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Conspicuous absence of plans to mitigate climate change

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The roofs of these homes in Strand, Cape Town, were damaged during the severe weather that wreaked havoc in the province last month. One of the biggest risks we face is that of climate change. We need to know how seriously political parties who want to govern are taking this threat, say the writers. – Picture: Ayanda Ndamane / Independent Newspapers

By Michael Sutcliffe and Sue Bannister

Every single day we receive graphic warnings of how climate variability is impacting disastrously on the lives of people. The dramatic scenes in Dubai and other parts of the Gulf region a few weeks ago showed the effects of intense rainstorms with more than 400 flights cancelled, hundreds of planes diverted and chaotic scenes around the cities.

These heavy rains were the highest ever recorded in the United Arab Emirates, flooding portions of major highways and the world’s busiest airport, Dubai International. Who would have thought this would happen?

Back in South Africa, there is no doubt that emergencies and natural disasters are on the increase. In the second half of last year, for example, there were more than 80 serious such incidents in six of our provinces, with initial national funding of over R300 million provided to give emergency support to more than 10,000 persons affected by fires, floods, heavy rainfall and gale-force winds, among other incidents.

The longer-term support in these cases will amount to many billions of rand.

As professors Stefan Grab and David Nash have argued, the disastrous flood that hit Durban in April 2022 was the most catastrophic natural disaster yet recorded in KwaZulu-Natal in terms of lives lost, homes and infrastructure damaged or destroyed and economic impact. However, our governmental responses to such climate variability vary.

In the case of eThekwini, significant criticism has been made of the municipality’s lack of preparedness in its response to the April 2022 floods, including its failure to timeously spend the monies allocated to it from the national government to address the damage. To date, some families are still displaced and additional work is continuing, some of which has been affected by additional storms.

These disasters require continuous and integrated multisectoral, multidisciplinary processes of planning and implementation of measures aimed at among others preventing and reducing risk.

There is no doubt that, in this election season, we need to ask all political parties: What is it that they feel should be done to address the issue of climate change going forward?

A scan of the manifestos of the major parties shows significant variability across the parties.

The ANC, for example, argues for the need to work with other countries in the fight against climate change, global poverty and inequality in line with applicable international resolutions. The party’s manifesto proposes ways to mitigate and adapt to climate change, including “A just transition to a cleaner, greener future can lead to new jobs and secure the competitiveness of our exports… Prioritise green technologies, energy efficiency, waste management, climate-smart agriculture and infrastructure and eco-friendly production processes to ensure long-term sustainability.

“This includes developing and executing a plan to become a world player in green hydrogen, battery and electric vehicle production… Provide resources to maintain ageing infrastructure to prevent fire and other disasters.”

The IFP argues that “the next 10 years in human history will be the most crucial for our survival on this planet. The world is facing a triple environmental crisis, which includes biodiversity loss, climate disruption, and ever-increasing pollution.

“The proliferation of single-use plastics has contributed significantly to this growing environmental crisis, with millions of tons of plastic waste ending up in our oceans, rivers and landfills yearly… Engage with stakeholders, including workers, unions, communities and businesses to develop policies and strategies that promote a fair and equitable transition to a sustainable future.”

The EFF suggests it “will officially adopt the civil society-driven one million climate jobs’ initiative as a government programme. Through this initiative, the EFF government will create one million jobs aimed at transitioning South Africa from wholly coal-based energy sources to a fair mix of energy sources comprising fossil, nuclear, and renewable energy.

“The EFF government will reduce carbon emissions by 10% by 2029 and will renegotiate our Nationally Determined Contribution which includes components on climate adaptation and mitigation as well as support requirements for both … The EFF government will progressively introduce carbon taxes as one additional tool in the fight for sustainable development”.

The DA provides the least detail in its manifesto to climate change, arguing that it would be “committing to achieving net-zero carbon emissions to reduce the impact of energy generation on the climate. We will achieve this by diversifying the energy mix”.

What is certain, though, is that there can be no doubt that one of the biggest risks we have to deal with, going forward, is that of climate variability and change. This includes dealing with the following, all of which will have serious impacts on people and infrastructure:

  • – Temperatures for most areas of South Africa are expected to increase, with more extreme heat and extreme cold events.
  • – While some areas have experienced increased amounts of rain, most of the country will have lower average rainfall.
  • – Incidents of strong winds, lightning, heavy rain and flash flooding are increasing
  • – Rises in sea levels can impact groundwater resources and other infrastructure.

In addition to the requirements for new infrastructure, there is also a need to assess all existing infrastructure to understand how vulnerable this is to climate change and whether it can adequately deal with the increased demands to be placed on it.

This climate variability affects our lives in different ways. In addition, the different parts of our country need varied strategies and action plans to address effects as diverse as destruction of strategic infrastructure, reduction of water, worsening water quality, increased diseases, blocked stormwater and sewerage systems, damage to property due to rising sea levels, adaption to changing crop types and reduced grazing land, among others.

Some of our municipalities, such as eThekwini and Cape Town, have undertaken research and developed their own climate action plans.

Cape Town focuses attention on urban cooling and heat responsiveness; water security and drought readiness; water sensitivity, flood readiness and storm management; coastal management and resilience; managing fire risk and responsiveness; spatial and resource inclusivity; carbon-neutral energy for work creation and economic development; zero-emission buildings and precincts; mobility for quality of life and livelihoods; and circular waste economy.

eThekwini’s climate action plan focuses on adaptation actions (biodiversity, food security, health, rise in sea level and coastal protection, and water and sanitation) and mitigation (energy, waste pollution and transport).

In the months and years ahead, the effects of climate variability and change will increasingly dominate our lives. As we head into this election season, we must ask our leaders: Are you ready to lead us through that change?

Michael Sutcliffe and Sue Bannister are directors at City Insight