“It’s very hard to stipulate one major threat because you’re dealing with such a diversity as climate change, but because you’d have such intense changes in the climate one of the biggest things we’re going to have to deal with is lack of water, and as a result, lack of food,” Ferial Adams of Greenpeace Africa told News24.
The UN COP17 climate conference takes place in Durban in November and negotiators have been tasked with hammering out a binding deal to replace the Kyoto Protocol which is due to expire.
Key countries though, have rejected attempts to extend the protocol and the Cancún conference in Mexico descended into chaos when no binding deal was achieved.
“The one thing that the international community has agreed to is we need to keep the global average warming below 2°C. That might not sound like a lot, but bear in mind when the global average increases that much, parts of sub-Saharan Africa within certain regions, the average will increase 4°C to 5°C.
“That means a lot more evaporation of moisture from the soil and so a lot of challenges for agriculture, in particular,” World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) climate change programme manager in South Africa, Richard Worthington, told News24.
The lack of water would have a profound effect on food production in SA, Greenpeace said.
“So major food insecurity and scarcity of water in a country that already has a lack of water,” said Adams.
Pollution has been cited as one of the major causes of water scarcity and mining, in particular, has come under fire in Gauteng as that province grapples with the problem of acid mine water drainage.
“What is concerning is that the department continues to give these licences for big mines and doesn’t do enough to hold them accountable for what they’re doing.
“So it’s not only the coal mining, but the gold mining, and we’ve seen the acid mine drainage as a result,” said Adams.
Earthlife Africa suggested that because of high consumption by industrialised economies, the planet’s pollution load was distributed unevenly.
“If you worked out the pollution load on the planet and shared it equally among every human being on the planet, to reach parity, China would be allowed to double its emissions and the US would be required to drop its emissions by 60%.
“We’re not suggesting China double its emissions, but what we’re saying is that the playing field is not level. And when you consider that, the vast majority of China’s production and emissions is actually for the consumption of the north, then the actual footprint in the north is much higher than stipulated,” said Muna Lakhani, Cape Town branch co-ordinator for Earthlife Africa.
The rate at which the ice shelves melted was of concern, said Worthington.
“Most of the sea level rise that is included in the predictions relates to global expansion. What we have less certainty about is the rate at which we lose ice shelves.
“If we get accelerated ice shelf loss which the science is suggesting, sea level rise could be a lot quicker from all of that water stored in global regions entering the oceans.”
Countries vulnerable to climate change like the Maldives have appealed to the UN to accelerate the release of promised funds to help those countries take the actions necessary to mitigate climate change.
Water scarcity in SA will have a devastating impact, particularly on the poor, Greenpeace said.
“You have to do a comparison in terms of how much water people are using and we’ve got millions of people in South Africa who still don’t have access to proper clean water and that is a concern,” said Adams.