South Africa is already experiencing significant effects of climate change, particularly as a result of increased temperatures and water variability.
This is according to a National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy published by the Department of Environmental Affairs earlier this week.
“The observed rate of warming has been 2°C per century or even higher – more than twice the global rate of temperature increase for the western parts and the northeast,” the department said.
“There is evidence that extreme weather events in South Africa are increasing, with heat wave conditions found to be more likely, dry spell durations lengthening slightly, and rainfall intensity increasing.
“Climate zones across the country are already shifting, ecosystems and landscapes are being degraded, veld fires are becoming more frequent, and overused natural terrestrial and marine systems are under stress.”
As part of its report, the Department of Environmental Affairs provided a summary of projected future changes in temperature and rainfall in South Africa.
The changes are based on ‘high mitigation’ and ‘low mitigation’ scenarios, with the projections changing drastically based on how quickly and drastically authorities are able to stem the effects of climate change.
In a low mitigation scenario the temperatures are set to increase ‘drastically’, the department said.
Before the end of the current century (to 2099) it expects temperature increases greater than 4°C across South Africa, with increases greater than 6°C possible in the western, central and northern interior.
The department said that it also expects an increase in the number of heat-wave days and very hot days where these above temperatures will be common or even exceeded.
In a high mitigation scenario, the department said that an increase in temperatures in the interior could be constrained to between 2.5 to 4°C.
The department said that there is more uncertainty around rainfall projections than in temperature projections.
Under a low mitigation scenario, South Africa is set to experience drier conditions overall. In addition, the department said that it expects to see an increase in ‘extreme rainfall events’ in the interior of the country.
However the projections for a high mitigation scenario differ, it said.
“A large number of projections predict generally wetter conditions over the central and eastern interior,” it said. “Other projections predict generally drier conditions.”
Impact on South Africans
In addition to the general changes in temperature and rainfall, the report outlined the vulnerability of key socio-economic sectors in South Africa to climate change.
Some of the biggest concerns include:
- An increase in ‘direct wave impacts’ and coastal flooding/inundation;
- Flooding of low-lying areas and erosion;
- Quadruple burden of disease;
- Poor housing, infrastructure and service delivery;
- High water demand – highly problematic as current water usage already exceeds reliable yield;
- Deteriorating water quality in river systems, water storage reservoirs and groundwater.