/ 7 June 2022

Gauteng premier sees ‘civilisational threat’ of climate change on the horizon

New Gauteng premier David Makhura.
Gauteng premier David Makhura.

The escalating intensity of the climate crisis poses a “civilisational threat” to any little progress that humanity has made, threatening to wipe it out, according to Gauteng Premier David Makhura.

“When it comes to the climate crisis, the question is whether humanity will be completely disposed of from its habitat, which is the planet … All the urgency around rapid technological change will appear as nothing if we don’t mobilise the necessary resources, institutional policy and public mobilisation around the immediacy of this [crisis],” he said.

Makhura was addressing the inaugural meeting of the premier’s expert advisory committee on climate change, which comprises members from the government, private sector, research institutions, NGOs and industry. Its objectives are to guide and accelerate the implementation of the Gauteng City-Region Over-Arching Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan and provide expert advice on elements of a just transition pathway for the Gauteng-City Region.

The experts have been drawn from the Water Research Commission, South African Medical Research Council, South African National Biodiversity Institute, South African Weather Service, Green Buildings Council of SA, Greenpeace Africa, South African Petroleum Industry Association and the National Business Initiative, among others.

The climate crisis is the “existential reality of our time”, Makhura said. “We have established this expert panel, not because we have nothing else to do and not because this is something compulsory and is decided at the United Nations … but because this is a very important and urgent area that poses a threat to human existence. That’s the resources and energy we want to dedicate to this work.” 

According to Parks Tau, the MEC for economic development, agriculture, environment and rural development, the expert committee is a “provincial iteration” of the Presidential Climate Commission

Rapid urbanisation

Poorer countries and those in the Global South are bearing the burden of more frequent climate disasters, which is due largely to infrastructural and institutional weaknesses and the social conditions where people live and settle, Makhura said.

“Most of the infrastructure in our institutions is not climate resilient. This poses huge existential problems for more than half of humanity … Those who pollute must not be able to get away with it.”

Rapid urbanisation, he said, will increasingly put pressure on the abilities of cities to cope with climate impacts as two-thirds of Africans, by 2050, will live in urban areas that are increasingly overburdened with the threat of climate disasters.

“We see in the cities of the Global South, in those cities people live in large numbers and housing conditions become a big challenge. People settle in areas where they are not supposed to settle.” 

Irreversible impacts

According to Tau, the rise in weather and climate extremes has led to irreversible effects as natural and human systems are pushed beyond their ability to adapt. 

“The sixth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) clearly indicates that anthropogenic [human-induced] climate change has resulted in cumulative adverse effects to nature and people, beyond natural climate variability. 

“Therefore, it is incumbent upon all of us to endeavour to work collectively towards limiting global warming to close to 1.5°C as the world,  to … substantially reduce projected losses and damages related to climate change on human systems and ecosystems.” 

Although some laudable development and climate adaptation efforts have reduced vulnerability, “it is regrettable that the most vulnerable people and systems are observed to be disproportionately affected”, he said, citing the recent devastating flooding in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape.

“These floods and their associated mortalities are a clear indication of the urgency required to implement adaptation programmes, which will increase the country’s resilience to the effects of climate change.” 

Major challenges 

Tau said although the Gauteng City-Region has a strong economic base, a vast infrastructure network, an established disaster management network and its three metropolitans are national frontrunners in the climate change response, “the region remains vulnerable to the effects of urban sprawl, an ageing infrastructure and a concentration of informal settlements located in vulnerable areas”. 

“The IPCC also indicates that across all major sectors globally, net anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions have increased since 2010 and an increasing share of emissions can be attributed to urban areas.”

He said the Gauteng City-Region represents a significant portion of the national carbon footprint. A revised carbon footprint for Gauteng indicates that the province single- handedly contributes 33% of national emissions.

Makhura added that the region also has several other concerns including people who live in areas where there are mine dumps and geological instability. “Tackling these issues should be part of our comprehensive holistic response.”

The history of mining and the era of dirty industrialisation has “left scars on our land. And then consumption that does not take sustainability into account. That’s why our landfill sites are getting full all around us with all kinds of toxic things being dumped.

“We want to drive our country’s shift in energy, in water systems and infrastructure and development to greener technologies and more sustainable building and construction methodologies and technologies.”

Green hydrogen

Green hydrogen, Tau said, is “currently enjoying unprecedented political and business momentum. His department has entered into an agreement with Sasol on the industrialisation of green energy with a specific focus on green hydrogen. This agreement will run till August 2024 and will focus on the development and supply of green hydrogen to fund special economic zones in the province, he said. 

Similarly, his department has also entered into a memorandum of understanding with the Under2 Coalition, a network of states and regions committed to ambitious climate action. 

It had signed a memorandum of understanding with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, the department of trade, industry and competition and the National Cleaner Production Centre to upscale the programme to 1 000 participating companies.

“This programme will identify new synergies with medium to large-emitting industries, with the National Cleaner Production Centre and undertake resource efficient cleaner production assessments for various enterprises.”

The 11 response programmes that have been identified include natural resources, agriculture and agro-processing, disaster risk reduction and management, water security, commercial and institutional buildings, human settlements, energy supply, industry,  transport, waste management and health.