South Africa

Climate Risk Country Profile - South Africa



The Republic of South Africa, located in the southern tip of Africa, shares borders with six countries: Namibia,
Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, eSwatini, and Lesotho (the last of which is landlocked by the South African territory). The country’s coastline is extensive, approximately 3,000 kilometers (km) long, and starts at the Mozambican border in the east to the Namibian border in the west. The Indian Ocean lies on the eastern coast of South Africa and the Atlantic Ocean on the western coast, with the two oceans meeting at the country’s southernmost point, Cape Point. South Africa’s land area totals 1,219,602 km2. The Great Escarpment is the country’s most prominent and continuous relief feature. This divides the country into four distinct regions: the interior plateau, the eastern plateau slopes, the Cape Fold belt, and the western plateau slopes. The interior plateau lies at approximately 1,200 meters (m) above sea level and extends from the Kalahari Desert in the west, to the grasslands in the east and the semi-arid Karoo in the south. The Great Escarpment comprises the Roggeveld Scarp in the south west, which sits at an elevation of 1,500 m above sea level and the KwaZulu-Natal Drakensberg in the east, with an elevation of 3,482m above sea level (Figure 1). Nearly one-fifth of the extensive coast has some form of development within 100 m of the shoreline, where natural buffers against storm surges and rising seas have been degraded. As a result, people and property are at risk to storm surges, and the impacts of climate change.

South Africa is an upper middle-income country, with a relatively stable political environment. In 2020, it had a population of 59.3 million people, with an annual population growth rate of 1.3%. The country’s population is projected to reach 66.4 million people by 2030 and 72.8 million people by 2050. Over two-thirds of the current population resides in urban areas, a rate expected to increase to 72% and 80% by 2030 and 2050, respectively. The country has a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of US$301.9 billion (2020), experiencing an annual growth rate of 0.2% in 2019 and −7.0% in 2020 (Table 1). The impacts of climate change on South Africa’s overall economic growth have been predominantly negative and, in the future climate change in South Africa is anticipated to continue to severely hamper economic growth, energy generation, job creation, and inequality.

The ND-GAIN Index ranks 181 countries using a score which calculates a country’s vulnerability to climate change and other global challenges as well as their readiness to improve resilience. This Index aims to help businesses and the public sector better identify vulnerability and readiness in order to better prioritize investment for more efficient responses to global challenges. Due to a combination of political, geographic, and social factors, South Africa is recognized as vulnerable to climate change impacts, ranked 92 out of 181 countries in the 2020 ND-GAIN Index.
The more vulnerable a country is the lower their score, while the more ready a country is to improve its resilience the higher it will be. Norway has the highest score and is ranked 1st. Figure 2 is a time-series plot of the ND-GAIN Index showing South Africa’s progress through 2018.

South Africa submitted its Nationally Determined Contribution to the UNFCCC in 2016 and published its Third National Communication in 2018, in support of the country’s efforts to realize its development goals and increase its resilience to climate change by enhancing mitigation and adaptation efforts. South Africa is especially vulnerable to climate change given its water and food insecurity, as well as the potential impacts for health, human settlements, infrastructure, and critical ecosystem services. The country has integrated its climate change strategies with its development framework in support of robust plans to eliminate poverty and eradicate inequality. A central strategic focus is on the sustainability of the environment, water resources, land management, agriculture, and health. At the time of writing, South Africa was finalizing the production of its Updated Nationally Determined Contribution.