Why good governance is key for countries facing climate disruption

I have a weakness for Top Gear, the car-cum-adventure show on the BBC. The original trio of hosts have since moved on to another show, after their tedious jibes and racism eventually proved to be too much for the British Broadcasting Corporation.

Jeremy Clarkson, the more famous of the three, has long been a climate crisis sceptic. In a November special for their new show, the trio went down the Mekong in southeast Asia, and struggled with an often dry river system.

In the episode, Clarkson said: “The irony is not lost on me. A man who hosted a car programme for 30 years limited to seven miles an hour by global warming.”

This is the problem with simple narratives. Climate change, or the global heating that drives it, do not cause events. Climate is a threat multiplier, so it exacerbates events such as floods, droughts and wildfires.

It has a cruel way of exposing existing failures, which is why good governance is so important in countries preparing for a changing climate.

One of the main reasons the Mekong was so dry is dams are being built in China. The upper Mekong, which is mostly in China, gets its water from rainfall and snowmelt from the Chinese-occupied Tibetan plateau. Work done by American researchers, and published this week, says the 11 dams on that part of the Mekong were holding back water.

For the research — Monitoring the Quality of Water Flowing Through the Upper Mekong Basin Under Natural (Unimpeded) Conditions — they used satellite images, which led them to conclude that there was enough water in the upper Mekong, but it wasn’t getting downstream. This combined with a drought guaranteed a water shortage in countries such as Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar.

Climate change means wild variations in rainfall. It means countries run out of water. People die.

But it is far more dangerous when it plays into existing problems and power dynamics. South Africa has long pumped pollutants into the rivers that are shared with Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Eswatini and Mozambique. Those countries have little power to force accountability. In 1998 South Africa invaded Lesotho, ostensibly to quell a military coup, but allegedly to secure its interests there — the crucial Katse Dam.

On the Zambezi, more dams are planned for hydroelectric power schemes. On the Nile, a dam built by Ethiopia threatens the water that supplies the Egyptian economy. This has sparked tension.

More droughts and floods, driven by climate change, will expose competing political pressures.

This will be what sparks so many of the wars of the future.

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


Subscribers only

Poachers in prisons tell their stories

Interviews with offenders provide insight into the structure of illegal wildlife trade networks

Covid-overflow hospital in ruins as SIU investigates

A high-level probe has begun into hundreds of millions of rand spent by the Gauteng health department to refurbish a hospital that is now seven months behind schedule – and lying empty

More top stories

Bitcoin rules take edge off crypto-nite

New regulations for cryptocurrency exchanges could boost investor confidence in such assets

An experiment in what school could be

Two Limpopo principals will be helping to create radically reimagined communities of learning: schools as living systems

Covid-19 on the rise in Zimbabwe

The South African variant of the virus is ‘clinically present’, while a lockdown tries to limit new infections

The inefficiency of the Gini coefficient

To simplify complex inequality into a single statistic doesn’t address how to accurately assess (or reduce) South Africa’s large wealth divide

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…