Cli­mate change apoca­lypse

Sub-sa­ha­ran Africa and South Africa are on a col­li­sion course with global warm­ing that is set to ex­ac­er­bate ex­ist­ing chal­lenges, writes Sheree Bega

Saturday Star - - METRO -

More heat­waves and very hot days, bring­ing fur­ther drought to south­ern and North Africa. Crop yield and live­stock pro­duc­tion ham­mered.

That’s the grim out­look sketched by a mon­u­men­tal new as­sess­ment by the UN’S In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change (IPCC), which warns that the planet has just 12 years to re­verse global warm­ing.

If global tem­per­a­tures climb more than 2ºc above pre-in­dus­trial lev­els by 2050, heat ex­tremes “never ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore” by hu­mans could af­fect 15% of sub-sa­ha­ran Africa’s land area in the hot sea­son, caus­ing deaths and threat­en­ing farm­ers’ abil­ity to grow crops, says the IPCC.

For Prof Fran­cois En­gel­brecht, chief re­searcher in cli­mate stud­ies, mod­el­ling and en­vi­ron­men­tal health at the CSIR, the prob­lem of adapt­ing to cli­mate change in south­ern Africa is that it’s al­ready a dry and warm re­gion.

“When such a re­gion be­comes drier and warmer, there are few op­por­tu­ni­ties for adapt­ing to cli­mate change. In par­tic­u­lar, the re­port in­di­cates that crop yield in south­ern Africa and live­stock pro­duc­tion is to be neg­a­tively af­fected by cli­mate change at 1.5°C of global warm­ing,” says En­gel­brecht, who served as a lead au­thor of the IPCC’S new Spe­cial Re­port on the im­pacts of Global Warm­ing of 1.5°C.

“These im­pacts will in­crease fur­ther and be­come more neg­a­tive un­der 2°C of warm­ing. Un­der 3°C of global warm­ing, the vi­a­bil­ity of live­stock pro­duc­tion will be di­rectly threat­ened, and the maize crop will be se­verely re­duced, or may even col­lapse.”

The re­port finds that if the world con­tin­ues to warm at the cur­rent rate, global tem­per­a­tures will climb by 1.5ºc be­tween 2030 and 2052. This will have catastrophic ef­fects on wa­ter scarcity, global food pro­duc­tion, and al­most en­tirely wipe out global coral reef sys­tems.

“Even if we are suc­cess­ful to re­strict global warm­ing to 1.5°C, how­ever, there will be wide­spread im­pacts of cli­mate change across the globe, and Africa is par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble,” says En­gel­brecht.

CSIR re­search has shown how south­ern Africa tem­per­a­tures are ris­ing at about twice the global rate of tem­per­a­ture in­crease. “This means that a global tem­per­a­ture in­crease of 5°C im­plies an in­crease of about 3°C in south­ern Africa, and an in­crease of 2°C glob­ally im­plies an in­crease of about 4°C in our re­gion.”

But the re­port shows there is hope. “It’s still pos­si­ble for us to avoid the most dan­ger­ous im­pacts of cli­mate change. For this to be achieved, we need to re­strict global warm­ing to 1.5°C. This will, how­ever, re­quire an im­mense world­wide ef­fort and col­lab­o­ra­tion.”

The re­port gives the num­bers. “We will have to cut emis­sions of car­bon diox­ide with 45% by 2030, and by 2050 there should be net zero CO2 emis­sions by 2050,” he says.

“This poses a tremen­dous chal­lenge to us as a species, since it means we need to com­pletely rev­o­lu­tionise the way in which we generate en­ergy on the planet. Ef­fec­tively, we need to move away from fos­sil fu­els as our main source of en­ergy, to al­ter­na­tive forms of en­ergy such re­new­able forms of en­ergy.”

The IPCC re­port sub­se­quently finds that cli­mate change will im­pact on eco­nomic growth glob­ally, through dam­ag­ing weather events and re­duc­tions in pro­duc­tiv­ity. “One op­por­tu­nity for African coun­tries to adapt may be to col­lab­o­rate more closely, for ex­am­ple, by en­hanced schemes to trade food, and trans­port wa­ter and en­ergy be­tween coun­tries,” he says.

Prof Bob Sc­holes, a sys­tems ecol­o­gist at the Global Change In­sti­tute at Wits Univer­sity, ex­plains that South Africa warms at twice the global av­er­age. “We have al­ready crossed 1.5ºc, and are close to 2ºc. The world could reach 1.5ºc by as early as 2030, at which point the in­te­rior of South Africa will be near 3ºc. This has deeply neg­a­tive con­se­quences for wa­ter sup­ply, crop agri­cul­ture, live­stock and hu­man well-be­ing.”

While the IPCC re­port does con­firm “what we al­ready sus­pected, it makes it clear and stark,” Sc­holes re­marks.

