Increasing evidence indicates an integral role for the complement system in the deleterious inflammatory reactions that occur during critical phases of the transplantation process, such as brain or cardiac death of the donor, surgical trauma, organ preservation and ischaemia-reperfusion injury, as well as in humoral and cellular immune responses to the allograft. Ischaemia is the most common cause of complement activation in kidney transplantation and in combination with reperfusion is a major cause of inflammation and graft damage. Complement also has a prominent role in antibody-mediated rejection (ABMR) owing to ABO and HLA incompatibility, which leads to devastating damage to the transplanted kidney. Emerging drugs and treatment modalities that inhibit complement activation at various stages in the complement cascade are being developed to ameliorate the damage caused by complement activation in transplantation. These promising new therapies have various potential applications at different stages in the process of transplantation, including inhibiting the destructive effects of ischaemia and/or reperfusion injury, treating ABMR, inducing accommodation and modulating the adaptive immune response.