Johannesburg - Humans are causing climate change. This is the finding of the latest report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which drew together research and comment from thousands of scientists.
South African scientists have hailed the report, and warned that South Africa could be particularly vulnerable to the effects of a changing climate.
Dr Mxolisi Shongwe, a scientist at the SA Weather Service and contributor to the IPCC report, said it was “the most reliable and indispensable source of scientific information on climate change”. As lead author of one of the chapters of the report of Working Group I, he had received and addressed 54 677 comments from scientists in preparing the final document.
Bob Scholes, research group leader at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, said the report was an “extremely exhaustive evaluation”.
“South Africa is vulnerable to climate change partly because of where we fit in world climate belts,” said Scholes. Pre-emptive steps needed to be taken to cause less damage.
Shongwe said predictions for southern Africa saw the frequency of cold days significantly decreasing. Heatwaves and warm spells were projected to increase, and this suggested that hot days would dominate towards the end of the century.
South Africa is the highest greenhouse gas emitter in Africa and the 13th highest in the world.
The Department of Environmental Affairs is developing long-term mitigation scenarios that will guide efforts to stabilise South Africa’s emissions by about 2035 and reduce them after that.
Scholes said although South Africa would be reliant on fossil fuels for the foreseeable future, diversifying energy sources with the aim of moving to renewables was the way forward.
Some of the key findings of Working Group I of the IPCC report (working groups II and III, which look into the effects of the warming climate and the actions for governments, will be released next year) were that since 1950, unprecedented climate changes have occurred.
Each of the past three decades has been successively warmer than any preceding decade since 1850.
The report found that relative to the 1986-2005 period, the global mean surface temperature was projected to further increase by between 0.3°C and 4.8°C by the end of the century, depending on future economic and technological development.
It also found that almost 90 percent of the heat accumulated in the Earth in the past four decades was being stored in the ocean.
Although warming of the ocean is lower than that of the atmosphere, the ocean is a good reservoir of energy compared to the atmosphere. This explains what has been known as a hiatus over the past 15 years, where atmospheric temperature has not warmed at the same rate as it did in the previous 15 years. “This has happened in the past and it will happen in the future,” said Scholes.
He added that very few scientists did not believe climate change was happening.
“Humans are actually very ill equipped to deal with problems which may be really important, but are far away,” he said. - The Star