Climate Change and the Impact on Water, Food, Etc.: briefing

Water and Sanitation

02 November 2005
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report


2 November 2005

Chairperson: Ms C September (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Global Climate Change: Implications for South Africa PowerPoint Presentation
Global Climate Change and Water Resources: Challenges and Implications for Department PowerPoint Presentation
Climate Change and Water Resource Management PowerPoint Presentation [available at]
National Climate Change Conference [available at]
Climate Change and Water Resources in South Africa PowerPoint presentation

A Professor of Climatology from the University of Cape Town briefed the Committee on the difference between ‘climate’ and ‘weather’, guidelines for discussing climate change, global changes having regional and local consequences, future projections and simulations, downscaling, sources of uncertainty and possible solutions, tipping points, and primary challenges.

A Professor of Hydrology at the University of KwaZulu-Natal explained to the Committee that global change was a global phenomenon, that problems experienced would be of a local nature and that South Africa/Western Cape would have to adapt and plan for these eventualities.

The Department provided a synopsis of statements from the National Climate Change Conference. There was overwhelming evidence that climate change was a reality and that the poor would be affected the most. An integrated, inter-sectoral approach to manage the effects of climate change was needed.


Prof. B Hewitson, Department of Environmental and Geographical Science: University of Cape Town, explained to the Committee that global climate changes would have local and regional consequences on the environment and the economy of South Africa. The primary limitation to reducing uncertainty was the lack of capacity to explore solutions to challenges.

Prof. R Schulze, School of Bio-resources Engineering and Environmental Hydrology, University of KwaZulu-Natal, outlined the adaptation process of water resource management. The decision framework on climate change involved strategic, tactical and operational decisions, which were long-, medium- or short-term.

Mr B Rowlston, Department Senior Manager: Policy and Strategy Co-ordination, stressed the need to broaden the knowledge base to facilitate scenario development, prediction and early-warning systems, disaster management, mitigation, and adaptation in response to climate change.

Members welcomed the informative presentations. They showed a willingness to help the Department and were enthusiastic about inter-departmental relations in combating the effects of climate change.

Mr M Sibuyana (IFP) thanked the presenters for a ‘mind-opening’ presentation. He said that politicians did not understand scientific issues.

Mr G Green, Water Research Commission, replied that scientists were sensitive to that issue and that detailed information as guidelines would follow.

Mr Schulze added that they had used a question-and-answer format in this regard. They had also used the internet where the public or Members could interact with the documents.

The Chairperson added that they could also use Parliament’s library to facilitate the process.

Ms Van der Walt (DA) commented that there was more to ‘opening a tap and flushing the loo’. The presentation made one understand the seriousness of water resources. She suggested the Committee visit Robben Island to see desalination in action.

Mr Sibuyana remarked that South Africa had a lack of water, drying trends in some regions, but had seas and oceans. He asked if desalination could be the answer.

Mr Arendse (ANC) asked about the affordability of desalination.

Mr Rowlston answered that water conservation and water demand management used a unit price for water. They ranked surface and ground water as cheaper than desalination, which was more expensive at R20 p/cubic meter. The planners would consider large and small-scale desalination plants to cater for everyone’s needs.

Mr Green added that small communities in South Africa had small desalination plants.

Ms S Maine (ANC), Mr Sibuyana and Mr Arendse asked how government could assist the Department with climate change challenges.

Mr Rowlston responded that ‘everything was linked to everything else’. He suggested an integrated, inter-sectoral response from Parliament involving departments like Land Affairs, Agriculture, Science and Technology, and Tourism.

The Chairperson added that Housing should be included, because of land/ground use.

Mr Rowlston further responded that mitigation regarding carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and the adaptation of being ‘stuck with what is in the atmosphere’ were challenges that needed to be addressed.

Mr Arendse asked about capacity building and retention of skills.

Mr Schulze responded that few South Africans opted for graduate school in the natural sciences. The University of KwaZulu-Natal had received 60 – 80 requests for graduate level research from north of the Limpopo, but none from South Africa. The university’s intention was to retain skills in South Africa.

Mr Hewitson added that South Africans were not attracted to the post-graduate level, because they saw no career path. Posts were frozen and no new posts had been created. Graduates were attracted to ‘soft-money’ positions. There was a tendency to work on a project-to-project basis in South Africa, which was not sustainable.

The Chairperson enquired whether South Africa had sufficient foresight planning regarding scenario planning, simulation and technological change, and if the Department was prepared for disasters. Marx and Lenin had shown foresight in writing about scientific findings regarding disaster management.

Mr Hewitson replied that an integrated approach with incentives was needed to deal with the issues in a plausible manner.

Mr Rowlston added that the Department had wanted to employ economists to apply their knowledge to water issues, but that they had not found the necessary skills or aptitude. Applicants had not been inclined to work for the Department.

The Chairperson said that the Department should headhunt for economists in Treasury.

Mr Rowlston further added that he agreed with his colleagues that an integrated approach was needed.

Mr Hewitson agreed and added that their science policy was relevant and not prescriptive.

The Chairperson asked whether the Department was considering legislative changes and, if they were, whether it within budgetary allocation.

Mr Rowlston answered that no new legislation was needed nor would major changes be made. He had found that when provisions of the National Water Act were applied, changes were proposed accordingly.

Mr Schulze added that the National Water Resource Strategy (NWRS) was a ‘living document’, because it accommodated changes to it rapidly. He agreed regarding the strength of the NWRS.

The Chairperson agreed that the NWRS was not a static strategy, but changed as conditions changed. He enquired as to why the Western Cape had been emphasised in the presentations and whether it was because of the location of the province.

Mr Hewitson explained that other provinces experienced changes as well, but the Western Cape’s distinction was its uncertain boundaries. The Western Cape was determined by its cold fronts, because it was sitting on a boundary. A small spatial shift in global climate change had a strong impact on the Western Cape, for example. Cold fronts moved southwards or affected seasonality with winter rainfall occurring later in the year.

Mr Schulze added that the Western Cape was a winter rainfall area. Soil moisture would be retained if rain fell for three days. In future, if the weather got warmer, the soil would be dried out and the run-off would be lower. The Western Cape area was more sensitive than summer rainfall areas hydrologically and climatologically.

Mr Hewitson added that citizens should not be concerned about sea levels rising as this would only be of significance in five decades. The South African coastline was rising by 4mm per year. The Department was more concerned about the impact on the fishing industry.

Mr Arendse asked the presenters whether they could project future economic impact based on the scientific knowledge that they had.

Mr Schulze responded that in agriculture, if temperatures rose, there would be less frost, more breeding cycles, and more crops would grow. There would be a shift in production. The Department of Agriculture had undertaken a three-year study to ascertain the impact on agricultural change in the subsistence sector. South Africa had a variable climate for water so bigger dams were built than elsewhere. The economic implication was that there were dam safety regulations for times of floods and droughts, especially when new dams were built.

The Chairperson suggested that public hearings be considered to devise new plans and legislation, because climate change affected the poor. Provincial and local government needed to be roped in and not only the Water Committee/Department. An integrated strategy was needed. He enquired as to Parliament’s role in this regard.

Mr Hewitson replied that there had been strong political will to address the issue at the conference held two weeks previously. The Chairperson said that legislatures should be included in the conference as South Africa had a constitutional democracy.

Mr Rowlston responded that he had suggested that high-powered politicians, a presence from Parliament, be invited to the conference, but that this had fallen on deaf ears.

The meeting was adjourned.


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