A New South African Climate Diplomacy: G7, G20 and Beyond

Image: Getty, Stephane De Sakutin/AFP
Image: Getty, Stephane De Sakutin/AFP

South Africa has played an important role in global climate negotiations, but this can be further scaled up to respond more directly to the imperative of a more geostrategic and mainstream economic framing of climate diplomacy, and debates around how to ‘build back better’ in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.


  • Climate change and the global architecture and instruments developed to tackle it, are already impacting on countries’ future economic trajectories, largely framed by the interests of advanced economies. Countries that do not develop the requisite foreign and trade relations capacity to claim a stake in the investment surge in decarbonised technology innovation and infrastructure risk being left behind.
  • Addressing South Africa’s domestic challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality requires the country to take a strategic approach to how it engages internationally on climate change. Climate diplomacy is a means to transform South Africa’s domestic energy economy, advance its economic interests and energy security, and champion the continent’s developmental priorities.
  • The success of South Africa’s climate diplomacy depends developing an intersectional strategy built on the country’s interests; deploying a varied diplomatic toolbox; and pursuing its priorities across multiple regional and global platforms.
  • South Africa should insist on concrete commitments of technical and financial support from developed countries to address a shift to a low-carbon economy, and build political momentum through a diverse range of multilateral processes and platforms towards these ends.
  • While South Africa should emphasise the centrality of the Paris Agreement, it must also expand the range of climate diplomacy to other forums where key decisions on the future of decarbonisation are being made, including the G7 and G20.