Africa’s subtropical regions are warming at 1.5 times the global average. For South Africa, sitting on the Tropic of Capricorn, this has meant temperature increases in the last few decades of nearly a degree Celcius.
“Annual temperatures have been rising at an alarming rate across the continent over the five decades from 1961 to 2010.” The warning is contained in new research, released by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in Pretoria this week.
This equated to a 3.2°C average increase per century – without factoring in the continually increasing rate of carbon emissions globally.
The research – “Projections of rapidly rising surface temperatures over Africa under low mitigation” – was published through a collaboration with the Council and other groups such as the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in California.
It looked at what happens to climate over the continent if little is done to lower carbon emissions globally. World governments are meeting at the COP21 climate change conference in Paris in November in an attempt to come to an agreement that would ensure countries lower their emissions.
The core target of the negotiations is to create an agreement that keeps average global temperature increases below 2°C. The UN’s climate change research body has said this would allow the ecosystems that humans rely on to still function. Any greater increase will create “severe, pervasive and irreversible” change.
African countries have consistently argued that the maximum allowable increase should be pegged at 1.5°C because anything more would have such serious consequences for the continent.
The CSIR research released this week backs this point: “Dramatic increases in the number of heat-wave days and high fire-danger days, and reduced soil-moisture availability, are consistently projected.”
The continent’s weakness not only came from the greater temperature increases experienced in the continent, but also from its low ability to adapt to a changing climate. The research noted that subsistence farmers and communities were already struggling to adapt as rainfall patterns and water availability changed.
This weakness would be further exacerbated by periodic climate phenomenon, such as this year’s El Niño. The researchers said that this year’s El Niño – which warms the Eastern Pacific and leads to floods and drought worldwide – had already increased sea temperatures in that part of the world by 2°C. This would only increase, and would probably break records for ocean temperatures in that part of the world.
As a result, the team predicted that this year’s summer would be the hottest South Africa had ever experienced.
In other research this month, the CSIR said El Niño would decrease rainfall by up to 150mm on average. This would further exacerbate the drought in five provinces, and add to crop shortages – a third of the maize crop was lost in the last summer growing season.
South Africa’s proposal to mitigate climate change
The warnings come as South Africa’s environment department and environment portfolio committee consult with members of the public on the country’s plan to lower carbon emissions and adapt to a changing climate.
The proposed plan has been widely criticised for being too vague and allowing South Africa enough room to both increase and decrease its carbon emissions. The only commitment to date by government was at the 2009 climate conference in Copenhagen, where the country said it would lower its carbon emissions by 42% by 2025.