South African industry lobbying is blocking progress to net zero

New analysis of climate policy lobbying in South Africa reveals how industry is blocking ambitious climate action in the country.  The research, by climate think tank InfluenceMap, analysed the policy engagement of 16 major companies and 12 industry associations, including Eskom, Sasol, Minerals Council South Africa (MCSA), and Business Unity South Africa (BUSA). It focused on corporate engagement with key climate policies designed to help deliver on South Africa’s net zero by 2050 commitment.

Despite close to 75 per cent of industry supporting renewable energy development in South Africa, certain sectors continue to strongly advocate for a continued role of coal and fossil gas in the energy mix. The mining industry was the strongest supporter of the ongoing use of coal as an energy source, including Anglo American, South32, and Exxaro Resources. The two largest emitting companies in South Africa, Eskom and Sasol, engage in mixed engagement on climate policy. 

As a result, both the Climate Change Bill – the country’s landmark climate legislation – and the South African Carbon Tax have been watered down or delayed, it found. 

InfluenceMap’s global analysis has frequently found a strong correlation between government failure to act on climate and a powerful fossil fuel lobby. Moreover, limited transparency around the policy process contributes to a ‘policy capture’, when policy decisions are repeatedly directed away from the public interest, worsening inequalities and undermining democracy. In the case of climate policy, obstructive industry efforts to prolong the use of fossil fuels are contrary to IPCC guidance on limiting global warming to 1.5°C to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. 

Endangering economic, environmental and societal progress

South Africa’s fossil fuel-dominated energy system is responsible for the compounding climate and energy crises that are causing extensive societal and economic damage. This new report reveals the companies that are most obstructing vital climate action that would combat these urgent issues, highlights InfluenceMap Analyst Ciara Ellis. 

“South Africa is not only vulnerable to the physical effects of climate change, but it’s also enduring a severe energy crisis within a system that relies heavily on coal”, she said. “This negative lobbying appears to have successfully weakened key climate policies, which will end up making it harder for the country to achieve its long-term targets.” 

Climate Risk Analyst from Just Share, Emma Schuster, commented: “This report demonstrates how negative climate lobbying in South Africa requires a much higher level of scrutiny locally. The damaging impact of this obstruction is ever more stark, given the country’s longstanding, intersecting crises of energy, jobs, and growth.” The analysis also confirms how companies outsource negative climate lobbying to industry associations, she said. This is while the companies publicly voice their support for the renewable energy transition and Paris Agreement.

Steps to advance climate policy and action

InfluenceMap highlights the importance of climate policy leadership in the corporate sector to unblock the country’s path to net zero. This includes concerted efforts by South Africa’s most powerful companies to audit and align their climate policy engagement activities with the advice of the IPCC. Additionally, government-led efforts to improve transparency and governance of the climate policymaking process could also positively impact the region’s climate policy development.

The report also identifies the potential for positive climate voices to emerge within the corporate sector. This is because several companies appeared to have little to no engagement with certain climate policy areas. As a result, there is an opportunity for pro-climate corporate advocacy to counteract the negative lobbying orchestrated by the country’s polluting industry giants.