the post! I however will refrain from leading off the discussion. You all, get to work!

  2. wheelers19 says:

    Personally, I believe that South Africa is making a mistake by focusing resources while still developing on carbon emissions programs. While this does create jobs and give relatively low skill-dependent income to many, this money would be better invested in infrastructure. Green energy is also promoted, but, with the exception of nuclear power, green energy has proven to be highly inefficient in production. When you compare South Africa’s developing economy to that of recently and historically effective developing economies, you see that countries such as the BRICS countries were successful without wasting resources on sustainability.

  3. ferrise20 says:

    South Africa and other developing nations seem to be caught in a catch-22. How can they have the same opportunity to industrialize that developed, wealthy nations like the U.S. had, but still abide by modern-day environmental standards? I think it requires the support of OECD countries and other organizations. Certainly the efficient adoption and implementation of technology that promotes sustainable development is critical. Will South Africa’s industrialization process inevitably be more drawn-out as a result of stricter environmental regulations, or are modern-day technological improvements and energy alternatives helpful enough to allow the country to do what it needs to do in a responsible manner?

  4. fleckj20 says:

    Renewable energy is an excellent situation for developed countries to take a leadership role. By assisting less developed countries with monetary and technical assistance, they can be kept from the cheaper but more pollutant fossil fuels. By providing assistance, developed countries can help build the infrastructure in less developed countries more efficiently, and more climate-friendly. This can help with the issue of balancing growth and green energy. Furthermore, it will help bond newly developing countries with already highly developed ones, furthering international cooperation. Economically, it will do much to alleviate the lack of technical expertise in the poorer countries around the world.

  5. lencionik19 says:

    Environmental sustainability and renewable energy are certainly important to all countries across the globe, but devoting money and resources to renewable energy should not take the focus off economic development. Economic development is in fact necessary for countries to begin and maintain renewable energy systems. Poor countries cannot afford to have all the fancy technology related to green energy, therefore the best way to transition toward renewable energy is through economic growth.

  6. mac zheng says:

    I think the “New Growth Path” is at least a good effort on the South African government’s part to hit two birds with one stone in terms of economic development and environment. My concern is whether they can allocate an efficient amount of resources to making this happen. Will there inevitably a trade off? South Africa already has a better overall infrastructure than the average African country. There alot of variables that also need to be accounted for in terms of lowering carbon emission.

  7. platerb18 says:

    To address the second consideration listed, I think the issue of development in South Africa is related to the tragedy of the commons problem that other countries also face. South Africa could rationally develop their economy and emit plenty of greenhouse gases in the process. This may be the fastest way to develop, but in the end everyone is a bit worse off because of the negative effects that come with climate change (ocean acidification, intensified weather events, air quality, etc.). However, plans of the ‘New Growth Path’ show lots of promise, and could even act as a model for other developing countries. There are certainly differences in how countries can harness energy renewably, but South Africa can set an example for other nations to follow. In order for this to occur, leaders need to have foresight and have some sort of care for generations that will follow in their footsteps. This has been mentioned, but support from developed nations may be more necessary in certain nations when it comes to developing renewable energy sources.

    • the prof says:

      If you’re really poor, wouldn’t you “trade” smog for food? This underlies the Kuznets Curve, pollution is low (or at least the sort we worry about is low) in a subsistence society, rises with urban/industrial growth, and falls as incomes reach the point that people are willing to pay taxes (directly or indirectly) to “buy” cleaner air and water.

  8. willinghamt19 says:

    This is a very interesting post, and it highlights a large concern as so many countries industrialize. What are the long-term environmental effects of industrialization? How many individuals, especially poor individuals, could face hardships or even die in some of the worst climate change scenarios?

    Still, here I am, as a wealthy individual, benefitting from greenhouse gas emissions. Who am I to say that individuals facing poverty shouldn’t benefit from those same greenhouse gas emissions?

  9. nutiw18 says:

    Your second question brought up an interesting point. Should a developing country be focusing on climate change, or rather economic growth and jobs?

    This is an extremely slippery slope. With limited resources, it can be difficult for a country to choose a less efficient, and more expensive green product as opposed to the economically efficient alternative. I personally believe that strong economic times are the best times to focus on issues like climate change. If South Africa allocates resources to education, human capital growth projects, or infrastructure, they can create a higher quality of life for their people. Once the nation has been developed, then they may divert their attention to climate change.

  10. shelbyc18 says:

    Developing countries should focus on climate change and can still grow the economy while doing so. There is still a need for both skilled and unskilled labor in renewable energy and research. We live in a different time where we are more aware of our impact on the future of the planet, so we should still care about this even in development. However, this is more of an international issue, and foreign aid and incentives from trade partners to go green would go a long way here.

  11. khanm18 says:

    South Africa is too focused on mining, and anything in regards to natural resources. I believe their sustainability efforts will really help in the long terms in terms of developing a new industry that may be a potential source of growth for the nation

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