By Mark Victor
The floods that have devastated KwaZulu-Natal this year have brought into focus the increasing impact that climate change will continue to have on our communities, cities and country - resulting in an unacceptable loss of life, property and infrastructure.
The significant disruption to the economy and heavy financial burden, which will run into billions of rands, is an impact the country cannot afford.
South Africa must focus on job creation, given the staggering levels of unemployment, as well as infrastructure improvement and development to ensure essential services can be accessed by everyone – and that people are protected.
Extreme, and sudden, local natural disasters coupled with global climate events has highlighted the critical importance of developing sustainable cities capable of withstanding climate change. It is the responsibility of governments to protect lives, and livelihoods.
Traditionally, we think about the impacts of climate change as gradual: a gradual warming of the planet, a gradual rising of the oceans, but the real concern is the increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather events, including heatwaves, droughts, and devastating bushfires; and on the opposite extreme, severe storms, and flooding.
Globally, a series of commitments by the world’s leading economies have been made to keep average global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. This means that 80% of the global economy is now covered by a net zero target. However, climate resilience is not just about reducing emissions.
Climate resilience, as described by the Taskforce of Climate-related Financial Disclosure (TCFD), highlights the importance of governments and organisations developing adaptive capacity to respond to climate change to better manage the associated risks and seize opportunities.
At the centre of our response to these events, most of which are climate induced - although some are man-made - must be focused on how we protect the most vulnerable communities. With so many living in unsafe areas, be it near low lying areas near rivers, or in informal settlements built on unused railway lines and unserviced open spaces – unless addressed the risk of continued devastation remains high.
The reasons for settling in these areas are mostly about access to resources, be it water in the case of being near a river or access to jobs that make people locate informal homes near industrial areas. Part of building resilient cities must address these underlying reasons.
These global climate events have reinforced the reality that all aspects of society are likely to be impacted directly or indirectly by climate change in the long-term, with direct impact in the near term on the financial sector, energy, transportation, construction, agriculture, and forestry industries. We need to better understand the risk each of these sectors face and mitigate them accordingly.
The increased devastation caused by mismanagement of natural wetlands as well as the inadequate design and maintenance of sewage infrastructure has served to increase the loss of life and damage to communities, and cities need to prioritise these reforms to increase climate resilience. Including a focus on water management and recycling to mitigate the increasing risk of drought, and future climate scenarios.
In South Africa’s case, there is a need to review Environmental Impact Assessment guidelines as well as property developer regulations, as preliminary evidence suggests that in certain, maybe isolated instances, planning or building works may have contributed to some of the damage.
The South African Reserve Bank recognises the need for a just transition that is inclusive. Releasing its medium-term research agenda, the Bank says it plans to examine the impact of climate change on household balance and corporate balance sheets, as well as its effects on long term inflation.
“Adaptation and mitigation measures need to be economically and financially manageable in the sense of minimising damage and maximising opportunity,” The Bank says. “This also requires dealing with possible adverse impacts on particular groups and ensuring that any transition to a lower emissions development path is inclusive."
The stark reality is that while we are attempting to maintain global temperature increases to below a 1.5% compared to pre-industrialisation levels, the impact on Africa is likely to be closer to a 4% increase. This means that as a continent Africa is expected to experience harsher climate change impacts, highlighting the need for a more aggressive response by African governments and organisations.
Climate risk modelling and analysis of major climate change drivers (extreme weather, chronic temperature, and rainfall changes and similar events at a geographic level) will allow a better understanding of potential regional impacts on communities and infrastructure. Collectively, this will better inform spatial planning and urban growth, design requirements of resilient infrastructure, as well as highlighting the protection of biodiversity to naturally limit the impact of extreme weather events.
Mark Victor is a risk advisory director: Sustainability leader, Deloitte Africa.
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