Adapting to climate change

The change in leadership of the ANC, the assault on the Scorpions and the energy crisis are some of the issues that, deservedly, are attracting significant attention at the start of 2008. However, there is one issue that should be attracting similar attention, yet remains a topic debated in only limited circles.

Climate change is the greatest challenge that our planet will face this century.

That the challenge is unfamiliar and its effects are not immediately apparent contribute to its displacement on the policy agenda.
President Thabo Mbeki made only fleeting reference to it in his recent state of the nation address.

While climate change is a global problem, developing countries, including South Africa, will be worst affected. Its possible consequences for our already vulnerable water resources and food security are severe.

The likelihood of increased extreme weather events, including flooding and droughts, will compound our problems. If South Africa is not able to deal with the likely effects of climate change it will almost certainly set back our efforts to eradicate poverty.

Until now much of the global debate around climate change, particularly among developed countries, has concerned climate mitigation that is, reducing emissions. The reality of these interventions is that we will be only lessening climate change, not preventing it.

Much of the warming that is locked into the system is due to emissions that have already occurred.

As countries move towards the finalisation of a post-2012 Kyoto framework, it is imperative cost-effective policies are developed that combine mitigation of global emissions, adaptation measures and sustainable development.

Adaptation refers primarily to measures that lessen the vulnerabilities that arise as a result of the negative effects of climate change.

While mitigation is mostly a global issue, adaptation is a local or regional issue and, therefore, adaptation needs will be different in different parts of the world.

Those countries or communities with the least capacity to adapt are the most vulnerable to climate change. The costs of adapting will be between $28-billion and $67-billion a year by 2030.

At present the world’s Adaptation Fund, set up using funds from a levy on Clean Development Mechanism Projects, is estimated to be worth only $36-million a year and is expected to rise to no more than $300-million a year by 2012.

As a result, there is a significant funding gap, as the Adaptation Fund in its current manifestation will contribute only 1% of the funds required to help the world adapt to the climate change that is already likely to happen.

The difficult reality for politicians from the developed world, which is responsible for the majority of human-induced climate change, is that they are going to need to contribute significant resources to adaptation measures in the post-2012 climate framework.

Further, any additional resources should not be allocated at the expense of current development aid.

Most of the legislators who are members of the G8+5 Climate Dialogue recommend that developed countries commit to compulsory financial payments to the Adaptation Fund, based on their respective abilities to pay.

Levies on carbon trading, a market which is likely to increase significantly in years to come, is another option.

Climate insurance is a further mechanism that will require significant research as an adaptation measure. Only about 4% of weather-related losses are covered in low-income countries. Barriers to increased insurance include cost and the lack of appropriate insurance-related products.

The recommendations by the G8+5 Climate Dialogue for the stimulation of insurance as a tool of adaptation include support for pilot projects at local, national and regional levels that make affordable insurance available to vulnerable governments and individuals, as well as improved information sharing and collection of weather data, climate predictive capacity and economic modeling data.

Further, insurance needs not only offset risk, it can also be used to reinforce adaptation responses, such as crop diversification and building in safer locations.

Much more emphasis needs to be placed on adaptation measures in the period going forward.

Besides the importance of adaptation as a means to sustain and, where possible, improve livelihoods, it is likely that no agreement on a post-2012 climate framework will be politically feasible if adaptation measures are not treated with the same importance as mitigation measures.

Gareth Morgan is an MP, DA spokesperson on environmental affairs and member of the G8+5 Climate Dialogue

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