Flood damage to a road in Benmore, Johannesburg.     Itumeleng English African News Agency (ANA)
Flood damage to a road in Benmore, Johannesburg. Itumeleng English African News Agency (ANA)

Climate change is a serious threat to Gauteng

By sheree bega Time of article published Dec 7, 2019

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Johannesburg - Gauteng’s current socio-economic situation will deteriorate, “pulling the national economy down at the same time” if it fails to adequately respond to climate change.

“This is likely to result if inadequate adjustments are made to improve resilience of infrastructure and living conditions as this will compromise people’s health and productivity and lead to social turmoil,” reads the final version of the Gauteng City-Region’s Overarching Climate Change Response Strategy and Action Plan.

“The pressure on economic performance will also mount if the energy footprint remains tightly bound to coal-fired electricity and coal/oil-based liquid fuels. The strategic financial sense of a switch to renewable energy is undisputed, and is also tied to the quality of international investment in local business.”

Gauteng is particularly vulnerable at a household level where poverty reduces people’s adaptive capacity but also at a macroeconomic level because of the region’s heavy dependence on carbon-intensive energy.

In the background, the “shift in the climate envelope” will result in a progressive change from a grassland dominated system to a savannah-type biome with more woody elements, “thereby affecting species composition and the hydrological cycle”.

The strategy outlines what a “well-adapted and resilient Gauteng City- Region” must look like with a focus on ecosystems, quality of life, disaster risk reduction and the green economy.

As South Africa’s economic powerhouse, Gauteng needs to consider how climate change will affect its people and economy, “and initiate response actions to reduce the scale of detrimental impacts”. It lists 10 priority climate change actions to be implemented in the next five years:

Supporting the establishment and roll-out of solar parks in private and public properties;

Promoting renewable energy in new public infrastructure projects such as schools, hospitals, nature reserves;

Leading on sustainable and climate resilient agriculture and agro-processing;

Leading initiatives on waste to energy conversion projects;

Supporting the roll-out of projects for waste avoidance, recycling, reduction and reuse in municipal spaces and strengthening the regulatory framework;

Supporting cleaner production processes for industry;

Supporting the roll-out of electric vehicles in partnership with the private sector and the establishment of charging infrastructure;

Supporting investment in public transport systems, especially mass transit (commuter rail, Gautrain and Bus Rapid Transit) along major corridors in urban areas and their integration;

Promoting deployment of non-motorised transport infrastructure (bicycle lanes); and

Supporting sustainable water practices such as the use of alternative water sources, water conservation, rainwater harvesting, grey-water harvesting and sustainable urban drainage systems.

Gauteng’s projections, and their “inherent uncertainties”, suggest two slightly different futures are possible - both warmer, but one slightly wetter than the other.

“Climate projections indicate that the overall outcome for Gauteng is likely to be a drier climate overall, with higher temperatures and longer dry spells dominating weather patterns. Intense rainfall events will aggravate the situation by increasing run-off rather than infiltration.

“These also increase the risk for flash floods and erosion, placing pressure on stormwater infrastructure and affecting agricultural practices.”

Adopting environmentally sustainable technologies will benefit the region in the long-term instead of the continued reliance on the extraction economy that has “high-pollution legacy costs”.

A revised carbon footprint for Gauteng indicates it contributes 33% of national emissions. “A failure to specify and meet carbon emissions reductions targets within the region will compromise SA’s position in international climate change response negotiations and ability to access climate change-related funding.”

The province’s modernisation and re-industrialisation drive may also be stifled by the cost and availability of water and clean energy.

“A strategic approach to climate change adaptation and mitigation, however, has the potential to not only avoid the threats but to use sustainability and resilience principles to support the drive.”

The region’s strengths lie in its extensive infrastructure network and human resources attracted to the urban metropolis. These must be used as a foundation for mitigation and adaptation interventions.

“However, both represent liabilities if not managed well.”

Weaknesses include the region’s current political instability, the presence of many municipal and provincial borders, and the need for different layers of government to provide an integrated service. “This is closely linked to public dissatisfaction with service delivery that has a marked influence on decision-making, especially compromising the long-term view required for investment in sustainable development and climate change adaptation.”

Natural resources, too, are viewed as “more of a risk than a resource”, given the neglect of surface and groundwater systems and compromised ecosystem functioning.

“Efficient urban design, linked to modernised mass transportation and safeguarded green infrastructure, is a key ingredient to making cities (and the people living in them) resilient and reducing disaster risks.”

Food production and security are at risk from future projected water supply constraints and declines in water quality. And as climate change takes hold, environmental stressors will raise pressures on the poor. “This includes exposure to excessive heat, exposure to diseases and decreased quality of water access. Poverty implies that people will not be able to afford improved thermal insulation in dwellings or access to clean energy and water.

“They also remain bound to public health systems that might become overloaded due to increased heat stress and water contamination-related disease incidence When such exposures are combined with low adaptive capacity, then increased mortality and morbidity could result, especially among physically weak members of society such as children, the aged, women and child-headed households and those already suffering from disease or illness.”

Climate change is a future risk driver. “Given that droughts, heatwaves, fires and flash floods are likely to become more severe and frequent, low-lying structures, extended supply lines, insufficient flood or drought management, dysfunctional or non-performing health systems, can be considered factors that increase the Gauteng City-Region’s disaster- related vulnerability.”

Hazards

South Africa faces multi-year droughts, water shortages and food system failures from climate change, says Bob Scholes, distinguished professor of systems ecology at the Global Change Institute at Wits University.

To deal with this, the country needs to make full use of its excellent water legislation to “allocate our diminishing supply in the most sensible and just way”, Scholes says.

While the country will grapple with excessive heat impacts on human health and livestock, this needs health awareness and better urban planning. Severe storms and flooding are major risks.

“We need early warning systems and awareness of what to do.”

To reduce biodiversity loss, other stresses must be reduced.

“We need to make the landscape between protected areas more biodiversity-friendly,” says Scholes.

He says Gauteng’s approach on alternative water sources cannot be done piecemeal. “We need a comprehensive rethink of our urban water cycle.”

Coleen Vogel, a distinguished professor at Wits University’s Global Change Institute, says the country needs enhanced data capture including loss and damage data from major climate events.

It also needs effective disaster risk reduction governance, outlining “who is responsible, who is leading in a crisis situation” as in the Cape Town drought. 

Saturday Star

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