As a follow up to the previous meeting, scientists from the South African Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) and the University of Cape Town’s Climate Systems Analysis Group (CSAG) gave presentations on the science behind climate change and the implications for the water and agricultural sectors. They reiterated the science behind gas emissions and greenhouse gases, noting the effects also on water vapour levels. There was little doubt that human action in burning fossil fuels and deforestation changed the composition and raised carbon levels in the atmosphere, and stopping deforestation was the cheapest and quickest mitigation. They drew some distinctions between the global and local situations, but both noted that
adaptation measures to deal with it.
Some Members had difficulty in understanding the presentation, but all urged the Department to find effective ways to communicate with the public and to create mechanisms for all departments to work together. They wondered why information from the Southern hemisphere was lacking, whether South Africa was making a contribution to the international discussions, whether the training in South Africa was sufficient to address the problems, why there were problems in some countries showing commitment, and whether climate change was likely to reach a point where it could not be reversed. They also questioned how the research presented linked in with the Green Paper, how
The Department briefly outlined its plan for communications. The Chairperson asked the Department of Environmental Affairs to prepare a brief pamphlet and to speed up its education and awareness, asking whether there was sufficient budget, as well as to involve journalists in getting practical messages across. A one-page outline of the campaign and cost should also be given to the Committee. All inputs at the public hearings would be afforded due weight.
National Climate Change Response Green Paper: Implications for water and agriculture sectors
South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI): Briefing
Dr Guy Midgley, Chief Specialist Scientist, South African National Biodiversity Institute, said that he was the leader of the Research Group on Climate Change at the Institute (SANBI) and one of the lead authors serving on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He also introduced his colleague Dr Brian Matlana, who worked with him on policy issues. He specified that his presentation would speak to climate change resulting from human knowledge, how confident scientists were about the knowledge, and how it would most likely affect humans. Furthermore, he would look at responses at local, national and international levels, and a presentation later would look at
Dr Midgley noted that the overview of the scientific facts presented to the Committee on the previous day was very important, as some groups in
Emissions had increased as result of humans’ “addiction” to fossil fuel as a source of energy, which had increased human well-being. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the global body that provided scientific advice to inform decision making on CC, had been criticised that its projections were alarmist. However, in the last few years, emissions were higher than the worst scenario yet projected. IPCC was not in fact alarmist, but conservative.
Scientists were once puzzled by the fact that half of the CO2 released into the atmosphere was unaccounted for, until they discovered that it ended up either in the oceans or absorbed by vegetation. The oceans and vegetation both played a very important role in keeping carbon levels low, but they need to be in balance. Some scientists had suggested that the atmosphere had been cooling since 1998, which was the hottest year so far, but an investigation of the full period showed that warming was increasing, with eleven out of the twelve years 1995 to 2006 being the warmest ever recorded.
Evidence of warming were seen in the increase in extreme events, including melting of glaciers, the increase in frequency and intensity of wild fires, range of species moving towards the poles, and an increase in invasive species taking over certain areas. Humans were not as mobile as they were in ancient times, but had become fixed in spaces, thus increasing vulnerability.
Dr Midgley said that the question was asked how scientists knew that the global warming did not result from natural phenomena. He explained that no natural explanation fitted the data well enough, but that this was not a good enough finding. Physical understanding predicted the warming. An increase of infra red radiation could be observed from space, and this was also in line with predictions. This was a powerful piece of evidence that the warming was caused by humans, and also indicated that human interventions to reverse the situation could make a difference. The IPCC Global and Temperature Change Models also showed that warming was caused by humans, and these models were accurate, clearly showing human as opposed to natural signals.
In looking at climate and impact projections, certain models were used, with assumptions. IPCC conducted a range of scenario processes, estimating what could happen, including scenarios for population, emission, fossil fuel future and “business as usual”, to help policy makers to understand the consequences of certain decisions. The last time CO2 concentrations were at 1000 ppm was 30 million years ago.
If the emissions had stopped some years ago, there would have been a 0.6 degree warming from the CO2 already in the system. There was some uncertainty over the possibility that, by the year 2100, the temperature could rise by 4 degrees and continue to rise. Dr Midgley urged the Committee to consider that everyone had a responsibility, as what was done now would affect the world in years to come. The problem was a political one and some of the changes may be painful, but would be worthwhile.
