Climate costs South Africa 10% of its GDP

Floods. Droughts. Wildfires. Cyclones.

Massive weather events are wiping out entire communities and making life for everyone harder, more expensive and more dangerous. This is the reality of a world where carbon emissions are driving climate breakdown. But it’s a reality that is not being fairly shared.

Research from Stanford University, published this week, said poor countries along the tropics would have 24% larger economies if it wasn’t for global warming. This is because the world is 1°C hotter than it was a century ago. That warming means crops fail, economic productivity goes down and people get sick or die because of the heat.

South Africa is between 10% and 20% poorer than it would have been without that warming in the last six decades. Nigeria is 29% poorer and India is 30% poorer.

Conversely, the research — “Global warming has increased global inequality” — said that rich countries have benefited from this warming. By calculating temperature and economic growth between 1961 and 2010, the Stanford team found that already rich countries, mostly in colder climates, have growth spurts during an unusually hot year. This is because hotter weather moves them closer to what is known as the “empirical optimum” — the closer a country’s average temperature is to 13°C, the more its economy thrives. South Africa’s average is around 17°C and is only increasing with global warming.


The 19 countries with the highest carbon emissions have seen their economies grow by an average of 13%. Norway, for example, is 34% wealthier thanks to increased temperatures.

The researchers noted that; “The historical data clearly show that crops are more productive, people are healthier and we are more productive at work when temperatures are neither too hot nor too cold.”

Published in the peer-reviewed journal “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences”, the research built on previous work from Stanford University into the impact of temperature changes on economies. This found that hotter temperatures — regardless of their cause — speed up economic growth in rich countries and slow it down in poor countries.

The new research calculated 20 000 versions of how each country would have progressed without temperature increases. While this still leaves uncertainties because all sorts of things impact on economic growth, the sheer number of calculations and countries included resolved any obvious variables.

Doing this many calculations allowed the Stanford team to also conclude that global warming has meant countries are also more unequal. Because rich people can insulate themselves from extreme events — by buying food when the price goes up or by being able to claim from insurance — they can keep functioning. Those with few resources to start with do not have such a buffer.

This local and global inequality in the impact of global warming is the topic of fierce international negotiation. While China and India are massively growing their emissions, they still represent a fraction of total emissions in the last two centuries. China has emitted half of what the United States has. India a seventh.

In climate negotiations, the countries already being hammered by global warming have demanded that the countries responsible for emissions pay them for that damage. Island states, disappearing under rising sea levels, have allied with African countries to make this a part of the Paris Agreement on climate change. They have failed.

Now, it turns out that the perpetrators are already benefiting from their pollution. And those responsible for the least carbon emissions are paying the highest price. 

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Sipho Kings
Sipho Kings is the acting editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian

Related stories

How US foreign policy under Donald Trump has affected Africa

Lesotho has been used as a microcosm in this article to reflect how the foreign policy has affected Africa

Benefits of red meat ignored in shift towards plant-based diets

The World Wide Fund for Nature says change needs to happen to halt the negative effects of livestock production on biodiversity and climate

Is solar power the answer to Southern Africa’s energy crisis?

Africa’s favourable weather conditions means solar energy uptake could be accelerated with a few nudges in the right direction

We should not ignore Guinea’s constitutional coup

Citizens have for a year protested against the president seeking a third term in office despite a two-term limit. Many have been killed — and 90 more people died in this week’s crackdown

Conflict until the cows come home

Climate change and civil war are escalating tensions between South Sudan’s herders and crop farmers, who are competing over land

September’s hot world record reignites climate alarm

Globally the month was 0.05°C warmer than in 2019 and 0.8°C warmer than in 2016, which previously held the records for the warmest and second warmest September on record.
Advertising

Subscribers only

SAA bailout raises more questions

As the government continues to grapple with the troubles facing the airline, it would do well to keep on eye on the impending Denel implosion

ANC’s rogue deployees revealed

Despite 6 300 ANC cadres working in government, the party’s integrity committee has done little to deal with its accused members

More top stories

Eastern Cape universities concerned by rising Covid cases

Fort Hare says 26 more students have tested positive while Walter Sisulu University says some of its students have been admitted to hospital.

SAA in talks to recoup R350-million in blocked funds...

The cash-strapped national carrier is in the process of recouping its blocked funds from Zimbabwe, which could go towards financing the airline’s business rescue plan

NSFAS’s woes do not help its mandate

Nehawu wants the scheme’s administrator, Randall Carolissen, to be removed

Unions cry foul over SABC dismissal costs and retrenchments

Broadcaster bodies say claims that a recent skills audit is unrelated to retrenchments are ‘irrational’
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday