CCE Country Profile


South Africa

Table of Contents

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This profile has been reviewed by country experts.


I) Climate change context

According to the World Bank, climate change increases South Africa’s vulnerability to weather-related natural disasters, such as flooding due to storms coming in from the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, as well as droughts further inland. The National Climate Change Response White Paper (2018) documents South Africa’s vulnerability to climate change in terms of exacerbated risk related to water scarcity, agriculture and commercial forestry, health (especially impacts on the resilience of vulnerable communities), biodiversity, and ecosystems. South Africa’s endemic species, marine ecosystems, and ecosystems are of concern, and human settlements (especially with poor urban management, rural livelihoods, and coastal settlement erosion), and disaster risk reduction and management are also priorities.  These vulnerabilities shape adaptation responses and policy. 

According to the Global Carbon Atlas, South Africa is the largest carbon-emitting country in Africa due to its industrial, agricultural, and economic activities. The 2019 data from the Carbon Atlas shows that South Africa emits 8.2tCO2 per person, one of the highest per capita rates in the world. The Climate Action Tracker attributes South Africa’s high carbon emissions to the high dependency on use of coal for electricity generation, and as yet under-develop alternative energy policy and practice, with the need to address the lock-in of fossil-fuel based energy intensive technologies into the future. The National Climate Change Response White Paper states that “The majority of South Africa’s emissions arise from energy supply (electricity and liquid fuels) and use (mining, industry and transport), and mitigation actions with the largest emission reduction potential focus on these areas” (2018, p. 26).

While adaptation and mitigation discourses are used to frame climate change responses, the National Climate Change Response White Paper notes that “an effective South African climate change response requires economic, social and environmental interventions that integrate mitigation and adaptation elements within a developmental framework,” the policy reflects a strategic approach referred to as “climate change resilient development” (2013, p. 13). This has implications for how climate change education, training and communication interventions are framed.

South Africa is a United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Non-Annex I (non-industrialized) country and has committed to several international climate change agreements. The country ratified the Kyoto Protocol in 2002, accepted the Doha Amendment (second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol) in 2015, and signed and ratified the Paris Agreement in 2016.

II) Relevant government agencies

Climate change

The central government agency coordinating environmental and climate change affairs in South Africa is the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, formerly the Department of Environmental Affairs. One of the Department’s strategic areas is sustainable development, under which it ensures that “land and infrastructure development takes place in an environmentally responsible and sustainable manner” (n.d., n.p.). The Chief Directorate for Climate Change Monitoring and Evaluation in the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment,is South Africa’s United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE) Focal Point, and they work closely with the Education, Training and Development Practices unit in the Department. However, the National Climate Response White Paper of 2011 (updated  2018) distributes the responsibility for climate change resilience and education to all government departments. It states that “All sectors of the South African society will take part in the effort to mainstream climate-resilient development” and “Government departments will start communicating with citizens about climate change to inform and educate them and to influence their behavioural choices” (p. 5).

The Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment works closely with the Department of Science and Innovation (formerly the Department of Science and Technology) in promoting climate change actions among the citizens.

Reporting to the Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment, the South African National Biodiversity Institute was established in 2004 through the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act 10. The Institute contributes to South Africa’s sustainable development through monitoring, showcasing, and conserving the country’s biodiversity, which is under threat due to human activity, climate change, and invasive species. The Institute also builds capacity and provides policy in relation to biodiversity and climate change adaptation in South Africa. In its capacity as an accredited entity of the Adaptation Fund and Green Climate Fund, the Institute is supporting South Africa’s efforts towards the just transition to a low carbon economy and resilient society. 

Education and communication

The Department of Basic Education is responsible for pre-primary, primary, and secondary education and encourages learning in relation to the environment and climate change across a range of grades and subjects.

The Department of Higher Education and Training holds responsibility for ensuring that climate change knowledge is mainstreamed into education and training curricula in the post-schooling system (including Technical and Vocational Education and Training, Community Colleges, and Universities). It also supports research in South African Universities, with its research mandate being supported by the Department of Science and Innovation.

From a climate change resilient development perspective, the Department of Science and Innovation focuses on the inclusion of research related to innovations in energy, global change (which includes climate change), food security, health, water and green economy development, all of which includes a focus on green skills acquisition. Supporting the development of high level green skills and climate research are the research partnerships between the Department and the National Research Foundation South African Research Chairs Initiative, Communities of Practice and Centres of Excellence research initiatives, and partnerships and collaborations in national research entities such as the Agricultural Research Council, the Water Research Commission, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, and the Human Sciences Research Council.

In South Africa’s 3rd National Communication (2018), the country emphasizes the need for greater synergy and engagement between government departments engaged with scientific and practical responses to climate change, including between the Department of Environment, Forestry, Fisheries, the Department of Science and Innovation, the Department of Basic Education, and the Department of Higher Education and Training. Increased departmental connections are expected to facilitate the mainstreaming of climate change communication and education across formal education contexts as well as within non-formal training programs and initiatives.

III) Relevant laws, policies, and plans

Climate change

South Africa’s climate change communication and education policy background stretches back to the African National Congress post-liberation Reconstruction and Development Programme policy of 1994, which committed South Africa to a ‘sustainable and environment friendly growth and development path’ in its post-independence period. This shaped the Environmental Rights Clauses in the 1996 Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, and subsequent environmental legislation, starting with the early 1997 White Paper on Environmental Management, which was the  African National Congress government policy on environment and land. This policy, drawing on the 1994 Reconstruction and Development Programme policy, and the 1996 Constitution, introduced an environmental, social justice, inclusivity, and human rights relational orientation to environmental education, reflected in early education policy (see below). Later, this early relational framework for environmental education policy, was also referred to as education for sustainable development.

Emerging from this early policy is overarching framework legislation for environmental management and sustainable development, and thus also environmental education and public awareness across formal and nonformal contexts in the form of  the National Environmental Management Act of 1998.  This framework legislation has shaped several South African climate change-related laws, policies, and plans, all of which emphasize a need for environmental rights, ecological sustainability, and sustainable development.

Subsequent legislation and policies that expand upon the National Environmental Management Act, are the 2008 National Framework for Sustainable Development, the 2008 National Environmental Management: Waste Act, the 2011 National Climate Change Response Strategy, and the 2019 National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy. Together, these policy and legal frameworks mandate responsible authorities, such as the Department of Forestry, Fisheries, and the Environment, and other government departments such as the Departments of Agriculture,  Land Reform and Rural Development, Water and Sanitation, Basic and Higher Education etc. to create enabling environments for public awareness of citizens’ rights and responsibilities related to safeguarding the environment and the effects of its mismanagement.  As indicated above, the government promotes an inter-sectoral approach to climate change resilience, and climate change education, training, communication and public awareness.

Education and communication

South Africa does not have a stand-alone climate change communication and education strategy. Instead, climate change is emphasized in certain educational documents, and communication and education are included in a range of climate change laws, policies, and plans such as the 1995 White Paper on Education and Training and the 2011 National Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statements.

South Africa’s attention to climate change in educational policy across formal and nonformal levels builds on early post-apartheid commitments to an integrated, active learning approach to environmental education informed by the 1994 Reconstruction and Development Programme and the 1996 Constitution, noted above, and as articulated in the 1995 White Paper on Education and Training, which included a principle statement on inclusion of environmental education via an active, integrated approach in all levels of education and training in post-apartheid South Africa. Through the implementation of this White Paper principle, and in alignment with the national environmental sector framework legislation and the 1996 Constitution, the country’s focus for environmental education consistently emphasized a relational orientation to environment, social justice and inclusivity shaping  a strong social justice orientation to environmental education and later education for sustainable development.

In 2011, South Africa’s National Climate Change Response White Paper established the imperative for climate change education and helped set the parameters for how it should be addressed within formal education. The White Paper (2011, updated 2018) stated that improving climate change education and training was a strategic goal and “fundamental to future development pathways and the wellbeing of South African society” (p. 45). The White Paper argued that climate change education, which is described as a “relatively new issue that has cross-disciplinary and cross-sectoral implications” should be part of the broader framework of education for sustainable development, and should also include green skills in the National Skills Development Strategy, workplace-based training in all economic sectors, and broader public awareness and community education goals (2011, p. 45). The White Paper emphasizes the need to “mainstream climate change knowledge into education and training curricula” in ways that “re-orient society towards social, economic and ecological sustainability” (2011, p. 45).

The 2011 National Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statements are South Africa’s national curriculum documents for primary and secondary education. The Policy Statements (2011) are based on the principles of human rights, inclusivity, and environmental and social justice, as reflected in the Bill of Rights of the South African Constitution(1996). The Policy Statements (2011) have elements of environmental education and climate change education in several subjects, such as Natural Science, Social Sciences, Life Orientation, and Economic and Management Sciences for the primary and secondary education phases and levels, although it has been indicated in the 3rdNational Communication (2018) that this lacks progression and coherent alignment with the national climate change policy direction.

In higher education, the Department of Science and Technology Ten Year Innovation Plan introduced in 2008 led to the 2010 Global Change Grand Challenge National Research Plan that emphasizes research on earth systems science, ecological footprint reduction, as well as sustainability adaptation and innovation. The latter two themes highlight transdisciplinary research and approaches. It also introduced an Energy Grand Challenge National Research Plan for research and into alternative energy solutions.

The 2021 Global Change Social Sciences Research Plan (Version 2) was released by the South African Department of Science and Innovation and includes a focus on transformations with, in, and for sustainability. Educational themes have been included in this research plan, including in relation to transformative, transgressive social learning and green skills development for a just transition.

South Africa’s education sector plan, Action Plan to 2024, also includes a strategic objective related to improving “education, awareness-raising and human and institutional capacity on climate change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction and early warning” (2020, p. 15). The Plan also contributes to the achievement of the country’s 2011 National Development Plan 2030, which is a blueprint for the country’s development priorities and aspires to strengthen environmental sustainability and climate change responsiveness through skills development, learning, information and public awareness.

IV) Terminology used for climate communication and education

The terminology and framing used for climate change communication and education varies considerably across government agencies in South Africa. The country’s 2011 National Climate Change Response White Paper and 2019 National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy refer to climate change communication using the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE) terminology of ‘public awareness,’ ‘public access to information,’ and ‘public participation,’ with an emphasis on early warning and disseminating information that motivates climate action. These documents also emphasize that ‘climate change education’ should be interpreted in relation to ‘education for sustainable development.’ The documents also include a focus on skills development and training.

South Africa’s 2011 Curriculum Assessment Policy Statements refer to ‘climate change education’ within the context of ‘environmental education’ and ‘sustainable development,’ drawing on the curriculum principle statement reflecting the relational dynamic between environment, human rights, social justice and inclusivity noted above.

South Africa’s 1st Nationally Determined Contribution refers to climate change communication as “climate change adaptation communication” (2016, p. 5).

Across communication and education contexts in South Africa, the focus and intent behind climate change education terminology variously includes an emphasis on knowledge, skills, actions, and/or social competencies. For instance, the South Africa’s education sector plan of 2020, known as Action to 2024, emphasizes the importance of “awareness-raising and [building] human and institutional capacity on climate change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction, and early warning” (p. 15).

While the Action Plan to 2024 largely focuses on increasing climate change knowledge, the National Climate Change Response White Paper (2011) emphasizes knowledge, public awareness, and green skills development, and also notes the relationship that exists between ‘climate change education’ and ‘education for sustainable development.’ It also includes an inter-disciplinary and inter-sectoral orientation to climate change education, training and public education, with an emphasis on vulnerable sectors of society, and a framing of climate change education as integral to climate resilient development, including both mitigation and adaptation emphases, as well as social justice and empowerment dynamics.  A principle on ‘informed participation’ in the National Climate Change Response White Paper states that this involves “enhancing public awareness and understanding of climate change causes and impacts to promote participation and action at all levels” (2011, p. 12)

In reports to the UNFCCC, South Africa also refers to climate change communication and education in relation to action-oriented strategies. For example, the country’s 3rd National Communication (2018) mentions the use of social learning and environmental education for climate change communication and education. Additionally, in South Africa’s 1st Nationally Determined Contribution (2016), climate change education is associated with behavior change and awareness raising.

V) Budget for climate communication and education

The World Bank indicates that South Africa spends 19.5% of its total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on education. However, this estimate covers all education levels and does not specify the allocation for climate change communication and education activities.

The primary funding for climate change adaptation is through direct allocations from the national budget. The National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy (2019) lists other public intermediaries including the Global Environment Facility; Development Finance Institutions such as the Development Bank of Southern Africa, the World Bank, and the African Development Bank; and Official Development Assistance Institutions and Climate Funds, for example the Green Fund, the Green Climate Fund, and the Adaptation Fund. For example, the Green Climate Fund has financed US$152.6 million for climate change-related projects in South Africa.

In the 2020/21 budget, the Department of Forestry, Fisheries, and the Environment allocated ZAR 8.2 billion (approximately US$600 million) for environmental activities, including climate change-related interventions, which could include climate change communication and education. However, the 3rd National Communication reports that “The Western Cape is currently the only province that has a budget allocated for the provisions of climate change response initiatives through its environmental department” (2018, p. 329). On its website, the Western Cape’s Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning indicates that it is implementing flagship projects that aim to raise environmental awareness, conserve the environment, and mitigate climate change. The projects include CapeNature, Berg River Improvement Plan, and Breede River Environment Resources Protection Plan. The South African 3rd National Communication revealed that there are a large number of climate change communication and education initiatives in the country, but that it is difficult to differentiate budgets allocated to these.

From a research and higher education perspective, from 2016/17 to 2020/21, the Department of Science and Innovation / National Research Foundation will have invested an estimated ZAR 1.48 billion in research for the following grand challenges: energy security (ZAR 482 million – which included research on energy efficiency, renewable and nuclear energy, catalysis, hydrogen fuel cells, and mineral and energy resources analysis); and global climate change (ZAR 1 billion – which included research on enhancing scientific understanding of global climate change and developing innovations and technologies to respond to global climate change). A substantive amount of these funds are allocated to human capacity development activities that are building the skills of the next generation of scientists and policy makers.


I) Climate change in pre-primary, primary, and secondary education

South Africa’s education sector plan, Action Plan to 2024, indicates that “Climate change is something which the schooling system must prepare for, through measures to mitigate impacts, and through the education of teachers and learners of the issues” (2020, p. 42). In line with this, the 2011 National Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statements lay out that climate change education is to be incorporated into pre-primary, primary, and secondary education curricula using a topic-based approach (i.e., some school subjects have some topics related to climate change). A description of the types of climate change-related keywords discussed in the curricula may be found in the MECCE Project Monitoring section of this profile

Within pre-primary education, the 2018 National Curriculum Framework: For Children from Birth to Four is divided into early learning and development topic areas, one of which is called Knowledge and Understanding the World. This topic area includes content on climate and weather taught across different learning activities appropriate for this level of education. For example, learning activities encourage students to explore their world and understand the relationship between them and their environment, including the atmosphere.

Climate change is integrated into primary and secondary education curricula through the 2011 national Curriculum and Assessment Policy for Basic Education (Grades 1-12) using a topic-based approach. At the primary level, the revised 2012 Curriculum Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS) for Senior Phase (Grades 7-9): Social Science has topics on the natural environment, climate, and vegetation, which are also included in other subjects, such as Natural Science. At the secondary level, the 2011 Curriculum Assessment Policy Statement for Further Education and Training Phase (Grades 10-12): Geography has topics, such as water resources, resource sustainability, climate, and weather, with content that encourages students to think about their own behaviors concerning the environment. The Geography curriculum for Grades 10-12 carries the most substantive content on climate change education in the CAPS curriculum, and this review did not find other information on the inclusion of climate change content in other subjects.  The climate resilient development pathway of the National Climate Change Response White Paper is not part of the curriculum.

South Africa’s 3rd National Communication (2018) outlines the progress made towards integrating climate change in the formal education system (e.g., through the curriculum and extracurricular activities such as school environmental clubs, school gardening, and environmental learning), and highlights areas that require ongoing attention. Overall, the National Communication (2018) points out that:

“While progress has been made with integrating climate change education into formal education, initiatives that have been started can and must still be enhanced by stronger state-based co-ordination to ensure systematic upscaling, co-ordination and expansion of climate change education and training initiative in key areas. “

– 3rd National Communication, 2018, p. 25

In the same vein, the 2016 Nationally Determined Contribution indicates that South Africa considers education to be an adaptation investment for alleviating the country’s social and environmental problems and accelerating economic development. In this regard, formal pre-primary, primary, and secondary education is regarded as a foundation for climate change adaptation, but there is recognition that education, training and public awareness, including training of extension services and local governments are key to climate change adaptation 

New emerging influences on climate change education, training, communication, public awareness and scientific development include emphases on climate change impact assessment in the National Environmental Management Act suite of legislation, green and more circular economy principles, and just transitions to a climate resilient and low carbon economy and society. These are part of the most recent 2019 Department of Science and Innovation White Paper and the DSI’s engagement with transformation innovation policy research and planning. A new Climate Change Bill is in completion stages, and a Presidential Climate Change Co-ordination Commission has been established to drive effective intersectoral climate change responses and to advance longer term objectives of a just transition to a climate resilient and low carbon economy and society.

II) Climate change in teacher training and teacher resources

South Africa encourages climate change education integration into both pre-service and in-service teacher training. Both the Department of Basic Education and the Department of Higher Education and Training have a vital role to play in teacher education.

The National Policy Framework for Teacher Education and Development in South Africa was designed to “develop a teaching profession ready and able to meet the needs of a democratic South Africa in the 21st century” (2006, p. 4). While it does not mention climate change, it does identify threats to the environment as one of South Africa’s most significant challenges. The Framework also states that schools must respond directly to environmental threats by preparing children to understand and address these challenges, and that “teacher education, including continuing professional development, has the vital role of equipping teachers to undertake this task” (2006, p. 7).

In pre-service teacher training, the amount of climate change education is varied, and depends mainly on the lecturers’ interest, as there is a lack of policies addressing climate change education in teacher education, including where or how climate change topics should be integrated. However, the 2014 revision of South Africa’s Minimum Requirements for Teacher Education Qualifications included sustainability education as a foundational principle underpinning situational learning and awareness of local and global challenges within teacher education. However, climate change is not specifically mentioned in the requirements

For in-service training, a consortium of partners, led by the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environmentand South African National Biodiversity Institute, and including teacher education institutions and environmental sector partners, developed a teacher education development program called Fundisa [Teaching] for Change in 2010. This program represents a concerted effort to coordinate and set standards for education for sustainable development through  accredited programmes that are also endorsed by the South African Council of Educators (SACE). Fundisa for Change is a capacity development program for teacher educators and practicing teachers to foreground environment and sustainability learning in their practices. The program’s aim is “transformative environmental learning through teacher education.” Fundisa for Change focuses on teaching core concepts and processes across various subjects to provide foundational pedagogical content, and assess practice knowledge necessary to address a range of sustainability issues and possible solutions. One of the modules covered in the course is climate change, which takes an Earth Systems Sciences approach to introduce climate change knowledge and practice while also emphasizing adaptation and mitigation responses.

The Fundisa for Change program recently received substantial funding from the Flemish Association for Development Cooperation and Technical Assistance. From 2019-2022, the Keep it Cool program has supported secondary school teachers and leaders to integrate climate change education into their classrooms and schools. In addition to providing climate change education teaching resources and professional development opportunities, the project encourages knowledge sharing about promising practices to raise awareness and support for climate change education. The project is also supporting the education policy sector in aligning climate change education with national policy mandates around climate change responses by building the capacity of key local and national level policy actors to integrate climate change education into policy. The 1.44 million euros (US$1.69 million) project is a partnership between the South African Department of Environmental Affairs, Department of Basic Education, and Department of Higher Education and Training; GreenMatter; and universities involved with Fundisa for Change.

A Teacher Education Workbook for Environment and Sustainability Education (2009) produced by the Rhodes University Environmental Learning Research Centre (then the Environmental Education and Sustainability Unit) was developed to address a gap in the country’s curriculum. The workbook references climate change in relation to biodiversity, pollution, water conservation, energy, and food security, and is a fore-runner of the Fundisa for Change programme . The resource is co-published with the South African Institute for Biodiversity, United Nations Development Programme, and Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa and continues to be used in some teacher education institutions.

The country’s 3rd National Communication (2018) highlights that the Fundisa for Change program is available for intermediate, senior, and further education and training levels. The program is proving to be popular amongst teachers and in the Department of Basic Education, as climate change is a new knowledge area in the national curriculum.

III) Climate change in higher education

South Africa’s Department of Higher Education and Training Strategic Plan (2020-2025) does not mention climate change or environmental challenges. Despite this, climate change is addressed in the higher education system in several ways. Climate change education research is usually included in South African higher education institutions in relation to the energy and global change challenges research programmes and green (environment-friendly) skills development. This focus includes a forward-thinking national research plan which focussed on both energy an don ‘Global Change,’ challenges, which addresses climate change from a sustainability innovations perspective. For example, several South African universities conduct research under the auspices of the 2010 Global Change Grand Challenge National Research Plan and the 2021 Global Change Social Sciences Research Plan. The formeremphasizes environmental and sustainability-related research, including sustainability adaptation and innovation using transdisciplinary research and approaches. The latter focuses on transformations with, in, and for sustainability and includes educational themes such as transformative, transgressive social learning and green skills development for just transitions.  The Energy Grand Challenges Research Plan also has a substantive and well network system of research, with a number of research Chairs and Centres of Competence, as well as the South African National Energy Development Institute (SANEDI) supporting a co-ordinated research programme on energy alternatives .

In relation to teaching and learning, several higher education institutions in South Africa have centers and programs related to climate change education. These programs are primarily financed by the country’s Department of Science and Innovation / National Research Foundation (DSI/NRF). One such program is the South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI), which includes several research leaders focusing on climate change / global change research. One SARChI Chair in Global Change and Social Learning Systems, based at the Rhodes University Environmental Learning Research Centre, specifically conducts research and develops knowledge for climate change education, green skills, transformative learning, and social change actions for South Africa and beyond. 

Another example is the Applied Centre for Climate and Earth Systems Sciences (ACCESS), a national Centre of Excellence in Climate and Earth System Sciences managed by the DSI/NRF. ACCESS runs an innovative trans-disciplinary summer school that attracts young primary and secondary students to Earth System Sciences and Sustainability Science studies, including climate change education. There are also a range of innovative student-led programs emerging, a key one being ACCESS’s Habitable Planet program. Through this program, students lead the teaching of Earth System Sciences, including addressing issues like climate change, from a South African perspective.

The Southern Africa Regional Universities Association (SARUA) conducted an analysis of climate change related degrees in South Africa, which led to the development of the SARUA Curriculum Innovation Network in 2014. Through this Network, South African universities partner to deliver a regional master’s degree program in “climate change and sustainable development for southern Africa.” The program is now being extended to education and training for policy makers in southern Africa in partnership with the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Secretariat.  Another SARUA initiative, Climate Change Counts brought university stakeholders together to map research, teaching, and outreach capabilities, and collaboratively produce knowledge on national and regional level climate compatible development. Funded by £288K (US$399K) from the Climate and Development Knowledge Network, one of the study’s key outcomes the development of a collaborative research framework to enhance co-production of knowledge.  This curriculum is now being adapted to an online programme for wider uptake in the Southern African Development Community with support from the SADC Secretariat.

The 3rd National Communication (2018) indicates that South Africa aspires to strengthen and sustain higher education and research initiatives to help realize the country’s National Development Plan 2030. In this regard, higher learning support materials used for climate change education in the country reflect a wide range of orientations and approaches to climate change education.

IV) Climate change in training and adult learning

South Africa’s 2011 National Climate Change Response Strategy identifies non-formal or community-based education and social learning as essential in South Africa, especially in the climate change context. The Strategy identifies extension services (where colleges and universities offer education to people who are not enrolled as regular students), non-governmental organizations, and community-based organizations as important for facilitating such educational processes. The Strategy also addresses the long-term adaptation scenario for South Africa, for example, by foregrounding the importance of extension services and the training of extension officers for climate change adaptation.

Apart from university education, the Department of Higher Education and Training particularly focuses on Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) and Community Education. In the case of TVET, the Department recognizes the importance of providing youth with the skills to participate in a green (environment-friendly) economy, and has established partnerships with the Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ; German Organization for International Cooperation) to support development of Green TVET models and curricula. Similarly, Department focus on Community Education recognizes the importance of adult learning in climate change actions. 

The Energy and Water Sector Education and Training Authority, in collaboration with the Environmental Learning Research Centre at Rhodes University, is implementing a Green Skills Short Course training for TVET lecturers and managers. The course aims to develop staff capacity to advance green skills for the socio-economic development of TVET students.

The 3rd National Communication (2018) describes TVET as a golden opportunity for South Africa to reduce unemployment among youth and foster sustainable development. As such, the country intends to strengthen and improve the quality of TVET as part of the government’s broader ambition to transform and improve education in South Africa. To this end, GIZ has been supporting a national green TVET program for several years. They are also working with the Department of Higher Education and Training and the Sector Education and Training Authorities to develop green skills capacity for wind and solar energy systems.


I) Climate change and public awareness

South Africa recognizes the importance of and need for raising public awareness of climate change issues, especially as expressed in the country’s 2011 National Climate Change Response White Paper. Many public awareness programs are implemented by diverse government departments according to their mandates and particular interests in climate change-related concerns. For example, the South African National Biodiversity Institute is implementing community initiatives to raise awareness of the impact of climate change on biodiversity. The initiatives take the form of National Biodiversity Gardens, and there are currently six of them across the country: Pretoria, Water Sisulu, Lowveld, KwaZulu-Natal, Kirstenbosch, and Karoo Desert.

South Africa’s 3rd National Communication (2018) identifies a range of climate change awareness and action initiatives. For example, the country has developed campaigns to promote the use of energy efficient lighting and solar water heaters. Awareness initiatives usually involve non-governmental organizations, international partners, the business sector, and the media, who bring public discourse on climate change to targeted groups such as rural residents, flood-risk communities, and small-scale farmers.

II) Climate change and public access to information

According to the 2019 National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy, public access to information is seen as a prerequisite of climate action in South Africa. The Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment is the main government source of information on climate change in South Africa. The Department has put in place initiatives to ensure public access to climate change related information. For instance, the Department’s website has a section with documents about climate change, including project and research reports, which the public can download free of charge. The Department also works closely with statutory bodies such as the South African National Biodiversity Institute, the South African Weather Service, and the South African National Parks to harmonize climate change information made available to the public.

Other initiatives led by research centers and non-governmental organizations aim to ensure public access to information on climate change. For example, the Environmental Learning Research Centre at Rhodes University implements various programs such as Tsitsa Project (a land and water restoration project), Eco-Schools (an environmental learning project), and Amanzi for Food (a water research project), and the Once Ocean Hubprogramme, to engage the public in gaining the information and knowledge necessary for sustainable climate change actions.

The 3rd National Communication (2018) recognizes that public access to information on climate change is vital for citizen action on climate change. As such, South Africa aspires to increase government resources needed for public access to information initiatives.

III) Climate change and public participation

The 2011 National Climate Change Response White Paper suggests that South Africa invest in building policy alignment amongst climate change-related public participation initiatives. In response, the Department of Forestry, Fisheries, and the Environment released the Public Participation Guideline in 2017. The Guideline indicates the government recognizes the importance of engaging the citizenry in every step of climate change decision-making. Further, the Guideline goes further than merely stating policies but addresses the practicalities of policy implementation. For instance, the document gives directions on how and when the public should participate in environmental issues, including climate change. The Guideline also outlines that the public should be involved in project planning and throughout the implementation phase through stakeholder meetings and other activities.  The Draft Climate Change Bill also supports public participation in climate change activities.

South Africa has many diverse programs, materials, and initiatives to enable public participation in climate change actions. One such program is a Local Government Climate Change Support Programme, popularly entitled ‘Let’s Respond, offered by the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment with financial support from Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit, a German development aid organization. The program aims to enhance participation and partnerships for environmental issues, including climate change, by mobilizing local municipalities and provincial governments to engage the public in climate actions. There is also an initiative called Driving Force for Change, which is a pilot youth support programme for strengthening resilience and adaptative capacity regarding climate change. 

