Since then, the demand to know whether emissions from burning fossil fuels are exacerbating climate and weather extremes has risen, and climate scientists are responding.

Cape Town - The increased certainty that humans were causing global climate change meant we needed to speed up the move to a low carbon economy by three times the current rate, according to Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) scientist Bob Scholes.

“Do I think it will happen? No, I don’t. Unfortunately humans are not very good at dealing with very, very important, but not very immediate problems. Moving to a low carbon economy is technologically feasible, but I think it will only happen once we’ve had a series of climate disasters.”

Scholes is one of the authors of the overall summary of the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), due to be released mid next year. The first part of the IPCC report, on the scientific evidence of climate change, was released last week.

It found the evidence that temperatures were getting hotter had increased, as had the certainty that people were the dominant cause of global climate change since the mid 20th century. Not only the atmosphere, but the oceans, had warmed; the amount of snow and ice had diminished, the global mean sea level had risen and the concentrations of greenhouse gases had increased.

Many of the observed changes since 1950 were unprecedented. Each of the last three decades had been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850. The number of cold days and nights had decreased on a global scale.


An important finding was that sea levels were rising faster than predicted and would increase by 1m this century.

“That is a lot. It will (cause) major coastal damage.


“Luderitz, which is only 1.5m above sea level will be highly affected.


“One of the biggest effects of climate change in South Africa will be heat stress, both on people and agriculture, and the effect on water, both quantity and quality.

“It doesn’t mean we will run out of water per se, but out of usable water.

“Also, temperatures in southern Africa will rise up to twice the global rate.” - Cape Times