David Hal­lowes, a re­searcher at non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion ground­work, Friends of the Earth SA, says the threat to peo­ple’s live­stock and ac­cess to food will in­crease dra­mat­i­cally at 2ºc. “That in­cludes in South Africa, where over half the peo­ple are poor and more peo­ple will be tipped into poverty,”

The in­ter­ac­tion of cli­mate change and “a mar­ket or­gan­ised for profit” will be dev­as­tat­ing – as it was in the drought of 2014/15. “As in that case, much of the pain is hid­den as house­holds can af­ford less as well as less nu­tri­tious food,” Hal­lowes says.

South Africa, says Sc­holes, is far ahead of pro­jec­tions on the roll-out of re­new­able en­ergy.

“But at the same time we are com­mit­ted to two very large coal-fired


THE head of the US En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency liked a racist post about the Oba­mas a few years ago and en­gaged with prom­i­nent far-right con­spir­acy the­o­rists on so­cial me­dia, ac­cord­ing to screen­shots pub­lished on­line Tues­day. power sta­tions, which are planned to con­tinue op­er­a­tions for the next 60 years. It is stated pol­icy that fur­ther coal-fired power sta­tions are in the off­ing. This is in­con­sis­tent with our Paris Ac­cord goals.”

As Africa’s big emit­ter, South Africa owes a cli­mate debt to the rest of the con­ti­nent, adds Hal­lowes. “The govern­ment likes to jus­tify the con­tin­u­ing use of coal on its sup­posed ‘pri­or­ity’ for ad­dress­ing poverty and in­equal­ity. But not re­spond­ing ur­gently to mit­i­gate cli­mate change is an in­di­ca­tion this is not their pri­or­ity. The re­port shows that steep re­duc­tions are ur­gently needed now.

“South Africa’s draft In­te­grated Re­source Plan (IRP) 2018 does not demon­strate any such ur­gency. In par­tic­u­lar, the forc­ing in of the two coal IPPS for con­struc­tion in the early 2020s is un­con­scionable.”

Robyn Hugo, the pro­gramme head for pol­lu­tion and cli­mate change at the Cen­tre for En­vi­ron­men­tal Rights, says that not only is South Africa ex­tremely vul­ner­a­ble to cli­mate change but it’s a ma­jor green­house gas emit­ter, with the bulk of these emis­sions from its coal-based elec­tric­ity sec­tor.

The IPCC re­port shows how coun­tries’ Na­tion­ally De­ter­mined Con­tri­bu­tion (NDC) – pledges for how they in­tend to ad­dress cli­mate change un­der the 2015 Paris Agree­ment – are not on track to limit global warm­ing to 1.5ºc above pre-in­dus­trial lev­els.

Hugo says South Africa’s peak, plateau and de­cline tra­jec­tory and NDC have been found to be hope­lessly in­ad­e­quate. “In any event, the Paris Agree­ment re­quires party coun­tries’ am­bi­tions to be­come stricter ev­ery five years. So even if South Africa were on track with the NDC now, this would not be the case if we were, for ex­am­ple, to build the two new coal-fired power sta­tions in­de­pen­dent power pro­duc­ers that the govern­ment pro­poses in the draft IRP.”

These pro­posed power sta­tions – Thabametsi and Khany­isa – are mired in mul­ti­ple le­gal chal­lenges and will be among the most green­house gas emis­sion and wa­ter-in­ten­sive plants in the world.

“Lock­ing South Africa into fos­sil fuel projects with high emis­sions for well be­yond 2030 is short-sighted and reck­less,” says Hugo.

Tas­neem Es­sop, of the Na­tional Plan­ning Com­mis­sion and the En­ergy Democ­racy Ini­tia­tive, says the IPCC re­port rep­re­sents an ur­gent call to ac­tion.

“The im­pli­ca­tions of this re­port for South Africa are huge. We’re ... in the top 20 of high-emit­ting coun­tries, as well as be­ing par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble to the im­pacts of cli­mate change. This means that we would have to be more am­bi­tious in our ac­tions to cut emis­sions and in­vest much more in build­ing cli­mate re­silience in the coun­try. We need to do this while ad­dress­ing our triple chal­lenge of poverty, in­equal­ity and un­em­ploy­ment.”

Sc­holes says there is a need for cli­mate lead­er­ship “which speaks in one voice across govern­ment de­part­ments” and be­tween the pri­vate and pub­lic sec­tors and civil so­ci­ety. “We’re al­ready see­ing some lead­ing com­pa­nies take a pro­gres­sive stand. Stan­dard Bank, for in­stance, re­cently an­nounced that it would no longer fund coal projects.”

Happy Kham­bule, po­lit­i­cal ad­viser at Green­peace Africa, says: “Our govern­ment will un­for­tu­nately not see this re­port as im­por­tant, un­less civil so­ci­ety, busi­ness and labour stress just how im­por­tant it is.

“Cli­mate change is a threat to our sur­vival ... to peace, se­cu­rity and so­cial co­he­sion. We’ve seen that with the wa­ter short­ages in Cape Town and the East­ern Cape.”


Cape Town’s ma­jor wa­ter-sup­ply dam, Thee­wa­ter­skloof, at its dev­as­tat­ing level of 11%. Yachts lie dry with dead fish vis­i­ble on the parchedbed of the dam. Cape Town suf­fered ex­treme wa­ter-level re­stric­tions since 2015. | African News Agency (ANA)

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