/ 21 July 2008

Global warming could have ‘shattering’ effect on Kruger park

A 2,5 degrees Celsius rise in the average world temperature above 1990 levels could cause up to two-thirds of all animal species in the Kruger National Park to become extinct, Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism Marthinus van Schalkwyk warned on Monday.

A growing water scarcity in Africa could also lead to increasing numbers of so-called ”environmental refugees” fleeing to better-resourced countries on the continent.

Speaking at the opening of a climate-change conference at Kirstenbosch in Cape Town, Van Schalkwyk said that should global warming continue unabated, it could cause massive damage to South Africa’s flagship reserve.

”An extensive report about the effects of climate change … shows that if the phenomenon continues unabated, the damage to one of South Africa’s most celebrated and popular conservation and tourism areas could be shattering,” Van Schalkwyk said.

This is according to an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, published in June this year.

Van Schalkwyk said a global response is needed to keep global warming in check.

”To avoid the worst impacts of climate change, all countries need to carry their fair share of responsibility to limit a global temperature increase to below two degrees Celsius. It will be a failure of this generation of leaders if any developed country shirks its responsibility for the problem.”

South Africa itself cannot continue along a business-as-usual path without carbon constraints.

Global warming is caused by the emission of greenhouse gasses, mainly carbon dioxide, released by the burning of fossil fuels.

South Africa now faces very difficult and important decisions relating to its own efforts to reduce and avoid emissions in order to mitigate against climate change.

Among these is building a low-carbon economy and a climate-resilient society, and adapting to unavoidable climate change.

Van Schalkwyk highlighted evidence from the IPCC report, which he said underscores Africa’s vulnerability to climate change. This includes, among other things:

  • Under a worst-case scenario, crop revenues in Africa could decrease by up to 90% by 2100, and small-scale farmers would be the hardest hit;
  • The growing water scarcity, increasing population and degradation of ecosystems in Africa could lead to an increase in the number of environmental refugees who flee to countries that are better resourced. This holds huge conflict potential on the continent;
  • A temperature increase of 2,5 to three degrees Celsius this century could lead to the extinction of 24% to 59% of mammals, 28% to 40% of birds, 13% to 70% of butterflies, 18% to 80% of other invertebrates and 21% to 45% of reptiles in the Kruger National Park. A loss of 66% of all animal species could become a reality if nothing is done; and
  • In terms of the threat to biodiversity, 5 000 plant species in Africa could be impacted by climate change. By 2050, the South African fynbos biome could lose 51% to 61% of its extent due to decreased winter rains
  • .

Van Schalkwyk said the longer South Africa delays taking action, ”the greater the mitigation and adaptation costs will be”. — Sapa