Defence minister Lindiwe Sisulu says the Department of Defence has yet to commission a specific study on the effect of climate change on regional security , although they generally include it in their planning.
Meanwhile, insurers, facing escalating claims from increasingly severe weather, on Friday called for action on climate change. The call follows reports that SA faces severe water and air pollution challenges as is and that these are set to worsen in coming decades.
Sisulu was responding to a question from Democratic Alliance MP Gareth Morgan, who also asked whether the effect of climate change on regional security will be a component of future planning in her department.
Spooks watching the weather
The minister responded that the Defence Intelligence Division of the South African National Defence Force “has not commissioned any studies that deal specifically with the effect of climate change on regional security”.
She noted, however, that the Defence Intelligence Division “is well aware of the threats and risks accompanying this phenomenon and is incorporating the study of this topic into its broader research.”
Sisulu adds “climate change will probably have an indirect impact on security and mainly in the long term.”
As such, “climatical conditions form an integral part of the annual and long-term estimate of the battle space in terms of how it will affect security and the possible employment of the SANDF.
“Determination of the impact of climate change forms part of the business plan of a subdivision of the Defence Intelligence Division. In this respect the collection and processing of information and attendance of conferences on climate change take place.
“Various products of the Defence Intelligence Division, for example assessments on food security, include the influence of climate change,” Sisulu said.
Insurers hurting, want carbon cuts
Her answer comes as the Bloomberg news service reports that ClimateWise, an insurance industry lobby group whose members include Swiss Reinsurance is calling on developed countries to reduce their carbon emissions by 40% in 2020 from 1990 levels to help avert global warming.
“The climate crisis poses a systemic risk to the global economy,” the group said in Cape Town on Friday, where the United Nations Environment Program was hosting a conference on financing programmes to protect the environment.
“We need an ambitious, robust and equitable global deal that responds credibly to the scale and urgency of the crisis facing humanity today,” the insurers, who face rising claims from ever-more calamitous natural disasters.
The United Nations aims to reach agreement on a new accord to combat climate change and cut greenhouse-gas emissions in a 10-day Copenhagen summit that begins December 7.
“We want to extend insurance to as broad a part of the population as possible,” Andrew Torrance, chief executive officer of Alliance Insurance Co. and chairman of ClimateWise, said in an interview in Cape Town.
“Without adequate action being taken in Copenhagen, property in many more parts of the world could become uninsurable.”
ClimateWise members also include South Africa’s Santam Ltd.
“The industry operates off annual contracts” and can stop insuring unacceptable risk, Torrance said.
“Economically the insurance industry can manage the potential risks of climate change down the road. There is no question of the industry being in danger of collapsing as a result of climate change.”
UNEP and Standard Bank Group Ltd., Africa’s largest lender, announced at today’s meeting that they had jointly started a project aimed at developing Africa’s carbon market. The Africa Carbon Development Facility will provide targeted grants, technical assistance and training.
“Despite the explosive growth of the carbon market worldwide, Africa has not yet substantially benefitted,” UNEP energy economist Glenn Hodes said in a statement. “Its share of the UN-regulated carbon credit market has held steady at around 3 percent. Even without any additional stimulus, the 112 projects currently in process would create 85 million carbon credits worth over $1.2 billion by 2012.”
SA firms “not preparing for climate change risks”
But while insurers are getting nervous, the bulk of businesses, at least SA businesses, are not preparing for coming changes, Business Report newspaper said last week.
Law firm Webber Wentzel, a sponsor of the South African Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), is warning companies that climate litigation has started to become a reality – and is likely to increase as the effects of climate change become more acute.
Webber Wentzel partner Johann Scholtz said potential claimants included individuals whose health had been affected, those who had suffered property damage or economic loss, NGOs and local and national governments.
“An analysis of these lawsuits shows that they comprise actions against regulators for failing to have adequate standards, challenges to the application of laws and regulations, cases alleging liability for the costs of combating and adapting to climate change and cases based on the failure to curb emissions, including class actions, actions against directors and product liability cases,” he said.
“Most commentators agree that those entities who practice denial and deceit and who take no active steps to curb emissions will bear the brunt of this litigation.”
The CDP, an initiative in 20 countries, attempts to encourage the world’s biggest corporates to start measuring and reporting their greenhouse gas emissions, and integrate climate change into management systems.
In a detailed assessment of the South African results, the CDP found several South African companies displayed only a “generic” understanding of the risks and opportunities presented by climate change.
“Few companies show evidence of being rigorous in quantifying the potential financial implications of climate change, and questions remain regarding the extent to which companies are responding at a sufficiently strategic level to the risks and opportunities that they identify,” the report said.
