Picture: Fadel Senna / AFP – A herd of sheep walk over cracked earth on August 8, 2022, at al-Massira dam in Ouled Essi Masseoud village, some 140km south from Morocco’s economic capital Casablanca, amidst the country’s worst drought in at least four decades. Globally, the World Bank estimates that by 2050, if nothing is done to prevent it, there will be 216 million people internally displaced by climate change, including 19.3 million in North Africa.
By Dominic Naidoo
As a tumultuous year comes to an abrupt and unforgiving close, many would agree that 2022 will not be missed. It was a year of unprecedented action on the climate crisis but also one marred by weather disasters and doom-laden reports not only in South Africa, but across the globe.
The most notable climate disaster to hit South Africa this year were the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) floods which drowned nearly 500 people in less than 3 days in April. It was later confirmed to be one of the worst natural disasters in more than a century.
But these were not the only floods to hit the country in 2022. On January 8, flash floods killed at least seven people in the Eastern Cape, and 10 days later, more than 100 people were evacuated from their homes after severe flooding in Ladysmith and Msinga in KZN.
Heavy rainfall overnight on February 4 to 5, caused flooding in several parts of Tshwane and Ekurhuleni municipalities in Gauteng Province, including Mamelodi, Centurion and Olifantsfontein.
One hundred and 38 (138) people were left homeless after severe flooding in eMadlangeni and Greater Kokstad local municipalities in KZN also on February 4. Heavy rainfall over two days in June caused widespread flooding in areas of Cape Town and the Western Cape Province.
In September, a wall of a mining dam in Jagersfontein, Free State, collapsed causing floods, mud and debris to flow into nearby settlements. At least three people died while around 40 were taken to hospital including 23 with hypothermia and four with broken limbs.
Two weeks ago, on December 3, 14 people died after being swept away by a flash flood in the Jukskei River in Johannesburg. The flood was caused by heavy rains.
In stark contrast, parts of Southern Africa have also been experiencing severe drought since 2018 with the recent veld fires in Nelson Mandela Bay a shocking testament to the impacts of prolonged periods of low rainfall.
Carbon Brief’s recent analysis of disaster records found that extreme weather events in Africa have killed at least 4,000 people and affected a further 19 million between January and October this year.
However, the impacts of African extreme events often go unrecorded, especially for heatwaves, and true figures are likely to be much higher.
The investigation also showed that drought and famine killed 2,500 people in Uganda and affected eight million in Ethiopia this year; more than 600 people have died in Nigeria’s worst floods in a decade, including 76 people who were killed when a boat carrying flood victims capsized. Southern African countries, including Madagascar and Mozambique, were battered by six severe storms this year, killing at least 890 people, temperatures reached 48℃ in Tunisia in July, fanning the flames of extreme wildfires and nearly two million people in Chad were affected by floods in August and October.
No country, rich or poor, were spared the impacts of a rapidly changing climate.
Suburbs seared and motorways melted as the mercury hit a record 40.3°C in parts of the UK this July. While summer temperatures have been creeping upward for years, for many Britons, the milestone represents an unavoidable sign that climate change is here.
But the heatwave paled in comparison to the dozens of extreme weather events across the globe in 2022, including severe heat waves in China, wildfires in California, drought-shrunken rivers across Europe and when heavy rains and melting glaciers turned a third of Pakistan into an inland sea.
Pakistan’s floods left nearly 2,000 people dead and 20 million needing humanitarian assistance. No country in the world could have prepared for devastation of that magnitude. “We became a victim of something which we had nothing to do with,” said the country’s prime minister, Shehbaz Sharif, at COP27 in November.
A Pakistan underwater, a shrivelled up Europe and a starving Africa were some of the factors that pushed forward the adoption of the historic loss and damage agreement inked at the UN climate change conference.
Until then, richer nations have blocked any move to compensate countries in the Global South for climate change-related destruction, even though it has already cost them an estimated $593 billion or R10.18 trillion.
But this year’s climate change conference of the parties managed to confirm little else other than our leaders ability to argue moot points. The deal merely set out countries’ intentions to pay for some of the loss, not how much will be paid, when, or to whom. The conference even failed to call for all fossil fuels use to be phased out.
In February, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a dire warning that climate impacts were accelerating and could quickly become irreversible, putting millions of people at risk of food scarcity, disease and heat stress.
And, according to Climate Action Tracker, the chances of us avoiding such a grim future are pretty slim. The world is on course to blow past its target of limiting global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, thanks to a failure to set sufficiently robust national objectives, many of which are still not being met.
But, alas, good people did score some points for mother nature and the climate this year.
South Africa’s Presidential Climate Commission (PCC) convened its 8th Ordinary meeting on December 2, 2022, to consider the recently approved South Africa’s Just Energy Transition Investment Plan (JET-IP), outcomes of COP27, as well as recommendations on its assessment of findings from the KZN Floods.
PCC chairperson, Valli Moosa said in a press statement that “at the request of the President, and following its successful launch at COP27, the PCC will conduct public and sectoral consultations on the Just Energy Transition Investment Plan with an intention of making a collective recommendations to the President and to government in the first quarter of 2023.”
“Through this consultation we need to ensure that JET-IP lives to a just transition that recognises the direct and indirect impact that the energy transition has on livelihoods, workers, and communities,” Moosa said.
The JET-IP, for the five-year period 2023-2027 sets out the scale of need and the investments required to achieve the decarbonisation commitments in our Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), which outlines the rate at which South Africa plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and represents South Africa’s fair contribution to the goals of the Paris Agreement.
The consultations will be held from January 11 to February 28, 2023.
Across the Atlantic, the election of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Brazil raised hopes he will undo some of the ecological damage wrought by his predecessor, Jair Messias Bolsonaro.
US president Joe Biden has passed the landmark Inflation Reduction Act, which promises millions of dollars in subsidies for low-carbon technologies such as wind, electric vehicles and batteries. It has already sparked massive investment in the US and is likely to boost international progress.
The UK continued to punch above its weight in the booming climate tech sector. Green British startups raised £6.3bn in the first 10 months of 2022, compared to £3.4m in 2021. But this could lag in 2023 as economic turmoil hits the tech sector.
New UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, recently imposed a windfall tax on fossil fuel company profits. It was welcomed following soaring gas prices across Europe due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which underlined the importance of the UK’s growing energy security.
A record 19.9GW of power was wind-generated on one day in May, more than half of that day’s demand, while the electricity grid went for nearly a month without burning coal.
But, as vocal climate protests such as Just Stop Oil were keen to point out, our shift to decarbonisation does not mean we can rest easy. As carbon levels in the atmosphere soar, while budgets shrink, the challenge for businesses and government alike will be to continue the momentum of environmental action.
All in all, it was both a good and bad year for the climate, we can only hope that next year will be better. It has to be.
Dominic Naidoo is an environmental writer and activist