Last week saw the biggest climate protests in history. Hundreds of thousands of people around the globe demanded that their leaders do more to deal with the climate crisis. On Monday, the United Nations held a special climate summit, where world leaders were asked to present much more ambitious plans to lower carbon emissions and help those already affected by the changing climate.
On the same day, the UN released a report — United in Science — that pulled together all the research that has been done about climate in recent years.
It doesn’t make for happy reading. Essentially, if every country does what it had promised to do to lower carbon emissions — promises contained in Nationally Determined Contributions to achieve the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement — the world will still heat by up to 3.4°C this century.
That’s more than double what scientists say is survivable.
It will cause intense droughts and floods, which will make farming nearly impossible. It will result in thousands of other collapses in the ecosystems that support and sustain human life.
Countries tend not to do what they have promised to do.
To avoid that warming, the report says countries need to triple their ambitions, hugely increasing what they have promised to do. That would translate to a drop of global carbon emissions by 45% by 2030, and to net zero by 2050.
South Africa is far off this target. Climate Action Tracker —a group that collates what every country in the world is doing about the climate crisis — says that if all countries acted the same way that South Africa is, then the world will warm by up to 4°C.
This scenario could be very different. Eskom’s coal-fired power plants are responsible for almost half of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. These are being phased out but the process is slow because the government did not commit to an ambitious renewable energy build.
So the old power plants will still be releasing carbon in the 2030s.
Much of the blame for this is on the leadership of deposed president Jacob Zuma, who blocked anything that was not nuclear energy.
There has also been a failure to communicate the climate crisis. Last week, just a few hundred people marched in Johannesburg in the global climate strikes — and maybe a thousand marched in Cape Town. Afrobarometer research shows that 59% of people in South Africa do not know what climate change is.
The scale of the climate crisis — and its seemingly slow pace at which it unfolds — makes this a difficult story for journalists to write about.
To better cover the climate crisis, over the next few pages — and in the coming months — the Mail & Guardian will publish stories about the climate crisis from around the world.
This is journalism that comes from Covering Climate Now, a network of more than 300 publications that are committed to covering the climate crisis.
This includes publications such as The Guardian in the United Kingdom, Hindustan Times in India, Mother Jones in the United States and Al Jazeera in Qatar. Put together, these outlets have an audience of more than a billion people.