Back to main site

Integrated SDG Insights

South Africa

UNDP’s Integrated SDG Insights explore how to achieve the SDGs by 2030. So that no one is left behind.

How To Read This Report

‘SDG Insights’ playbooks transcend development “as usual,” and leverages data innovation, AI and systems analysis to chart credible pathways that help countries meet the 2030 Agenda.

SDG Moment This section provides an overview of a country's economic growth trajectory, with new insights on sustainability and inclusiveness of growth pathways.

SDG Trends & Priorities This section builds from the foundation of national SDG progress and uses machine learning to analyse national development ambition with an SDG lens.

SDG Interlinkages Combined, these insights are mapped against SDG interlinkages to define policy choices the accelerate SDG progress, tailored to national context.

Finance & StimulusThese policy choices are made against fiscal constraints and opportunities for stimulus mapped in this section to ensure choices translate to development impact and leave no one behind.

1. SDG Moment

While economic growth is a key element in achieving the SDGs, many countries are intent on moving beyond growth as a yardstick for progress. In the short run, growth enables the SDGs; but in the long run, the SDGs aim to transform the pattern of growth itself.

GDP Growth Pathways


Poverty: Percentage of the population under each threshold (PPP$ a day).

Data not available.


Carbon Intensity: CO2 emissions intensity of GDP (tCO2 per PPP $1,000).

South Africa is one of 65 economies out of 186 globally that are in mitigation mode in 2023 and projected to remain within its scope in 2024 and 2025. In a context of high unemployment, elevated poverty rates and high income inequality, the policy space for achieving the SDGs is limited. This puts pressure on mitigating the impact of economic downturns on the most vulnerable households, informal workers, youth and micro-, small and medium-sized enterprises.​

Read More

South Africa's slow economic growth cycle will continue to be dependent on carbon emissions as the country's carbon emissions intensity of GDP is only decreasing at an annual rate of 2% under current conditions. This pace of economic growth, on the other hand, is not expected to exert a noticeable effect on lowering the incidence of poverty, leaving it virtually unchanged in the short-term. Hence, significant distributional challenges remain to overcome this stagnation of progress.​ ​Moving forward, the urgency to address climate change, reduce inequalities, poverty and unemployment has never been greater. Guided by SDGs and the national priorities, South Africa should continue to innovate, adapt, and scale up efforts to accelerate progress towards a more equitable, inclusive, and sustainable future. ​

3. SDG Interlinkages

Maps synergies and trade-offs of national priorities to the most relevant SDG targets to chart policy pathways with most potential to accelerate progress.

5.4 Value unpaid care and promote shared domestic responsibilities​

In South Africa, household production was valued at 27.3% of GDP in 2010, of which almost three-quarters was contributed by females, while the cohorts aged 18 to 39 years accounted for almost 57% of the total (Oosthuizen, 2018) Furthermore, women experience higher poverty levels than men, and poverty is particularly prevalent among individuals living in female-headed households, disproportionately surpassing their population share.

To address this, it is essential to prioritize improved educational and economic opportunities and to implement focused efforts to eliminate gender inequality. South Africa's National Development Plan emphasizes the need for integrated approaches to promote gender equality and to create greater opportunities, especially for young people.

Furthermore, leveraging the potential of the digital can empower women by enabling them to succeed in the future of work, access essential digital services, including those for education and health care, and increase their civic and political engagement.

7.2: Increase global percentage of renewable energy​

Access to reliable and secure energy is crucial for meaningful progress to take place in South Africa. The persistent issue of electricity load shedding highlights the need for short-term and medium-term strategies. However, a long-term focus on significantly increasing the share of renewable energy is essential. This would result in greater electricity availability, reduced business disruptions, environmental protection and decreased inequality.

South Africa has established a comprehensive Just Energy Transition Strategy aimed at transitioning to a low-carbon economy while fostering economic growth and social justice. The strategy encompasses various elements, such as renewable energy, energy efficiency, a just transition, green jobs, energy access and energy security.

When undertaking these investments, it is vital to incorporate safeguards to ensure that the bottom 40% of the population is not left behind. This emphasizes the importance of inclusive approaches that consider the needs and welfare of all segments of society.

8.2: Diversify, innovate and upgrade for economic productivity​

South Africa faces a challenge of having a low skills base due to inadequate and mismatched skills. The economy predominantly favours high-skilled jobs, with agriculture playing a minor role in economic output. ​

To promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, it is critical to prioritize the development of a skilled workforce and create opportunities for full and productive employment that provides decent work for all.​

Achieving the nexus between water (SDG 6), energy (SDG 7) and food (SDG 2) requires a focus on economic productivity and innovation. It is essential to navigate the complexities of these interrelated sectors while ensuring policy implementation addresses competing interests and safeguards ecosystem integrity.

10.1: Reduce income inequalities​

South Africa is one of the most unequal countries in the world, with a significant disparity in income distribution. The wealthiest 10% of the population earns over half of the total income, while the bottom 40% receives a mere 4% (World Bank).

To address this inequality and foster inclusive economic growth and social development, South Africa could address underlying structural issues. Initiatives, such as ongoing land reforms, re-evaluation of social grants and enhancing skill development, may prove instrumental. Implementing these measures could yield multiple benefits for other SDGs, including hunger, education and health outcomes. ​

These interventions, if sustainably designed, would not only protect the environment but also enhance government responsiveness.​

16.6: Develop effective, accountable and transparent institutions​

According to a report by STATS SA, based on the Governance, Public Safety and Justice Survey (GPSJS) 2019/20, less than half of South Africans aged 16 years and older expressed trust in local governments (47.9%).

