Scenarios guide decisions

The department of environmental affairs and the South African National Biodiversity Institute have developed a set of Long-term Adaptation Scenarios (LTASs) that accompany its National Climate Change Response White Paper used to inform key decisions on future development and adaptation planning.

This work has been done in partnership and consultation with sector departments and key stakeholders. It investigates these five sectors:

Climate change impacts on the water sector are expected in rainfall and evaporation rates, which are expected to influence climate factors such as wind speed, air temperature and soils, geology, land cover and topography.

Specific impacts include less irrigation and drinking water availability due to increasing water temperatures linked to higher ambient temperatures, the incubation and transmission of water-borne diseases, increased fish mortality and the deterioration in water quality.

Human health and ecosystems are likely to be impacted by increased rainfall, flash floods and regional flooding including overflowing sewers.

At the same time, longer periods of drought would dilute wastewater discharges and irrigation return flows, resulting in reduced water quality and associated downstream health risks.

The LTAS adaptation response strategies require coherence and consistency in adaptation planning at all levels of government, although specific interventions will differ for each level and focus area.

Priority functions for the department of water are seen as a policy review to enable flexible frameworks as well as flexible and robust infrastructure planning.

Maintenance and rebuilding of ecological infrastructure in vulnerable systems is seen as a key priority, as well as institutional oversight to ensure that water-related institutions build adaptive management capacity.

Lastly, effective information management and maintenance of monitoring and evaluation systems are required, coupled with sustainable and accessible financial management.

Agriculture is a sector that stands to suffer tremendously if the effects of climate change are left unattended.

Projections indicate that yields of rain-fed crops such as maize could fall by much as 25%, or rise by 10%, This gap could be reduced to between -10% and +5% should emissions stabilise at 450 parts per million.

Geographical impacts could see the western regions of South Africa become less suitable for maize production, while viticulture in the western and southern Cape could be substantially reduced.

Similarly, the projected reduced runoff in deciduous fruit industry in the Western Cape will negatively affect the production of horticultural crops.

In contrast, the total suitable area for commercial plantations in KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and the Eastern Cape will increase along the eastern seaboard and adjacent areas.

Adaptation interventions for the agriculture sector are identified as sustainable water resource use and management, including catchment management.

Ecosystem services will need to be maintained and restored, while sustainable farming systems, including integrated crop and livestock management are seen as a priority.

The forestry sector is going to have to focus on community-based projects while the skills of local communities will have to be diversified as the nature of the industry changes.

Commercial operations will have to investigate and implement climate-resilient forestry methods.

South Africa benefits from a wide range of marine resources that contribute to local, national and international food security.

The commercial fishing industry contributes about 1% of gross domestic product, and provides an estimated 27 000 jobs, with more than double the number of jobs in secondary industries such as fish processing, transporting fish products and boat building.

The LTAS research indicates that changes in precipitation and fresh water flow, sea-level rise and increased temperatures and increased coastal storms have changed physical processes and biological responses in estuaries.

This has resulted in many species of tropical fish extending their range into the estuaries of temperate transition zones.

An eastward expansion in the distribution of kelp in recent years has been linked to cooling along the south coast, while an eastward shift in resource availability of West Coast rock lobster has had serious ecological, fisheries and resource management implications.

Fisheries that are successfully managed to achieve resource sustainability will be better positioned in the long term to adapt to the effects of climate change.

Management strategies should include ecosystem-based management practices that focus on rebuilding over-exploited fish resources and impacted ecosystems, maintenance of genetic diversity and improving marine habitat diversity and ecosystem health.

Biodiversity is crucial to ecosystem health, and healthy ecosystems are central to human well-being.

These natural ecosystems are under pressure from land use change and related processes causing degradation, as well as invasive alien species.

Accelerated climate change (resulting in increasing temperature, rising atmospheric CO2 and changing rainfall patterns) is exacerbating these existing pressures.

To increase the resilience of biodiversity and ecosystem service delivery under future climate conditions, synergies could be developed during adaptation planning and implementation between biodiversity, poverty reduction and development objectives.

The potential of biodiversity and ecological infrastructure to achieve sector-specific adaptation and development benefits would need to be mainstreamed into adaptation, development and poverty reduction processes and strategies at national and local level.

Co-ordination across sectors is essential in this mainstreaming process.

The appropriate and specific types of local action still requires further definition in biome specific adaptation plans.

Key elements in this would include strong stakeholder engagement and implementation at local level, prioritising low-cost approaches with multiple benefits, integrating adaptation and mitigation responses, and making use of indigenous knowledge.

South Africa faces multiple health risks as a consequence of climate change. These threats include heat stress, vector-borne diseases (such as malaria, dengue fever and yellow fever), extreme weather events, air pollution, communicable diseases (such as Aids, TB and cholera), and non-communicable diseases (such as cardio-vascular and respiratory diseases).

Other potential effects include an impact on mental and occupational health, while the far-reaching impact of climate change is likely to produce food insecurity, hunger and malnutrition.

The national climate change response Policy has identified key adaptation measures to reduce these impacts on human health.

Key among them are reducing certain criteria pollutants, such as ozone and sulphur dioxide, and public awareness campaigns to counter, such threats need to be developed and strengthened.

Programmes should include the development of heat-health action plans, improving biosafety, and developing a spatial and temporal health data capture system.

This article forms part of a supplement paid for by the GIZ, department of environmental affairs and partners. Contents and photographs were supplied and signed off by the dpartment

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