SA's greenhouse emissions very high, says WWF

South Africa’s greenhouse gas emissions per capita are similar to that of industrialised countries, partly because of its strong reliance on coal, an environmental organisation said on Wednesday.

“South Africa’s emissions are very high,” said the World Wide Fund for Nature’s (WWF) local climate change manager, Richard Worthington.

“It is well above the developing country average partly because of our strong dependence on coal.”

He was speaking in Johannesburg at the release of climate scorecards for G8 and G5 countries which map their carbon emission trends.

The scorecards check for improvements since 1990, the current status of each country and its policies for the future.

Out of the G8 countries, Germany received the best score, followed by the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United States (rated seventh out of the G8) and Canada in the last place.

Worthington said the G5 countries, which are Brazil, India, China, Mexico and South Africa, had done more to commit themselves to climate change goals than some of the G8 countries.

Although the G5 countries were not ranked like the G5 countries, the scorecard showed that South Africa’s current carbon emissions were 11 tonnes a person a year.

“To be carbon neutral by 2050, emissions in South Africa need to be one tonne per person per annum,” said Worthington.

Brazil was currently standing at five tonnes of carbon emissions a person a year, China and India were standing at six tonnes and Mexico at two tonnes.

This while 73% of South Africa’s population had access to electricity, compared to 99% in China, 95% in Brazil and Mexico and 43% in India, according to the information released by the WWF.

Among the G8 countries, Germany’s emissions were 12 tonnes a person a year. The UK had 11 tonnes, Italy nine, Japan 12, Russia 16 and the US 25.

“South Africa’s emissions per capita are only slightly below the average of industrialised countries,” said Worthington.

However, the government’s long-term climate change plans showed promise, he said.

“South Africa provided the most comprehensive plan [out of the G5 countries] on options to reduce emissions in the future ... We’re not there yet, but we seem to be going in the right direction.”

Worthington said the African National Congress (ANC) acknowledged the importance of climate change goals at its conference in Polokwane in 2007.

He quoted from a Polokwane resolution, which stated that the ANC would “recognise that climate change is a new threat on a global scale and poses an enormous burden upon South Africans and Africans as a whole, because we are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change”.

Asked if he had any message to President Jacob Zuma, Worthington replied: “I guess the message would be [to] go back and read the Polokwane resolution again.”

On the new administration’s attitude toward the challenges of climate change, he said: “It’s too early to tell, but so far, so good ...

“South Africa has acknowledged that emissions need to be reduced by 30% by 2050.”

Climate change refers to changes in temperature on earth that are happening too fast because of human intervention.

According to the South African Weather Service website, climate change could affect South Africa by causing unreliable rainfall which could negatively affect agriculture and forestry.

Climate change also causes sea levels to increase, but the consequences of that in South Africa “are not very extensive because the coastline is relatively steep”, says the website.

However, higher sea levels could create changes in ocean currents, which could cause “major changes in several fish resources important to the country”.

Small isolated plant populations may go extinct in South Africa as a result of climate change.

“South Africa has about 10% of all the plant species in the world, of which about half occur nowhere else on earth.

“Warming, and a change in the seasonal rainfall of the Cape floral kingdom, are issues of concern to conservationists,” states the website.

The Kyoto Protocol, which will come under discussion again at Copenhagen later this year, aims to get countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prevent the earth from getting warmer too fast for nature to cope.

According to the plan of action, industrialised countries must fund climate change programmes in developing nations.—Sapa

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