We harp on about climate change and the environment with very little awareness and understanding of how our lives will be directly impacted by global warming. This very interesting (and rather alarming) article presents the South African picture – how will climate change affect you and I… and it’s not a pretty picture! If you are serious about going green, give Clevergreen a ring and let’s chat about ways you can go about saving water.
In December, South Africa will host the COP17 UN conference on climate change. The conference is for global leaders to agree on ways in which all countries can mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change currently threatening the world’s environments.
But why is this important for South Africa? What do we have to lose from climate change?
The areas identified as most vulnerable are food security, access to clean water and human settlements. By 2050, average rainfall in the summer rain regions of South Africa is predicted to drop by 5 percent to 10 percent. Average temperatures are predicted to rise by between 1ºC and 3ºC and the frequency of very hot days is predicted to increase. It is expected that rainfall will generally shift east, causing higher rainfall along the east coast, increased desertification in the rest of the country and an overall decrease in arable land. Patterns of rainfall are expected to become heavier and less frequent. This is a huge risk to crops and increases the likelihood of flood damage like we saw earlier this year.
Lack of access to fresh water and increased weather extremes will increase health risks in many areas of the country. Diarrhoea and other diseases from contaminated water are already big killers in the rural areas of South Africa and the problem is expected to increase, especially in child mortality rates.
If left to play out, these environmental outcomes from climate change will hinder the economic goals of the country. Decreasing food production and farm productivity will cause the supply of food to shrink and its price to increase. The Country Studies Programme identified production of maize (a staple food) as particularly vulnerable and the South African industry may need to shift production to less water-intensive crops, such as sorghum.
The increase in severe weather conditions such as droughts, floods and hail will cause the costs of farming to increase, either through damage or higher insurance premiums, and this cost will be passed on to the consumer.
Shortages of fresh water will cause the costs of purifying, transporting and supplying water to increase. This cost will either be carried by the consumer or the state. Increased water shortages and the regulations that accompany them will place an extra administrative and policing burden on the government, and anyone who has experienced water rations knows how it affects the quality of life.
Health services are already under pressure. Any more disease will have large social costs and affect the economy through increased costs to the government and a drop in production in the private sector.
Climate change is not about saving polar bears and beach villages on faraway islands. It is a real, albeit often invisible, threat to the stability of the economy and the welfare of its people. It needs to be taken as seriously as unemployment, growth and poverty.
It is no longer the sole domain of the environmentally conscious or eager activists. Through the web of knock-on economic effects, it will affect the lives of every South African – whether through the decrease of produce, the rise of supermarket prices, or the increase in taxes to fund government spending. COP17 needs to show that the South African government and its people are aware of their high emissions and are willing to take steps to reduce them.
Pierre Heistein is the course convener of the part-time UCT Applied Economics for Smart Decision Making short course. Visit www.GetSmarter.co.za/pierre