South Africa's primary challenge lies in addressing poverty and inequality. Improving living standards necessitates a multifaceted approach that includes increasing employment opportunities, boosting incomes through productivity growth, the provision of a social safety net, and fostering a strong connection between capabilities, opportunities and employment for improved social and living conditions.​

Crucially, effective leadership,  a "professionalized"  public service, an engaged citizenry and an effective government play vital roles in driving development within a socially cohesive environment.​

15.1: By 2020, ensure the conservation, restoration and sustainableuse of terrestrial and inland freshwater ecosystems and their services.

By prioritizing Target 15.1 in its 2021-2025 National Development Plan, Ecuadorreaffirmed the significance of protecting and preserving terrestrial ecosystems andtheir biodiversity. This includes recognizing that the investment projects intendedto fulfil Target 15.1 will not only contribute to achieving the SDGs 13, 14 and 15, butwill also help restore ecosystems that underpin the availability and comprehensivemanagement of water resources (SDG 6) and promote their sustainable use (Target12.2). Additionally, it will also foster the generation of new energy from renewablesources (Target 7.2).

To this end, Ecuador seeks to strengthen the management of the National Systemof Protected Areas through its 2022-2032 Strategic Plan and the implementationof the National Forest Restoration Plan 2019-2030. These instruments serve as thetechnical, legal and financial foundation for executing local forest restorationprocesses with a landscape vision, with an overall goal of covering 30,000hectares through its projects. Considering that the proportion of national territoryunder conservation or environmental management, as of 2022, stands at 22.1%, itis necessary to mobilize additional financial resources from various sources andestablish robust governance (Target 17.3) to intensify the care of protected areas.This ensures the conservation of natural and cultural resources, genetic flows, theprovision of environmental services for the benefit of the population and thealignment of policies on the ground.

Futures Scenarios

SDG Push is a futures scenario based on 48 integrated accelerators in the areas of Governance, Social Protection, Green Economy and Digital Disruption. It uses national data to explore the impact on human development by 2030 and 2050 across key SDG indicators. It does this by using ‘International Futures,’ a systems model designed to explore interactions across development systems.

Poverty <$1.90 Per Day (Number of People)

Malnourished Children Under 5 (Number Of Children)

Malnourished Children Under 5 (Number Of Children)

4. Finance and Stimulus

Many countries are facing reduced fiscal space, high debt levels, rising interest rates and downgrades on credit ratings. Fiscal and financial constraints tend to slow or even reverse SDG progress.

South Africa's government debt is projected to reach 72.3% of GDP in 2023, surpassing the emerging market and middle-income economies (EMMIE) group by 3.5 percentage points (pp). Revenue as a percentage of GDP stands at 27.5%, slightly above the EMMIE group's 26%

Show More

Compared to other countries, South Africa relies less on external financing, as reflected by a lower expected external debt servicing relative to revenue of 6.1% for 2023. However, the country faces financial headwinds. Its credit rating has been downgraded several times since the global pandemic and is currently categorized as 'non-investment' grade level. This is reflected in the country's high bond yield of 10.8%, surpassing the EMMIE average by 1.5 pp and exceeding a 10-year US Treasury bond by 7.1 pp.

SDG Stimulus

The UN Secretary General’s SDG Stimulus Plan lays out a blueprint for action within the existing financial architecture. It includes:

  • Providing liquidity to support recovery in the near term
  • Enhance debt relief for vulnerable countries.​
  • Expanding development financing by MDBs
  • Align financial flows with the SDGs and Paris Agreement, according to country-level priorities and needs, for example through the rollout of the UN Integrated National Financing Framework (INFFs).

Given the projected fiscal and financial constraints faced by

South Africa

possible funding options for the investments derived from the identified interlinkages are as follows:

  • Tax and revenue reform​
  • Increasing the efficiency of government expenditure​
  • Climate finance​
  • Blended and public-private finance​
  • SDG-aligned business environment and investment​
  • Accessing financial markets and insurance

Methodology & Data Sources

Click here to view the Methodological Note for the Integrated SDG Insights.

This report is the result of a global exercise carried out using artificial intelligence to identify SDG priorities based on 10 national government documents, together with SDG progress and SDG interlinkage analysis. The implementation and monitoring of the 2030 Agenda in Argentina should be consulted in the Country Reports and National Voluntary Reports.

SDG Moment

Assesses challenges and opportunities in national growth trajectories with insights on environmental sustainability and inclusiveness.

Data Sources
Future trajectories to 2025 are based on IMF-WEO GDP projections, distributions of per capita income or consumption from the World Bank, and CO2 emissions from the Global Carbon Budget 2022 and EDGAR (JRC and IEA).​

Trends & Priorities

SDG trends tracks progress from 2015 to date for the 231 indicators. National priorities are analysed using machine learning to reveal the most prominent SDGs referenced in national policy documents.

Data Sources
SDG trends tracks progress from 2015 to date for the 231 indicators. National priorities are analysed using machine learning to reveal the most prominent SDGs referenced in national policy documents.


SDG trends tracks progress from 2015 to date for the 231 indicators. National priorities are analysed using machine learning to reveal the most prominent SDGs referenced in national policy documents.

Data Sources
The exercise globally considered a total of 454 documents published from 2015 to August 2022. (Miola et al., 2019 updated in 2021-2022)​

Finance & Stimulus

Provides insight into indicators of fiscal and financial stress with options (INFF) for stimulus and other means to accelerate progress.

Data Sources
Most recent resource data from UNU-WIDER GRD (between 2018 and 2021), debt and revenue from IMF WEO (between 2020 and forecasts for 2023), external debt from IDS (2023), yields from Haver Analytics (8 June 2023), credit ratings from S&P, Moodys and FITCH (2023), and DSA ratings from World Bank/IMF (31 May 2023).