Finally, the 2016 Intentionally Nationally Determined Contribution and the 2018 3rd National Communication both recognize that public participation is critical for encouraging sustainable climate change actions. Accordingly, South Africa intends to strengthen environmental programs that encourage public participation in climate change.


I) Country monitoring

South Africa does have some monitoring and evaluation frameworks to support tracking progress in relation to climate change communication and education. The Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment has a specialized Climate Change and Air Quality unit, which houses a Climate Change Monitoring and Evaluation Directorate, which is the core actor in climate change monitoring and reporting in South Africa. The Directorate submits reports to the United Nations Framework for Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and is South Africa’s Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE) Focal Point.  The 3rd National Communication has increased reporting requirements relative to those in the 2nd National Communication. The 3rd National Communication also indicates more substantive attention was given to evidence-based research on the education, training, and empowerment dimensions by the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) in preparing the 3rd National Communication, which indicates improved national monitoring and evaluation of this component.

South Africa has a National Climate Change Response Monitoring and Evaluation System Framework (2015) to support tracking progress towards achieving a climate resilient and low carbon society. The aim of the system is to enhance “the country’s ability to track emissions, emissions reductions and climate finance” to inform climate change policies and mitigation goals. The outputs are intended to be used in annual climate change reports, National Communications, and Biennial Update Reports. The Framework is emissions-focused, and does not include any specific education or communication-related indicators, although it does reference green jobs.

The Department of Environmental Affairs has also produced a Mitigation Monitoring and Evaluation Guidelines Series under the National Climate Change Response Monitoring and Evaluation System. Volume 1 provides open guidelines on how to design monitoring and evaluation systems for policies, strategies, and laws and could be used to for climate change education and communication. This document also references the components of UNFCCC National Communications, which include a chapter on education, training, and public awareness.

In schools, there are assessments that include climate change education, but it is not addressed independently. Instead, climate change is embedded in general subjects such as Social Science, Geography, Agriculture, and Natural Science.

One of the helpful tools for monitoring and evaluating climate change education is the Department of Basic Education’s annual ‘diagnostic’ report on the Grade 12 examination. This often captures learners’ responses to critical environmental concerns in the curriculum and indicates if and how these are addressed in the classroom. For example, there is a question in the national examination on environmental impact, which is seldom successfully addressed by students, which has indicated the need to strengthen teachers’ support in this area. Another example, is that the data from the 2020 Diagnostic Report indicates substantive mis-understandings around key concepts associated with climate change in the Geography FET curriculum, which as indicated above, is one of the main areas of substantive climate change education in the South African curriculum.  In response to these types of findings,the Department of Education aspires to strengthen learning assessments to monitor the realization of national education goals, including issues of environment, climate, and sustainable development (Education Strategic Plan, 2020).  This is also one of the core issues the Fundisa for Change programme has been responding to, but from the perspective of improving teacher’s knowledge of concerns such as climate change and how to teach these issues in a curriculum.

In the 3rd National Communication (2018), South Africa emphasized developing a country monitoring and evaluation framework in two ways. Firstly, the framework should be able to monitor and report progress made on climate resilience. Secondly, the framework should monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of different policies, strategies, and plans to help the country mitigate and adapt to climate change.

II) MECCE Project Monitoring

The Monitoring and Evaluating Climate Communication and Education (MECCE) Project examined the National Curriculum Framework (NCF) and the Action Plan to 2024 (NSP) for references to ‘climate change’, ‘sustainability’, ‘biodiversity’, and the ‘environment.’

South Africa’s National Curriculum Framework (for K-12 education) comprises Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statements (2011) for each level, phase, and subject in the educator sector. Figure 1 shows the average number of references from these policy statements. ‘Climate change’ is referenced 5 times, the ‘environment’ is mentioned 15 times, ‘sustainability’ is mentioned 13 times, and biodiversity mentioned 6 times.

The country’s Action Plan to 2024, which is the equivalent to an Education Sector Plan, references ‘climate change’ 5 times, ‘sustainability’ 20 times, ‘environment’ 4 times, and ‘biodiversity’ 0 times.

This section will be updated as the MECCE project develops.

This profile was reviewed by: 

Dr Phokele Maponya, Agricultural Research Council

Prof Heila Lotz-Sisitka, Rhodes University