Even if South Africa, as a developing nation, is not legally bound under the Kyoto Protocol to curb emissions after 2012, it is likely that national regulation will enforce legal emissions reduction targets in the future, Genesis Analytics climate change practice senior associate Emily Tyler said at a conference on Wednesday.

“Despite being a developing country, South Africa is a world-class polluter,” commented Webber Wentzel Carbon Unit partner Tim Trollip.

“South Africa has a no-obligation approach to carbon markets, but South Africa is also way above average in terms of emissions, and is the tenth highest in absolute emissions in the world,” Tyler said.

Her comments echoed statements by State power utility Eskom CEO Jacob Maroga earlier this year, when he said that Eskom was aware that it would probably, in the future, have to “factor in the cost of carbon emissions”.

Developed countries that ratified the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 have committed to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by at least 5% from 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012, while developing nations like South Africa are, at least until 2012, only obliged to report greenhouse gas emissions levels.

However, Tyler emphasised that, as the world’s largest emitter, “the US must be involved in the second [post-2012] commitment period”.

This means that “developing countries will feel the pressure to take on targets, particularly Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa,” she said.

“The Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period was dominated by the US not wanting to invest in capping emissions and lose a competitive edge against China, which is following an aggressive growth strategy and, as a developing country, would be able to progress unencumbered by legally binding emission targets. “