As for opportunities, FirstRand said climate change had prompted it to launch a new weather derivatives product, which offers portfolio insurance for the agricultural sector.
Gold Fields said gold could be a “hedge against turmoil”, with sales increasing if climate change were to create economic, political or social unrest.
Water running low
The BusinessDay newspaper last month reported that SA is fast running out of water and that priorities may have to be re-evaluated after a new study revealed that SA had 4% less water than previously believed .
The study, conducted on behalf of the Water Research Commission, tried to quantify the natural state of water resources in SA and found this was 4% less than estimated in 1995.
Future developments might have to be scaled back in order for water needs to be met, study director Brian Middleton said .
Several sectors, including agriculture, forestry, electricity generation, industry, groundwater developers and municipalities, may need to revisit water use strategies in the light of these findings.
Middleton said new mines and power stations might have to be put on hold as water would either not be available or would be too costly.
“We’ve behaved like a water-rich country when we’re not. We’re actually a semi-arid country and our mean annual rainfall is below the world average,” Middleton added.
The findings also have serious implications for water tariffs, adding to the woes of ratepayers recently slapped with huge increases to fund new electricity generation projects.
“We’ve probably underpriced water. I think we’re like all humans: if you get something for free, you waste it,” he said.
National water studies have been done since the 1950s, and with each study, estimates of total natural water resources have declined.
According to the study, SA’s mean annual run-off was just more than 49 000-million cubic metres; usable groundwater exploitation potential was estimated at about 10 000-million cubic metres — 25% less during droughts.
SA among world’s top 30 dry countries
The SA Press Association earlier this month quoted Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Buyelwa Sonjica warning that SA was one of the world’s 30 driest countries and 17 years of economic growth and rural-to-urban migration has led to an increased demand for water.
Climate change would also result in variability in the availability of water: extreme droughts followed by floods.
“It is for this reason that, as government, we would like to place emphasis on both mitigation and adaptation when it comes to ensuring that our people are protected from the harsh conditions that come with climate change,” Sonjica said.
Water had to be at the centre of all development plans, she said. “We need to be mindful of the fact that all the other millennium development goals like health, housing and poverty rely on the availability of water.
“We will not be able to provide clean, reliable water and good sanitation facilities to our people if we do not ensure that the resource itself, is protected, allocated and managed efficiently.
Acid mine water bubble about to burst
Business Report newspaper recently warned of a new threat to the little water available: acid mine drainage (AMD) from SA’s mines, principally old collieries in Mpumalanga and abandoned gold mines in Gauteng.
AMD occurs when water comes into contact with the exposed ore body of coal and gold mines, leaving the water high in dissolved metals and sulphates. As water levels rise, so does the risk of polluted water reaching porous rock and ultimately decanting at the surface.
Anthony Turton, who is the outspoken former Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) scientist who last year blew the whistle on South Africa’s looming water crisis, said Mpumalanga’s AMD problem was likely to erupt within two years.
“The gold problem is very dramatic and pressing by virtue of the fact that by 2012 there will be significant decant from the central Witwatersrand basin – that’s a looming freight train coming at us with great speed.
“But coal presents an even bigger water problem. I’d predict that in 12 to 24 months a second freight train is coming. Decant is already happening in Mpumalanga,” Turton said.
“I’ve noticed that the coal people have been keeping in the background – they are quite happy to let the gold people take the heat. But the volume and quality of water coming from gold mines pales in comparison with what’s coming from coal,” he said.
Wits University geologist Terence McCarthy said the AMD legacy from abandoned collieries, combined with an explosion of new coal mining applications, could render Mpumalanga a “total wasteland” within a century.
Business Report notes that Sonjica’s department disagreed that Mpumalanga’s AMD problem is a crisis, saying it is in the process of developing a strategy to ensure water pollution from AMD within the province’s abandoned mines is averted.
It says it is using water use licences as a tool for existing mines to ensure AMD did not affect water resources.
The paper says the financial burden of treating AMD is becoming increasingly evident in Gauteng, where the Western Utilities Corporation (WUC), established by gold mines to deal with AMD collectively, puts an initial R2 billion price tag on cleaning up the central, western and eastern basins.
SA’s water resources are further being harmed by ongoing discharges of municipal raw or partially treated sewage.
Air pollution now adds R4 billion to national health bill
SAPA also this moth reported air pollution is now responsible for over R4 billion in health costs – according to Sonjica’s department.
“Health care costs associated with the burning of fossil fuels amount to R4 billion,” the department’s national air quality officer Peter Lukey told reporters in Vanderbijlpark at an Air Quality Governance Lekgotla.