Governance of climate change policy: A case study of South Africa

This report and accompanying 8-page brief examine some of the emerging challenges in climate governance and policy implementation in South Africa, and potential solutions. It is designed to aid policymakers and key stakeholders in South Africa in the identification of barriers and opportunities in existing governance structures, to enhance implementation of climate policy as the country moves forward with implementing its Paris Agreement commitments.

The lessons the authors identify are also relevant for other developing economies.

The analysis is based on perceptions of climate governance explored through interviews with experts actively engaged in the national climate change debate and policy in South Africa.

Key messages

  • South Africa has an elaborate and consultative system of climate governance and policy especially compared with other developing and emerging economies but the country faces a range of challenges in implementing its national climate policies.
  • Key cross-cutting strategies on climate change are in place, but these policies are not aligned and implementation has often been delayed.
  • These systemic issues have been a roadblock for the implementation of South Africa’s nationally determined contribution (NDC) to the Paris Agreement and will continue to be so unless they are addressed.
  • Some of the important domestic challenges that need to be addressed arise from overstretched human and technical capacity; others result from structural issues.
  • Limited public sector capacity and dedicated financial resources are hampering climate change governance.
  • These challenges have been exacerbated by several years of political crisis and ‘state capture’.
  • A new President and an increase in attention on climate and clean energy policy make this an opportune moment to act.


  1. Align development of policies and strategies with the objectives of the nationally determined contribution (NDC).
  2. Renew high-level commitment and empower key agencies through clear mandates.
  3. Launch a forum focused on implementing the NDC.
  4. Develop a comprehensive finance strategy.
  5. Frame the climate change discussion around developmental benefits and opportunities.
  6. Improve existing consultation and engagement fora.
  7. Invest in strengthening relationships between stakeholders and the processes of interaction.
  8. Improve data, information and public awareness around climate change.