Cape Town - The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published its guide earlier this month on what the world could do to avoid an extremely dangerous future.
From the extreme heatwaves in the Western Cape to the floods in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa appears to already be facing the dangerous effects of climate change.
“What has been observed is that these events are becoming more frequent and more intense. We are seeing more damage and loss, not only because of heavy rainfall but because of the vulnerability of the communities.
UCT Climate System Analysis Group (CSAG) research fellow and climatologist Izidine Pinto said: “Climate change will make heavy rainfall, floods, droughts and heat waves worse in many ways, and we need to be doing everything in our power to rapidly reduce local vulnerability.”
South Africa National Research chairperson on Climate Change and CSAG director Bruce Hewitson said extreme (weather) events are part of the natural variability of weather, but what climate change did was influence the intensity and frequency of events.
He said people should be prepared to see a continuation of these extreme events, with increased intensity.
Hewitson said the intense flooding in KZN was almost certainly exacerbated by climate change, but the event itself was not climate change.
A report commissioned by the Centre for Environmental Rights, and authored by the late Wits systems ecology professor Bob Scholes and Wits climatology professor Francois Engelbrecht, highlighted that southern Africa was particularly vulnerable to climate change because of its geographical location and socio-economic development state – and that the warming of southern Africa occurred at about twice the global average rate.
The report was titled “Climate impacts in southern Africa during the 21st Century”, and stated that the risk of damage to infrastructure from severe storms and flooding could increase worldwide, as was being seen in KZN because the number of intense tropical cyclones (category 4 and 5 hurricanes) was projected to increase.
Engelbrecht said: “Substantial changes in the number of extreme temperature events in southern Africa can already be detected. Further drastic increases in events such as heatwaves, high fire-danger days, and oppressive temperatures affecting human comfort and health can be expected under futures in which climate change mitigation efforts are low or unsuccessful.”