Effects of Climate Change on South Africa

Why should I be worried about climate change? 

If nothing is done about climate change and we continue, among other things, to burn fossil fuels and chop down our forests at current rates, the following is predicted for South Africa:

  • South Africa’s coastal regions will warm by around 1-2°C by about 2050 and around 3-4°C by about 2100;
  • South Africa’s interior regions will warm by around 3-4°C by about 2050 and around 6-7°C by about 2100;
  • There will be significant changes in rainfall patterns and this, coupled with increased evaporation, will result in significant changes in respect of water availability, e.g. the western side of the country is likely to experience significant reductions in the flow of streams in the region;

  • Our biodiversity will be severely impacted, especially the grasslands, fynbos and succulent Karoo where a high level of extinction is predicted;
  • Small scale and homestead farmers in dry lands are most vulnerable to climate change and although intensive irrigated agriculture is better off than these farmers, irrigated lands remain vulnerable to reductions in available water;
  • Some predictions suggest that maize production in summer rainfall areas and fruit and cereal production in winter rainfall areas may be badly affected;
  • Commercial forestry is vulnerable to an increased frequency of wildfires and changes in available water in south-western regions;
  • Rangelands are vulnerable to bush encroachment which reduces grazing lands;
  • Alien invasive plant species are likely to spread more and have an ever-increasing negative impact on water resources;
  • Although strong trends have already been detected in our seas, including rising sea levels and the warming of the Agulhas current and parts of the Benguela, we are not yet sure what impacts these could have on our seas, the creatures living in the seas or on the communities dependant on the sea;
  • Because of our already poor health profile, South Africans are specifically vulnerable to new or exacerbated health threats resulting from climate change. For example, some effects of climate change may already be occurring due to changes in rainfall (droughts and floods) and temperature extremes and Cholera outbreaks have been associated with extreme weather events, especially in poor, high density settlements;
  • There will be an increase in the frequency and severity of extreme weather events. Damage costs due to extreme weather-related events (flooding, fire, storms and drought) have already been conservatively estimated at being roughly 1 billion rand per year between 2000 and 2009.

South Africa is particularly vulnerable to climate change because, among other things:

  • A large proportion of our population has low resilience to extreme climate events (poverty; high disease burden; inadequate housing infrastructure and location);
  • Large parts of South Africa already have low and variable rainfall;
  • A significant proportion of our surface water resources are already fully allocated;
  • Agriculture and fisheries are important for food security and local livelihoods.

Although the poor are only minor contributors to climate change, they are the most vulnerable and, hence, will be the most impacted. The rest of Africa is possibly even worse off.

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