People enjoys the hot weather at Sea Point. Davies said climate change projections were that the Western Cape would see an increase in average temperatures. Picture: Leon Lestrade

Cape Town - Damage from extreme weather driven by global climate change has cost the Western Cape about R4.3-billion over the past decade.

This figure represents the damage from floods and droughts only, and not damage from more frequent fires, nor coastal damage from an increase in storm surges.

These figures were released by Helen Davies, director of climate change and biodiversity in the Western Cape government, at the launch of the province’s Climate Change Response Strategy 2014.

“A key message is that the Western Cape is getting warmer and drier and there will be a lot more extreme rainfall events,” Davies said.

Indirect climate change costs were in the pipeline. If the EU imposed a carbon tax on goods imported from South Africa, our fruit industry could see R100 carbon tax added to every ton of fruit exported to Europe.

“This would add 22c to the cost of 1kg of fruit from the Overberg. The same tax would add only 9c a kilogram to a kilogram of fruit from Chile,” Davies said.

The reason South Africa’s tax would be higher was because the country had a high per capita rate of carbon emissions, as the bulk of our electricity was generated by burning coal.

Chile’s per capita carbon emissions were lower.

Davies said climate change projections were that the Western Cape would see an increase in average temperatures, higher maximum and minimum temperatures, which meant more hot days and heatwaves and fewer cold and frost days. A warmer atmosphere held more water. Rainfall would be intensified, with more rain falling in shorter periods increasing the risk of floods.

Davies said the strategy had two key objectives: to reduce the province’s vulnerability to climate change by increasing the adaptive capacity of the economy, society and ecosystems, and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by building a low-carbon economy.

A key message was that climate change was not a separate issue competing with others in the province, but affected all sectors and needed to be incorporated into all Western Cape programmes and planning.

“Any delays in considering climate change in decision-making increase the likelihood of locking us into costly and inappropriate planning and infrastructure development. It is irresponsible not to address climate change,” Davies said.

She quoted from the 2006 Stern Review, which said if countries took no action to reduce climate change, the overall costs would be equivalent to losing at least 5 percent of global GDP every year, and could be as high as 20 percent of GDP.

The cost of taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst of climate change would cost around one percent of global GDP a year.

l Last week economist Nicholas Stern, chairman of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics, wrote in The Guardian that the risks were even bigger than he had realised when working on the review released in 2006.

“What we have experienced so far is surely small relative to what could happen in the future. We should remember that the last time global temperature was 5ºC different from today, the Earth was gripped by an ice age,” Stern wrote. - Cape Times