Government's 10-year plan to build SA's resilience to changing weather patterns

The Meulspruit Dam near Ficksburg in the Free State during the drought in 2015. | Picture: ITUMELENG ENGLISH African News Agency (ANA)

The Meulspruit Dam near Ficksburg in the Free State during the drought in 2015. | Picture: ITUMELENG ENGLISH African News Agency (ANA)

Published Aug 31, 2020


Extreme weather is on the rise, heatwave conditions are more likely, dry spells are lasting longer and the intensity of rainfall is increasing.

South Africa, says the National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy (NCCAS), is experiencing significant effects of climate change, particularly from increased temperatures and rain-fall variability.

Climate zones are “already shifting, ecosystems and landscapes are being degraded, fires are becoming more frequent and overused natural terrestrial and marine systems are under stress.

“The observed rate of warming has been 2ºC per century or even higher – more than twice the global rate of temperature increase for the western parts and the northeast.”

The 82-page document, which was approved by Cabinet last week, provides a “common vision” of climate change adaptation and building climate resilience. The 10-year plan, which will be reviewed every five years, fulfils the country’s commitment to its international obligations under the Paris Agreement. Among its key messages is that South Africa needs to adapt to climate change.

Increased temperatures, rainfall variability and increased coastal storms and sea level rise will have direct impacts on the country's natural resources and infrastructure, affecting food security and health, threatening water and coastal resources, and impacting on development.

Different areas, natural systems, sectors, and communities will be impacted in different ways, with some being more vulnerable than others. "These impacts will especially be felt by the poor, as they will be more exposed to the impacts and have fewer resources to cope with these impacts. Climate change is predicted to result in further widening of the gap between the rich and poor. Climate change impacts are however, already happening in South Africa.”

Women, it says, are still more vulnerable to the impacts of poverty and face different challenges to men in the workplace, in society and at home. "Climate change is one challenge that women will experience differently to men."

Adaptation presents the country with an “opportunity to transform” health and the economy, to strengthen the social and spatial fabric, and to become more competitive in the global marketplace. “However, systemic changes are required to minimise the impacts of climate change.”

New funding flows to support adaptation represent the biggest acceleration of development investment since the achievement of democracy. “This provides a unique opportunity to ensure climate resilience and achieve development aspirations.”

A common reference point is needed to help align efforts across the country. “This document is intended to be the cornerstone for climate change adaptation in the country and to reflect a unified, coherent, cross-sectoral, economy-wide approach to climate change adaptation.”

Finance set aside for development must incorporate climate change so infrastructure and communities are resilient to future climate impacts, the strategy says. “Furthermore, climate change needs to be mainstreamed into budgetary processes in all spheres of government.”

Priority adaptation-related sectors previously identified are water, agriculture and commercial forestry, health, biodiversity and ecosystems, human settlements (urban,rural and coastal), and disaster risk reduction and management.

“However, it is becoming more apparent that these sectors are not the only ones to be affected by climate change in South Africa. New emerging adaptation related sectors include energy, infrastructure (including transport), tourism, mining, oceans and coast.”

A wide range of projects are being implemented. “Some of the existing projects may not be acknowledged as ‘climate adaptation projects’ but contribute towards building adaptive capacity and reducing vulnerability.”

These include those focused on investigating the complex relationships between climate change, diseases such as HIV/Aids and food security; investment in new technologies such as decentralised energy and waste beneficiation and the Working for Water, Working for Coast, and Working for Wetlands programmes.

Various spheres of the government are “climate-proofing settlements and infrastructure and developing local early warning systems for communities”.

Some measures touted include equipping health-care facilities to manage climate change-related health effects and climate-sensitive diseases; helping small-scale farmers and fishers become more climate resilient; promoting the expansion of food gardens; protecting the most vulnerable ecosystems, landscapes and wildlife; and creating a “more adaptive” energy system, especially in rural areas.

The projected cost range for SA’s adaptation response from this year to 2030 under the low mitigation scenario is between R4.2 billion and R308bn. For the moderate to high mitigation scenario the project cost range is from R34bn to R298bn.

“The wide-ranging projected costs in these scenarios reflect the lack of certainty and data regarding the effects of climate variability, which make it difficult to calculate the cost of adaptation. However, it is clear substantial finance will be required to implement the strategy to achieve meaningful adaptation.”

Risk assessment:

The 2019 edition of the Global Risk Report by the World Economic Forum highlights environmental risks such as extreme weather events, natural disasters, and the failure to respond to climate change effectively, as among the top risks to the globe in terms of impact and likelihood, says the NCCAS document.

"Climate change was ranked first by the Global Risks Perception Survey respondents as an 'underlying driver of developments in the global risks landscape'. In 2018, a report on global warming was released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

“This watershed report highlights the urgency of the climate change challenge and states that the current commitments by countries across the globe are not enough to prevent an increase of 1.5 degrees in global temperatures.

“It highlights that the situation is worse than previously thought and that an increase in 1.5 degrees will have a greater impact than was estimated. There are a number of global agreements and decisions that South Africa has participated in that aim to respond to and prepare for the impacts of climate change.”

Africa, says the NCCAS, is likely to experience changes in climate earlier than other regions and therefore adaptation measures are urgently required on the continent, with it noting that the costs of adaptation in Africa could rise to $100 billion (R1.7 trillion) a year by 2050 in a world that experiences more than 4º Celsius warming by 2100.

“Increased funds from developed countries for adaptation in African countries would help to fund these costs. However, finances for adaptation are required from continental and national levels as well.”

Strategy shortfalls highlighted

Extreme events like drought is expected toincrease due to climate change.

South Africa’s rebuilding of a “new” economy after Covid-19 will have to withstand the effects of climate change, President Cyril Ramaphosa said in his weekly newsletter last week.

