Parliamentary Question: dwa: Threats of climate change



Mrs A Steyn (DA) to ask the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs:

What (a) are the threats that have been identified by her departments with regard to the impact of climate change and (b) initiatives to promote adaptation to climate change are her departments involved in?


The research which has been conducted in South Africa in an attempt to quantify the climatic trend and the nature, likelihood and potential consequences’ impact thereof has confirmed the impact to various sectors as a result of climate change. Sectors such as agriculture, water and forestry are the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, as a result of decreases in rainfall and the increased frequency of extreme weather events such as flooding, drought and heat waves. Besides these, climate change also threatens major sectors such as health and tourism. Climate change also threatens progress made in poverty reduction and achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGS). Poor communities, children, women and small scale farmers are likely to be the most affected by the effects of climate change because they are unlikely to respond to the direct and indirect effects of climate change because of limited financial, human and institutional capacity.

Climate change poses threats to, the following sectors, amongst others:

Human health

There are several important insect-carried diseases of humans and livestock which respond to climatic conditions such as small increase in temperature would allow malaria to spread into areas which are currently malaria-free, and would increase its severity in areas where it already occurs. Reduced agricultural potential in some areas could lead to reduced yields and subsequently poor yields and subsequently poor nutrition, increasing the burden of diseases such as tubercolosis., Physical impacts from heat stress could also increase.

Water sector

South Africa is, overall, a water stressed country with the mean annual rainfall of about 490 mm compared with the global average of about 876 mm. Climate change is one of several drivers currently influencing water resources in South Africa’s rivers as a result of high temperature. There is high confidence that changes in hydrological processes such as increased evaporation are related to increasing temperature. The projected increase in temperature will partially offset any increase in rainfall, for some areas due to an increase in potential evaporation of about 5% per 1oC. South Africa’s industrial, domestic and agricultural users are highly dependent on a reliable supply of water. A reduction in rainfall amount or variability, or an increase in evaporation (due to higher temperatures) would further strain the already limited amount of water resources and water quality.

Agriculture and Rangeland Forestry.

The agriculture sector is a key component of the South African national economy. The potential impact of climate change on food production, agricultural livelihood and food security are some of the biggest concerns in the country. The frequency and intensity of fire is likely to increase due to increase in temperature and dry spells which will impact on the plantation. The forestry industry could probably tolerate a small increase in temperature, but a decrease in rainfall would reduce the area which can support plantations, and the growth rate of the trees. These effects have carry over effects on the rest of Southern Africa in view of shared catchments and hydrological systems and hence on river flows and in view of the export of agricultural products.

Terrestrial biodiversity

There is evidence that South Africa’s unique rich biodiversity is at risk from projected anthropogenic climate change. Flora, in particular, have trouble keeping up with rapid climate change. Small, isolated populations could go extinct as a result. South Africa has about 10% of all the plant species in the world, of which about half occur nowhere else on earth. An example is that, warming and a change in the seasonal rainfall threatens the Cape floral kingdom.

Invasive alien species

South Africa is substantially affected by invasive alien species in the terrestrial, fresh water and marine environments. These invasive species posed a threat to biodiversity and water resources. Predicted climate change will result in invasive biota also distributed in areas currently not invaded by such species.

Human livelihood

The impact of climate change on climate variability is likely to increase the risk to Natural and Physical Resource as an example assets and activities. The increase in temperature increases the fire risk which is currently a major threat to informal settlements and has the potential to cause major damage to livelihoods.

There are various initiatives being undertaken by the department and other government departments which include: climate change capacity building to National departments, Provincials, District and local municipalities in the country, coordinating climate change adaptation sector plan with sector departments such as Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Tourism, Water, Health, Social Development, Rural Development, and SALGA. The Department facilitates the establishment of South African adaptation network/forum an NGO’s initiative aimed at promoting adaptation issues, capacity building, sharing of experience and coordinates inputs to the policy process. Various risk-sharing approaches are being implemented to strengthen climate change adaptation strategies, including disaster management, co-operative water resource management, and poverty alleviation, trans boundary co-operation by sectors such as Health, Agriculture, Water, Energy and Security. South Africa is still vulnerable to climate change and variability because of its limited adaptive capacity as a result of, among others, widespread poverty, and dependence on rain fed-agriculture, recurrent drought, inequitable land distribution and HIV/AIDS. Second National Communication published in November provides the latest scientific understanding of climate impacts and vulnerability whilst the green paper on climate change presents policy options including adaptation.