South Africa 10.11.2014 02:00 pm

Raising the hard questions on climate change

Professor Bob Scholes of Wits University speaks on the release of the fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in Pretoria on November 9. Photo by Amanda Watson

Professor Bob Scholes of Wits University speaks on the release of the fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in Pretoria on November 9. Photo by Amanda Watson

Over the next four days, the 2014 National Climate Change Dialogue being held in Midrand is going to try and figure out how to manage its “transition to a low carbon and climate resilient society at a pace that enables South Africa to grow the economy, create jobs and enhance competitiveness”.

When it came to climate change, uncomfortable truths needed to be repeated, said Professor Bob Scholes in Pretoria on Sunday.

He was speaking at a workshop prior to the start of the NCCD.

One of many beliefs is that “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, and sea level has risen.”

That quote is from the synthesis report of the fifth Assessment Report (5AR) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Scholes said: “The window of opportunity is closing, and it’s closing very rapidly. The report which has just been released helps us dispel two very pernicious myths.

“We are no longer having to deal with ‘Is the climate changing?’ It has demonstrably changed, we know that, the evidence is unequivocal,” Scholes said.

“Then the argument comes up, ‘Yea, well it’s always changed now how do we know we are causing it?’

“Well, we now have very clear evidence the majority of this is human induced,” he argued.

Deputy Director General of the Department of Environmental Affairs Judy Beaumont discusses carbon emissions goals for 2020 in Pretoria on November 9. Photo by Amanda Watson

Deputy Director General of the Department of Environmental Affairs Judy Beaumont discusses carbon emissions goals for 2020 in Pretoria on November 9. Photo by Amanda Watson

It’s not like the IPCC’s report is a thumb suck either. Its latest report relies on input from 30 000 published scientific papers, presented by 836 scientists in 85 countries.

The next argument that comes up is that well it doesn’t really matter, climate is really variable, people will adapt, said Scholes.

“What this report shows is that people and ecosystems can and do adapt, and that is an incredible thing which we mustn’t undermine the capability to do. And that is the key issue, we have to keep change in that adaptable space, both in terms of how much and how fast.”

“The report also dispels the notion there is nothing we can do about it. Excuses are no longer valid, this report shows there are many things we can do to address climate change,” he added.

If we simply carrying on living our lives as we are, the consequences could be dire, warned the DoE’s deputy director general, Judy Beaumont.

These could include extreme heat waves, delays in the onset of summer rains, and increasing water shortages.

Interestingly, all the presenters agreed that climate change would have little effect on our current water situation as South Africa was already a water scarce country, but unless climate change was mitigated by reducing carbon emissions as one example, water shortages would grow worse.

Of course, mega coal burners Medupe and Kusile then became the elephant in the room, especially when green power producers are receiving less for their power than coal fired electricity producers are.

“SA set an ambitious target in 2009 of reducing its CO2 emissions by 34% from business as usual levels by 2020 and 42% by 2025,” Beaumont said. “At the same time, we have been in a very challenging energy space. We were all surprised when Eskom managed to keep the lights on in winter this year so it’s a question of base load.

“Medupe and Khusile are needed to ensure that we have the kind of energy needed to support us. That said, how do we use all these things to bring renewable energy onto the grid?”

To end off, a quote from the 5AR does not seem out of place:

“Climate change is a threat to sustainable development. Nonetheless, there are many opportunities to link mitigation, adaptation and the pursuit of other societal objectives through integrated responses (high confidence). Successful implementation relies on relevant tools, suitable governance structures and enhanced capacity to respond (medium confidence).”

How the implementation happens, is what the four day dialogue will be seeking to answer in Midrand.

 

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