The uncertainty mounted as socioeconomic impacts were considered. The balance of evidence indicated that simply continuing as we were, without making changes, would have greater adverse impacts than benefits. The socioeconomic effects were also inequitable, as poor countries bore the most impact, yet had the least capacity and resources. They had also been asked to reduce their emissions. The Northern countries had already benefited, economically, from their emissions. Aggregate impacts included the risk of large scale destruction. New science suggested that the risk was not as far away as it was once thought.
Based on the graph presented, the international community was advised to avoid a rise of two degrees in temperature but there were arguments around this. There was a link between extreme weather patterns and policy. For instance, fires in
Mr P Mathebe (ANC) remarked that he had found many contradictions in the presentation and asked Dr Midgley if he could explain them better. He also asked why there was hardly any information in the Southern hemisphere.
Mr J Skosana (ANC) asked how
Mr G Morgan (DA) queried what South African scientists’ contributions were to the IPCC, and if there were gaps from the South African science side. He was also interested how the current training of local scientists would cater for the demand for scientists in the future. He enquired if
Mr Morgan asked for further information on how IPCC reported.
The Chairperson told Dr Midgley that he was honest in admitting to the uncertainty in the situation. Although people were entitled to hold another view, it was clear that
Ms H Ndude (COPE) said that she had reason to be worried, because scientists were admitting that no natural explanation was sufficient for what was happening. She emphasised a point that she had previously, asking if there was sufficient planning, and whether scientists internationally were of the same mind, so that they could offer a solution to how this could be mitigated, for future generations, and to be able to offer hope.
Dr S Huang (ANC) asked how
Mr L Greyling (ID) queried what happened 30million years ago, when the world had the same levels of CO2, and how it had adapted. He was worried that Climate Change might reach the point of no return, and asked when this might happen.
Ms C Zikalala (IFP) was concerned about the academic language of the presentation and queried how the message from the information provided could be taken back to the people in the communities to tell them exactly what was happening, such as why
The Chairperson suggested that the Department should prepare a simple and easy-to-read pamphlet to explain this phenomenon. He asked Ms Lize McCourt, Chief Information Officer, to note the need for simply-presented information.
Dr Midgley confirmed that there was really not much information from the Southern hemisphere that he could present. The problem in this hemisphere was that many of the processes depended on rainfall, which was very variable, making it difficult to detect slight variations each year. This highlighted that there was less understanding of ecosystems in the South than in the North. The increase of invasive organisms was due to the migration of species to find a better environment suited to their growth. CO2 acted as a fertiliser and hence vegetation seemed to grow more.
Dr Midgley then explained that climate science was strong in
Dr Midgley explained that the process at IPCC had changed, due to concerns on some minor errors of a report that had attracted huge media attention. Processes were comprehensive, with four review processes of information. The final review process involved parties challenging the scientists and everyone interrogating the findings. He said that the IPCC reports had been viewed as conservative against reports such as those featured in the Al Gore film “An Inconvenient Truth”.
In response to the question of why the world was not responding, he reiterated that there were political reasons, and it also had to do with most political cycles being too short to achieve significant change. In the
Dr Midgley said that there was already substantial meeting of minds around the world, but the key question was how to translate this into action. This became harder the closer it reached to the local level. He recommended that when talking to the communities, the emphasis should be not on what events to attribute to the fact of climate change, but how communities could increase their resilience to extreme events and what they could do to adapt to climate variability.
In answer to individual questions, Dr Midgley then noted that
Climate Systems Analysis Group (CSAG),
Dr Peter Johnston, Applied Climatologist, Climate Systems Analysis Group,
There were two significant problems related to adaptation to climate change in the water resources sector. The first related to low dissemination and integration of relevant and important climate information into water resources policy, planning and management, in respect of agricultural and human use. The second was the lack of integrated approaches for evaluating and making adaptation decisions related to water resources. For instance, City of
Barriers to adaptation, on a small scale, included poverty, lack of access to credit, lack of South African savings, insecure property rights, lack of markets, and lack of both climate information and knowledge about appropriate adaptation measures.