“A climate-resilient economy is necessary to protect jobs, ensure the sustainability of our industries, preserve our natural resources and ensure food security,” he said.

“The coronavirus pandemic is devastating, but unless we act now, the impact of climate change on humanity will be catastrophic.”

The National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy (NCCAS) “will guide one important aspect of our climate change response. In line with our commitments under the Paris Agreement, we are moving ahead with both mitigation strategies – to reduce our carbon emissions – and adaptation strategies – to prepare our society for the effects of climate change”.

But Happy Khambule, climate and energy campaign manager at Greenpeace Africa, said Ramaphosa missed the mark.

“President Ramaphosa acknowledged climate change as a critical issue that must not be relegated due to the Covid-19 crisis, with this further stating the interconnected impacts the climate crisis has on our economy as we know it. The president, however, failed to acknowledge and provide sure direction critical in ensuring that we build back stronger and more resilient.

“South Africa desperately needs to transition away from a fossil fuel-driven economy towards a cleaner and more renewable future, facilitated by a Just Transition.”

As a signatory to the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the country has an obligation to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, which requires greater mitigation efforts.

“While the adoption of the NCCAS is a step in the right direction, it's without impact or success if mitigation of the climate crisis is not prioritised or taken seriously. As a country we also have an obligation to reduce our emissions to ensure safe air to protect people and the environment.”

With the ramping up of economic production, “we need to adopt a green pathway as opposed to a business-as-usual economy that relies heavily on coal for energy production. An economy that will withstand the effects of climate change, is an economy that brings on board a higher percentage of renewable energy in comparison to what we have”.

A recovering economy must take the negative impacts on human well-being caused by dirty industry resulting from the combustion of fossil fuels, especially from coal, he said.

“Government involvement should cease to be a plan on paper. It’s high time that the Presidency drives the right political will that will see renewable energy getting the right support for its deployment at a residential, commercial and industrial level.”

The government has a moral obligation to reduce carbon emissions to protect the lives of South Africans and especially the most vulnerable in communities “affected by the criminal and negligent business practices of Eskom and Sasol. These are the same affected communities that suffer from load reduction and respiratory diseases, heart diseases, and asthma as a result of poor emissions governance."

Nicole Rodel, communications officer for the African Climate Reality Project, said the adoption of the NCCAS is a positive step towards main streaming adaptation efforts.

“The strategy itself is inclusive. It has a focus on being people-centred, equitable, gender-responsive, and participatory. A bottom-up approach is crucial when developing and implementing a strategy for adapting to the climate crisis, by actively bringing in the most vulnerable and affected communities and groups – and their rights and local knowledge – into the decision-making process.

“While the strategy does make mention of promoting equity within the country, it fails to note the one term that encompasses that when it comes to widespread system change in relation to the climate crisis: the Just Transition.

“Now that we are within the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, it should go beyond that to align with the pathway to a Just Green Recovery ... By making consideration for the Just Transition or Just Recovery, it would raise Deff’s (Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries) ambition, and emphasise the urgent need for adaptive, equitable system change.”

Rodel said there were numerous amendments and new insertions since the May 2019 draft, “some of which were raised during the public participation process last year which we and our fellow civil society representatives commented on during the submissions process. It is rewarding to see these being taken into account in the final version of the strategy."

“One example is that the draft NCCAS of May 2019 did not reference the IPCC special report on global warming of 1.5ºC... and we commented that it should be included to emphasise the urgency for action and the cross-sectoral impact climate change will have, especially for the development aspirations of South Africa. So, seeing that report now included in the approved version of the strategy is a positive both in terms of knowing that the Deff is behind the science and recognising the urgency of the climate crisis, as well as knowing that the public participation process does work to some extent.”

It is concerning, Rodel said, that the IPCC fifth assessment report of 2013 is also referenced – and was included in previous drafts of the strategy.

“Our concern is that by referencing the 2013 report, sections of the strategy may be based on outdated information. (The section reads as: “Climate change is likely to increase the frequency and magnitude of many extreme events and will certainly increase the risk of slow-onset events such as sea level rise and drought (IPCC 2013).

“We know that climate change is not just likely to increase the frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events, it is a certainty that this is already happening and will continue to happen.” said Rodel.

Staggering loss of ice recorded

The Earth’s surface lost 28 trillion tons of ice between 1994 and 2017, new satellite analysis and numerical models have revealed.

“Arctic sea ice (7.6 trillion tons), Antarctic ice shelves (6.5 trillion tons), mountain glaciers (6.2 trillion tons), the Greenland ice sheet (3.8 trillion tons), the Antarctic ice sheet (2.5 trillion tons), and Southern Ocean sea ice (0.9 trillion tons) have all decreased in mass,” researchers from Edinburgh University, the University of Leeds and University College London write in their review article, Earth’s Ice Imbalance, which was published in the journal, Cryosphere Discussions.

Just over half (60%) of the ice loss was from the northern hemisphere, and the remainder (40%) was from the southern hemisphere.

The rate of ice loss has risen by 57% since the 1990s, from 0.8 trillion tons to 1.2 trillion tons a year, “owing to increased losses from mountain glaciers, Antarctica, Greenland, and Antarctic ice shelves”.

During the same period, the loss of grounded ice from the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets and mountain glaciers raised the global sea level by 35.0 ± about 3.2mm.

“The majority of all ice losses from were driven by atmospheric melting (68 % from Arctic sea ice, mountain glaciers ice shelf calving and ice sheet surface mass balance), with the remaining losses (32 % from ice sheet discharge and ice shelf thinning) being driven by oceanic melting.

"Altogether, the cryosphere has taken up 3.2 % of the global energy imbalance.”

The Saturday Star

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