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The Effect of Climate Change in South Africa

Aug 19, 2021 02:00PM ● By Anand Subramanian
desert with cracks in ground with a single tree

Figure 1 - Visual Representation of Climate Change. Source- Pexel

South Africa's economic development is highly based on environmental industries such as agriculture and forestry. While the region is rich in ecosystems, natural resources, economic activity, and cultures, it is also marked by fast population expansion, coastal urbanization, encroachment into environmentally marginal regions, and poverty. Temperature increases and reductions in rainfall harm these sectors' production while also affecting public health and the environment, clean water and sanitation, and socioeconomic progress. The cities and towns would be badly impacted if immediate adaptation measures are not implemented, leaving millions exposed and susceptible to climate change. So, let us confront the seismic “elephant in the room” as well as spread awareness for the future. 

Summer temperatures in South Africa range from 15°C to 36°C, while winter temperatures range from -2°C to 26°C. According to the World Bank Group, South Africa has already seen significant temperature rises during the 1960s, when average temperatures climbed by 1.5°C, with more pronounced increases in the country's dry interior parts. With current climate change advancing at a frightening rate, the population can anticipate coastal warming to reach 3 to 4°C and interior warming to reach 6 to 7°C by 2100. As the temperature rises, many sections of the country will become drier, particularly in the western and interior parts, resulting in a decrease in water availability. Climate change's devastation has also resulted in weather-related risks such as floods, wildfires, storms, and droughts. According to the International Disaster Database, there have been around 90 weather-related catastrophes in South Africa since the early 1980s, resulting in nearly $6 billion in economic damage and affecting approximately 25 million South African people. These disasters have grown by around 60% over the last two decades as a result of vulnerable populations and infrastructure whose growth is sluggish in comparison to mainstream climate change adaptation practices. The increased frequency and severity of weather catastrophes, along with a growing and urbanizing population, poor land-use practices, expanding informal settlements, and sluggish deployment of resilient infrastructure, are all expected to result in large losses.

Figure 2 - Causes of Climate Change. Source - Pexel

The impacts of climate change on human health are complex, with several pathways and interconnections within and between sectors. Climate change and unpredictability have exacerbated the effects on human health. In South Africa, studies have focused on climate-sensitive health outcomes such as diarrhea, respiratory illness, cardiovascular disease, and vector-borne infectious illnesses such as malaria. Climate change can also have a negative influence on mental and occupational health, with some of its negative consequences being food instability, hunger, and malnutrition. Climate change may also have other direct influences on health through severe temperature and precipitation, storms, cyclones, and other extreme weather events, as well as indirectly,through worsened air pollution and increased pollen generation.

Figure 3 - Safety measures to prevent a health crisis. Source - Pexel.

Even though South Africa has made great progress in recognizing the effects of climate change and in initiating and evaluating adaptation strategies, more work is required. To begin the process of improvement, South Africa began creating a National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy and Plan, which will be incorporated into all relevant sector plans and will serve as the foundation for the UNFCCC National Adaptation Plan (NAP). The implementation of "South Africa's Carbon Tax Act," which imposes particular taxes on greenhouse gases emitted by fuel combustion and industrial operations, went into effect in June 2019. The carbon tax is said to cut the country's emissions by 33% by 2035 compared to the baseline. Additionally, recent renewable energy tenders in South Africa have resulted in renewable energy sources costs that are lower than those of the national utility or coal power facilities. In comparison to other African nations, the South African Weather Service and other agencies have coordinated relatively high-quality and extensive meteorological observations. The data they supplied facilitated several climate change detection investigations as well as a better understanding of natural variability.

Climate change adaptation necessitates proactive decision-making that integrates scientific diagnosis and technological innovation with social structure and political debate over conflicting value systems. Experimentation, learning, and the ability to change methods in response to new results must all be considered as part of the adaptation process. The issue now is to figure out how to scale up these creative ways to make a major difference in South Africa's resilience in the face of climate change.


Anand Subramanian is a freelance photographer and content writer based out of Tamil Nadu, India. Having a background in Engineering always made him curious about life on the other side of the spectrum. He leapt forward towards the Photography life and never looked back. Specializing in Documentary and  Portrait photography gave him an up-close and personal view into the complexities of human beings and those experiences helped him branch out from visual to words. Today he is mentoring passionate photographers and writing about the different dimensions of the art world.

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