The commercial agriculture sector had done quite a bit of research in the CC area, as this sector was increasingly aware of impacts. Around 70 000 farmers produced more than 70% of the food in
Dr Johnston said that the decision makers should be asking questions about the climate change risks that faced water and agriculture sectors, how exposed these sectors were to those risks, who would be responsible, were the consequences fully understood, what could be done to prevent them, and what must be done. Ethical, sustainable and equitable solutions would need to be found.
Mr Mathebe asked why the quality of larger fruit seemed to be poor, as it had been thought that “bigger was better”.
Dr Johnston explained that farmers had to make sure the fruit catered to the needs of the consumer, who usually wanted big and spotless fruit, even if the skin was not generally eaten.
Dr Huang asked how the research just presented linked to the Department’s Green Paper. He also questioned how
Dr Johnston responded that leadership would be needed to reach the CO2 reduction targets.
Mr Morgan asked Dr Johnston whether there was good cooperation amongst Government departments, if they were talking to each other, and how the Provincial departments fitted into the plans. He also questioned how the New Growth Path plan factored in his research, particularly in regard to coal and the inclusion of ecological limits on water and energy. He also asked if issues relating to CC and the water sector had been adequately raised in the Green Paper.
Dr Johnston responded that there was not sufficient coordination between government departments; for instance the Western Cape Action Plan Committee, which was representative of every department, had suddenly stopped meeting, for unknown reasons. He noted that the New Growth Path plan should not try to give everyone a quality of life that was not sustainable, and it was more important to focus on sustainability, economics and the environment. He thought that there was also a need to check how climate change impacted on the health sector, through urbanisation.
The Chairperson advised that the scientists needed to follow the process of the Green Paper and make some inputs. He recognised that in science there were often several options, but it was necessary to respond and make a decision which path to follow.
Public awareness issues: Department of Environmental Affairs briefing
The Chairperson advised the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA or the Department) that it must build relationships with journalists who would help in communicating the issues of climate change throughout the country, to allow ordinary people, and especially the most vulnerable, to understand the implications. This, for instance, would emphasise that they should not build below floodlines. He stressed that the Department must attend to communication urgently.
Mr Peter Lukey, Acting Deputy Director General, Department of Environmental Affairs, said that one of the biggest concerns was communication and how the message could be simplified without it becoming unscientific, and therefore open to attack. Government needed to be clear on where it stood and therefore should not entertain denialism.
The Chairperson stopped Mr Lukey, asking that he not go into that realm. Every group, whether it agreed with climate change or not, had the right to be heard, and Parliament would allow denialists to air their views, so that the Committee could listen to them and deal with the issues raised. It was important that to date,
The Chairperson asked the Department to draft a one page document that sought to explain climate change to ordinary people, stressing that government accepted the scientific views. The majority of people in
Mr Albi Modise, Chief Director: Communications, Department of Environmental Affairs, briefly outlined the Department’s plan for communicating CC to the public. COP17 would be used as leverage to spread the message, although care would be taken not to confuse the national and the international processes. The key priority areas included demystifying the science of CC and ensuring that all people could participate in the debate. There was collaboration with the Disaster Management Centre. It was intended that a multi-media strategy would be adopted, to gain momentum. (See attached presentation for more detail)
The Chairperson said that there was a need to make the message practical, and interesting, so that the media would carry the stories. He wanted there also to be a focus on demand, and would like to see the respective departments spending budget on educating South Africans not to waste electricity and water.
Ms H Tsotetsi (ANC) asked about if the role of the schools was ongoing.
Mr Modise said that Government Communication and Information Systems (GCIS) would be looking at producing plays to communicate the information, such as a radio play to get the message across.
The Chairperson asked that a concise one-page outline on the communication campaign, with deadlines, should be sent to the Committee.
Mr Modise said that the budget was not sufficient to do everything that the Committee had asked.
The Chairperson replied that once a plan had been written up and costed, it should be submitted, with a request for funding, to the Minister.
Ms Lize McCourt mentioned that the plan had been costed at R17 million, of which R8 million was available, and that the Department was seeking sponsorship, and had been promised some funds already by Ericsson.
The meeting was adjourned.
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