GO BIG OR GO HOME
In developing countries, the cost of adapting to climate change could rise to between $280 billion (R4.2 trillion) and $500 billion a year by 2050, a new report has warned, as South African cities prepare for the worst.
The UN Environment Programme report, released at the biennial Adaptation Futures 2016 conference in Rotterdam, warns that the figure is four to five times greater than that of previous estimates.
“Previous global estimates of the costs of adaptation in developing countries have been placed at between $70 billion and $100 billion a year for the period from 2010 to 2050. However, the national and sector literature surveyed in this report indicates that the costs of adaptation could range from $140 billion to $300 billion by 2030, and between $280 billion and $500 billion by 2050,” the report said.
Adaptation will certainly be a heavy financial burden for the South African delegates hoping to learn valuable lessons in Rotterdam this month.
Yet there were opportunities, said Debra Roberts, an eThekwini Municipality official and South African climate change negotiator. “It is either go big, or go home,” she said. Roberts told delegates that the battle for sustainable development would be won in the ballooning cities of Asia and Africa, and that an adaptation response plan was key for the cities’ futures.
She said the elephant in the room was that many of these cities did not have a clear adaptationimplementation strategy.
“The Paris agreement has to be lined with local action,” she said.
Although the landmark Paris agreement signed in December will force countries to curb their emissions to avoid runaway climate change, scientists warn that climate change is already happening.
Preparing for the worst took centre stage in Rotterdam, the new poster child for climate preparedness.
The Dutch city is taking a lead with its innovative coastal engineering, which makes living below sea level possible.
South African cities are crunching their adaptation numbers, although with less resources than the Dutch. Johannesburg and Durban’s plans were lauded at the conference, but delegates were concerned about the financing.
Johannesburg Mayor Parks Tau said that even if emissions were stabilised relatively soon, climate change and its effects would last for many years, and adaptation would be necessary.
“Climate change adaptation is especially important in developing cities, because those cities are predicted to bear the brunt of the effects of climate change,” he said.
Although by international standards Johannesburg has relatively limited exposure to the most severe consequences of climate change, floods are keeping the city’s planning committee up at night.
The Johannesburg mayoral committee estimates that it would cost the city R116 million to be flood-ready.
Heatwaves and extremely cold winters are also on the cards for the city in future.
Mzukisi Gwata, the City of Johannesburg’s programme manager of Climate Change Adaptation, said it was important to mainstream climate change adaptation into policies the city was implementing.
The city’s climate change adaptation plan in 2009 outlined how Johannesburg should map flood-prone areas, develop early warning systems and raise awareness in vulnerable communities, particularly Alexandra township.
Gwata said the city intended to invest R110 billion in infrastructure over the next 10 years, and new infrastructure would have to be climate-smart, taking into account the emerging threats.
Durban is in even greater jeopardy than Johannesburg as sea levels rise, but the city won praise at the conference for its community-centred adaptation plans.
The eThekwini Municipality is expecting sea levels to rise by up to a metre by 2100.
Rainfall is also likely to increase, but this will fall over shorter time periods, which means that stream flows will be higher and faster, increasing the strain on the city’s stormwater system.