Global warming and climate change refer to an increase in average global temperatures. Natural events and human activities are believed to be contributing to an increase in average global temperatures. This is caused primarily by increases in “greenhouse” gases such as Carbon Dioxide (CO2). A warming planet thus leads to a change in climate which can affect weather in various ways, as discussed further below.
What is climate change?
- Climate change is the alteration of the earth’s general weather conditions.
- Climate change is different to weather changes in that weather can change continuously from day to day and even from hour to hour.
- Apart from increasing average temperature, climate change also includes changes in rainfall patterns and changes in extreme weather events that lead to things like floods and droughts.
- Climate change is real and is already with us. In South Africa, surface air temperature has warmed significantly over much of the country since the 1950s.
What is causing the climate to change?
- Increases in the atmospheric concentrations of gases known as greenhouse gases are largely to blame for a steady increase in average global temperatures and this, in turn, is the change of our climate.
- Greenhouse gases are emitted when fossil fuels like coal, oil, petrol, diesel and natural gases are burnt.
- Human activities such as chopping down of forests are also reducing the earth’s natural ability to absorb greenhouse gases.
Why should I be worried about climate change?
The following are, but a few, of the many consequences of the effect of climate change on South Africa alone:
If nothing is done about climate change and we keep on, among others, burning fossil fuels and burning down our forests at current rates, it is predicted that both South Africa’s coastal and interior regions will experience a rise in temperature between 3-4 C and 6-7 C respectively by 2100.
- Our biodiversity will be impacted severely, especially the grasslands, fynbos and succulent Karoo where a high level of extinctions is predicted.
- Commercial forestry is vulnerable to an increased frequency of wildfires and changes in available water in south western regions.
- Strong trends of rising sea levels have been detected. We are not sure yet what impacts this could have on our seas, the creatures living in the seas or on the communities dependant on the sea.
- Increased poor health profile as a result of diseases such as cholera outbreaks which have been associated with extreme weather events, especially in poor, high density settlements.
- Increase in the frequency and severity of extreme weather events such as flooding, fire, storms and drought.
As South Africans we should be worried because among others:
- A large proportion of our population has low resilience to extreme climate events (poverty; high disease burden; inadequate housing infrastructure and location).
- Much of South Africa already has low and variable rainfall.
- A significant proportion of our surface water resources are already fully allocated.
- Agriculture and fisheries are important for food security and local livelihoods.
- Although the poor are only minor contributors to climate change, they are the most vulnerable and, hence, will be the most impacted. The rest of Africa is possibly even worse off.