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Climate change ‘threat to food production’

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Midrand - The maize yield in South Africa and Zimbabwe could drop by as much as 30 percent in the next 35 years, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Penny Urquhart, one of the lead authors on the chapter in Africa, said at a media briefing on the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report that all aspects of food production on the continent would be affected by climate change. This included food production, access to food and rising prices.

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Droughts are increasing in Africa as a result of climate change. Here. the carcasses of cows lie in the Kenyan town of El Wak. Picture taken on December 19, 2005. REUTERS/Antony Njuguna

As the effects of global warming intensified, many parts of Africa would experience increases in average temperatures that exceed 2ºC by 2050, and between 3 and 6ºC by 2100.

Africa was already experiencing problems of land degradation and water shortages. Climate change would exacerbate these problems and increase the continent’s vulnerability to climate-change impact.

“Climate change threatens to overwhelm the ability of people to cope and adapt, especially if poverty and vulnerability are not addressed.”

While many African countries had developed policies and strategies to address climate change, “these are still not being implemented in any meaningful way”. Countries needed money, technical support and institutional development to be able to grapple effectively with adaptation.

“Most adaptation is not planned, and is reactive, and very often not supported and not done at the scale required,” she said.

Many small-scale farmers in Africa were not able to adapt to climate change, particularly those who relied on rainfall to raise their crops.

Other barriers to adapting to a new climate were the lack of cash and access to credit.

Urquhart said on the current global emissions trajectory, heat waves that occurred every 20 years would occur every 10 years by 2050, and in many African regions would occur every two years or even annually.

While the changes in African ecosystems today were largely a result of land-use practices, in future, these changes would be driven by climate-changing carbon emissions. “There is a real urgency for action.”

Mxolisi Shongwe, of the South African Weather Service, told delegates the 10 warmest years globally had all occurred since 1997.

In southern Africa, the intensity of rainfall had increased over the last few decades, as had the frequency and length of dry spells.

Shongwe said the world climate would become warmer, even if all greenhouse gas emissions were stopped today. This was because long-time gases such as carbon dioxide remained in the atmosphere.

This meant that while efforts must be made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions so as to avoid dangerous climate change, there must be an emphasis in Africa on adapting to climate change.

The media briefing was held during a four-day dialogue on climate change, hosted by the Department of Environmental Affairs.

Cape Times

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