This paper evaluates the emerging green economy in South Africa, using ideas from the concept of sustainable rural livelihoods, which are intimately connected to ecological services many developing countries. It finds that African communities and governments are prioritising green economy for job creation, poverty alleviation and reducing inequalities, while addressing global environmental concerns. What remains problematic, however, is how these objectives are to be achieved. The paper argues that one of the key challenges in South Africa is the gap between policy and implementation of sustainable development, the Millennium Development Goals and other globally driven initiatives. The paper emphasises that green economy policy needs to consider poverty reduction and women’s empowerment in order to promote rural sustainable development.