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Greenhouse gas emissions

The only available data about greenhouse gas emissions in South Africa are from a national inventory of greenhouse gas emissions, established for the base year 1990 and published in 1999, and subsequently brought up to date for the year 1994 and published in South Africa’s Initial National Communication under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2000.  These data are now more than 10 years old and currently being updated by means of a national Greenhouse Gas Inventory carried out in 2005/2006.

Total greenhouse emissions

 The greenhouse gases addressed in the inventory established for the base year 1990 are CO2, CH4, and N2O (see table below for source group and aggregated contributions of various sectors to CO2-equivalent emissionsf for 1990 and 1994). 
Carbon dioxide contributed 83.2% of the total CO2-equivalent emissions in 1994, while CH4 and N2O contributed 11.4% and 5.4%, respectively. 
The total greenhouse gas emissions (CO2-equivalent) increased by 32.49 million tonnes (9.4%) between 1990 and 1994, mainly owing to the substantial increase in emissions from the energy sector (14.1%), and from the waste sector (8.1%). 
The proportional contributions of the main sectors, are presented in the graph below. Whereas the energy sector contributed 75% of the 1990 national CO2-equivalent emissions, its contribution increased to 78% in 1994.  The waste sector’s contribution remained relatively unchanged during this period, with small decreases in the contributions of the industrial sector (8.9% and 8% for 1990 and 1994, respectively) and the agricultural sector (4.4% and 4.3%, respectively). 
Contribution of main sectors to total national CO2-equivalent emissions, 1990 and 1994
Source: Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (2003)

Carbon dioxide emissions

Of the three main greenhouse gases (CO2, CH4, and N2O), carbon dioxide (CO2) is the most significant in South Africa.  It contributed more than 80% of the total emissions of these three gases for both 1990 and 1994. 
The main source of CO2 emissions was from the energy sector, which generated 89.7% of the total CO2 emissions in 1990 and 91.1% of the total CO2 emissions in 1994.  Such high emission levels from this sector are due to the energy intensity of South Africa’s economy, which depends on large-scale primary extraction and processing in the mining and minerals beneficiation sector. 
The three source groups contributing most to the energy sector CO2-equivalent emissions (see the figure below) are:
  • energy industries (including electricity generation for the national grid) (about 57%);
  • industry (about 18%); and
  • transport (about 15%). 
From all three groups, CO2-equivalent emissions increased from 1990 to 1994, with transport emissions increasing the most (by 38%), followed by industry (by 13%) and then energy (by 5%). 
Road transportation contributed more than half of the transport sector’s emissions.  Residential fuel-burning contributes a relatively small amount to total greenhouse gas emissions (that is, 2.5% of energy-sector CO2-equivalent emissions and less than 2% of the total national CO2-equivalent emissions).
Contribution of energy source groups to aggregated energy sector CO2-equivalent emissions, 1994
Source: Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (2003)
Forests are currently recognized as the only significant sink for South Africa’s CO2, with the net uptake of CO2 reported to have increased during the 1990s due to afforestation activities.  South Africa’s forestry industry has grown over the past two decades to support expanded exports of woodchips, pulp, and paper, and the net uptake of CO2 through afforestation activities increased from 16.98 million tonnes in 1990 to 18.61 million tonnes in 1994.  Further expansion of forest plantations is, however, constrained by competition for natural resources, notably water, as well as social and environmental needs.

Based on the most recent information available, South Africa’s greenhouse gas emissions per capita are about twice as high as other developing countries such as Cuba (4.7), Mexico (3.7), and Argentina (3.5).  Our per capita emission rates are similar to those of some developed countries – for example, Austria (7.8 tonnes), Spain (7.3 tonnes) and Iceland (7.7 tonnes).  South Africa has the highest CO2 emissions of all the SADC countries.  Our near-total dependence on domestic coal reserves as the primary energy source is primarily responsible for these relatively high per capita greenhouse gas emissions.


Carbon dioxide emissions for some SADC countries
Source: UN Statistics Division.  All emission values referred to above are for 2002.

Methane emissions

Emissions of methane (CH4) from agriculture, energy fugitive emissions, and waste amounted to 2 million tonnes in 1994 and contributed 11.4% of South Africa’s total greenhouse gas emissions in terms of CO2 equivalents.  The agricultural sector contributed about 40% of the country’s total CH4 emissions; the waste sector, mostly from landfill, contributed 33%; and fuel emissions associated with the production, transmission, storage, and distribution of fuel contributed 16%.

Nitrous oxide emissions

Total nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions totalled 67 million tonnes in 1994.  The agricultural sector generated about 76% of the total in 1994, mainly from soils treated with manure and synthetic fertilizers and from crop residues. 

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