Climate-change news: the good, the bad and the unsung heroes
'Climate adaptation' plays a vital role in averting natural disasters, say experts at a green conference
Global warming and the need to reduce greenhouse gasses through “climate mitigation” are nothing new. But their stepsister, “climate adaptation”, plays an equally important role in averting natural disasters, say experts who have been meeting at a green-tinged global conference in Cape Town in the past week.
The Adaptation Futures 2018 conference, attended by 67 countries, highlighted the need to climate-proof the world thereby reducing the impact of floods, droughts, heatwaves and other climate-induced disasters, while warning exactly how much havoc they will wreak if countries and cities do not adapt now.
This is how it plays out.GOOD
1. A quarter of the world’s major cities, like Cape Town, Melbourne, San Paulo and Santiago, are water-stressed, but adapting to water scarcity can be successfully implemented. Cape Town’s speedy drop in consumption, from about 1.1 billion litres per day last year to an average of 500 million litres at present, shows it can work.This “new normal” scenario is not in fact that new. In 1871 Capetonians had water restrictions for the first time, before the construction of the city’s first major dam about a century later. Despite localised flooding in Cape Town this month, it is still in a drought.
2. South Africans will soon be able to learn about the A-Z of climate threats to prepare themselves to avoid or reduce their impact. People need “climate services” to protect agriculture, health, biodiversity, housing, ocean ecosystems and other sectors against risk. Tlou Ramaru, the acting deputy director general of Climate Change and Air Quality Management, says an “early warning national framework”, combining the climate knowledge of experts at universities and projects, will be made accessible to the broader public. On June 8, South Africa published a National Climate Change Bill – which maps out a co-ordinated response to the dangers posed to people and the environment through a national adaptation strategy – for public comment. Moshibdui Rampedi, CEO of the SA National Biodiversity Institute, says the bill ensures that national, provincial and local government join forces on climate adaptation. For example, three provinces have early warning systems, which make adaptation planning possible, at a municipal level.
3. Lower-income groups are most vulnerable to climate shocks but after hurricanes, floods and other disasters smarter reconstruction can improve their resilience and reduce the loss of global “well-being” by 30% or more, says World Bank economist Stephane Hallegatte. Nine of the 10 countries that would benefit most from better post-disaster recovery are in Africa, with Angola topping the list and Lesotho in 10th place. Examples of this approach would be building with better insulation and heating technologies and replacing paper files with computer-based systems. 4. Ten years after the first international climate change adaptation conference, climate adaptation is much closer to being on an even keel with climate mitigation – and getting major funding.
For example, 35% of €80-billion set aside for the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme is dedicated to climate-related research and innovation, said Patrick Child, the deputy director general: RTD.BAD
1. The “Future We Don’t Want: How climate change could impact the world’s greatest cities” report by the C40 Cities paints nightmare scenarios by 2050 which include:
• Over 800 million people in 570 cities vulnerable to sea level rise and coastal flooding including Durban, Cape Town, East London and Port Elizabeth;
• 650 million people in 500 cities at risk of water shortages including Cape Town, Paarl and George;
• 1.6 billion people in over 970 cities regularly exposed to “extreme high temperatures”, including Kimberley;
• 2.5 billion people globally facing shortages of food; and
• 470 million people facing power outages as 270 power plants lie in coastal cities vulnerable to rising sea levels.
2. Many African and Asian countries are failing to consider climate change risks in their national development plans, says Mark New, director of the African Climate and Development Initiative based at UCT. “That is my biggest worry in the region.”Cheik Mbow, executive director of the environment organisation START International, shares this concern. “Climate change is often an afterthought in African countries which have so many other priorities.”
He advocates the building of South-South alliances and longer-term funding of climate adaptation projects, breaking away from the usual NGO cycle.3. World Bank economist Stephanie Hallegatte says climate change could threaten the rapid urbanisation in Africa. “Africa is building super fast and this not reversible,” says Hallegatte, urging that climate risks be considered ahead of development to make sure that buildings in places like Maputo don’t disappear under rising sea levels. This is also a risk in cities like Miami. 4. “Maladaptation” – where attempts to find solutions can create even bigger problems – is a potential risk unless there are safeguards and long-term planning says Caroline Petersen of UNDP.
For example, solar-powered water pumps given to women in six countries made a huge difference to their efficiency and time a water scarce environment, but raised the risk of the over-extraction of groundwater. From Cape Town to the coastal resort of Benidorm in Spain, wealthy citizens have been sinking boreholes, raising a similar threat to sustainability.BELOW THE RADAR
1. Even amid disaster, climate change denialism has people in its grip. “We had people knee high in water during Hurricane Katrina who were saying ‘it’s just water, not climate change’,” says Kevin Austin, deputy executive director of the C40 Cities.Despite 18.8 million people being displaced by climate change last year – estimated at 2,000 people an hour, 33 people a minute – there is a lack of awareness about the dangers of climate change and how to avoid disaster and reduce losses through adaptation. Tools like early warning systems are key but people must understand climate risk is a reality not myth.
2. Women tend to be more resilient than men in tough circumstances, a study in Ghana suggests. “They are more flexible in finding alternative income and food sources,” says senior researcher Adelina Mensah from the Institute for Environment and Sanitation Studies at the University of Ghana. “Single women or female-headed households who find alternatives are quite capable of taking care of their households and feel more empowered in making decisions in their best interests compared to married women who have to defer to their husbands.”
3. Even rooibos tea farmers are adapting. Organic small scale rooibos tea farmers in the Northern Cape have shown that this pays, though it doesn’t eliminate vulnerability to drought. Maria Kotze, vice-chairperson of the Heiveld Co-operative, says their members lost about 30 tons of tea recently but experimental trials with mulch, to protect the plants against the current drought, are showing results with new seeds coming up.
4. Climate threats and connections may not be visible at first glance. Air pollution, for example, harms crop production. This is a widespread problem in southeast Asia and poor air quality is increasingly common in Africa and expected to get worse.