Protecting and enhancing our environmental assets and natural resources



In 2030, rural communities are thriving and prosperous, cities are compact and energy efficient, the public know the dangers of climate change and unconstrained consumption of natural resources is no more. Our priorities, instead, are on the protection and rehabilitation of South Africa’s natural assets.

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Environment – Downloads

Find out more about the National Development Plan.

National Development Plan – full text
National Development Plan – Chapter 5: Environmental sustainability – An equitable transition to a low-carbon economy
Medium-Term Strategic Framework 2014 to 2019 – Outcome 10: Protect and enhance our environmental assets and natural resources
New Growth Path: Green Economy Accord
Infographic: Environmental sustainability

Environment – The vision

The National Development Plan’s vision is that, in 2030, South Africa’s transition to an environmentally sustainable, climate-change resilient, low-carbon economy and just society is well under way.

Thriving rural communities provide an economic and social base for a significant number of people. Urban development is more compact and energy efficient. In 2030, growing public awareness of the consequences of climate change and unconstrained consumption of our natural resources has led to a refocusing of priorities towards the protection and rehabilitation of the South Africa’s natural assets.

Objectives for 2030:

• A target for the amount of land and oceans under protection (today about 7.9-million hectares of land, 848 kilometres of coastline and 4 172 square kilometres of ocean are protected).
• Achieve the peak, plateau and decline trajectory for greenhouse gas emissions, with the peak being reached around 2025.
• By 2030, an economy-wide carbon price should be entrenched.
• Zero emission building standards by 2030.
• Absolute reductions in the total volume of waste disposed to landfill each year.
• At least 20 000MW of renewable energy should be contracted by 2030.
• Improved disaster preparedness for extreme climate events.
• Increased investment in new agricultural technologies, research and the development of adaptation strategies for the protection of rural livelihoods and expansion of commercial agriculture.


Environment – The challenges

South Africa faces the challenge of deteriorating environmental quality due to pollution and natural resource degradation, destruction and depletion.

Specific challenges include:

Inadequately informed decision-making and governance

Information management systems for environmental sustainability are still inadequate. South Africa’s environmental governance regime is world class, but capacity constraints remain, particularly in compliance monitoring and enforcement.

Natural resource degradation and depletion of ecological infrastructure

Competing land uses cause overexploitation and degradation of natural resources. This unbalances the ecosystem, depletes the quality and quantity of water resources, and reduces soil formation and pollination – natural assets that are essential to the economy.


Increasing quantities of waste, poor waste management and lack of access to waste services lead to pollution, health risks and environmental degradation. (Waste includes hazardous waste, healthcare waste, mine dumps, industrial leachate and sludge, and solid waste.) Levels of recycling and re-use are low and waste is not valued as a resource with economic potential.

Air pollution

South Africa’s continued reliance on fossil fuels creates air pollution hotspots, especially in winter. Most worrying are pollutants such as particulate matter and nitrates, which cause respiratory illness.

Water pollution

South Africa is a water-stressed country. It faces an even drier future and climate uncertainty, with cycles of droughts and sudden excessive rains. The health of aquatic ecosystems is declining. Our oceans are increasingly polluted with wastewater, while inland freshwater quality is being degraded by chemical and bacteriological pollution and silting.

Adapting to changing climate

South Africa is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, which could have dire effects on socioeconomic conditions, water, food security, health, natural resources and ecosystems.


Environment – Action required

According to the National Development Plan, an environmentally sustainable low-carbon future can only be achieved if South Africa decouples economic growth from natural resource degradation and depletion. This will require new skills and technology to implement programmes to grow the economy without increasing South Africa’s emissions profile.

Specific action includes:

• An independent Climate Change Centre, in partnership with academic and other appropriate institutions, is established by government to support the actions of government, business and civil society.
• Put in place a regulatory framework for land use, to ensure the conservation and restoration of protected areas.
• Carbon price, building standards, vehicle emission standards and municipal regulations to achieve scale in stimulating renewable energy, waste recycling and in retrofitting buildings.
• Carbon-pricing mechanisms, supported by a wider suite of mitigation policy instruments to drive energy efficiency.
• All new buildings to meet the energy-efficiency criteria set out in South African National Standard 204.
• Channel public investment into research, new agricultural technologies for commercial farming, as well as for the development of adaptation strategies and support services for small-scale and rural farmers.


Environment – Key medium-term goals for 2019

South Africa’s Medium Term Strategic Framework (2014 to 2019) identifies the following sub-outcomes to protect and enhance our environmental assets and natural resources.

• Ecosystems are sustained and natural resource are used efficiently
• An effective climate change mitigation and adaptation response
• An environmentally sustainable, low-carbon economy resulting from a well-managed just transition
• Enhanced governance systems and capacity
• Sustainable human communities

Environment – Key medium-term targets for 2019

South Africa’s Medium Term Strategic Framework (2014 to 2019) identifies the following targets to protect and enhance our environmental assets and natural resources.

10 environment targetsGRAPHIC: MARY ALEXANDER

 Researched, edited and compiled by Mary Alexander
Updated December 2015