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dec09 1b

Climate Change Threat

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A new report by the Australian Parliament’s Climate Change Committee highlighted the impact of climate change on coastal areas. The findings and recommendations of the report hold valuable lessons for South Africa.

Entitled “Managing our coastal zone in a changing climate: the time to act is now”, the report calls for new governance arrangements for Australia’s coastal zone and makes recommendations to improve management of climate change and environmental impacts on the coast (the report can be accessed at http://www.aph.gov.au/house/committee/ccwea/coastalzone/report.htm#chapters ).

 

Much like South Africa, Australia has a highly developed coastal zone. Rising sea levels resulting from climate change poses a significant risk to coastal infrastructure and communities. The report argues that AUS$150bn (£84bn) worth of property on the Australian coastline is at risk from rising sea levels and more frequent storms.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said the report was a reminder that "The real cost for Australia of continued inaction on climate change is deep and enduring and damaging to our economy and damaging to the nation's environment".

The findings and recommendations of the report also hold valuable lessons for South Africa. More than 30% of South Africa’s population and about 60% of Mozambique’s population currently live near the coast. Furthermore, in excess of 80% of the southern African coastline is comprised of sandy shores susceptible to large sea level variability and erosion.

The potential impact of rising sea levels and more frequent extreme weather events was highlighted in March 2007 when a coastal storm hit the coast around Durban. The cost of repairs following the storm was estimated at R400 million, although this figure does not include foregone tourism revenue.

 

A study that assessed the risk of increasing sea levels and extreme weather events in the Cape Town metropole has concluded that in the next 25 years there is an 85% probability of 60.9km2 (2% of the metro area) being covered by sea for a short period. The estimated real estate loss is set at R20 billion.

A recent study concluded, “South Africa’s coast has long been vulnerable to storm surges but climate change has the potential to increase the intensity and frequency of these events and expose the imprudence and expedience of much of the country’s coastal development” (Cartwright, 2008).

Further reading:

dec09 2b

Copenhagen and Beyond

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There is a growing consensus that a legally binding treaty on climate change will not be finalized at COP15, instead, negotiators and heads of state are targeting a political agreement to lay the foundation for a full treaty in 2010.

World leaders at the recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit meeting, together with the Prime Minister of Denmark, confirmed that the Copenhagen climate change summit would in all probability not result in a binding treaty agreement.

Denmark’s Prime Minister, Lars Lokke Rasmussen, had reportedly told the assembled world leaders, including Barack Obama and Hu Jintao, "Given the time factor and the situation of individual countries we must, in the coming weeks, focus on what is possible and not let ourselves be distracted by what is not. The Copenhagen agreement should finally mandate continued legal negotiations and set a deadline for their conclusion."

Recent negotiations in the run-up to Copenhagen have shown the scale of the challenge in meeting a final agreement on climate change. Leaders of 50 African nations walked out of negotiations, protesting the fact that rich nations refused to cut their emissions by at least 40% below 1990 levels by 2020 — the most aggressive figure suggested by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The E.U. has pledged a 20% cut by 2020 (30% of other nations made similar promises), but the pending U.S. legislation would reduce emissions only 4% below 1990 levels by 2020 (source: Time, 20-11-2009).

 

By postponing a treaty agreement, the new timeframes would allow time for the US Senate to pass carbon-capping legislation, which in turn would allow the Obama administration to identify carbon-reduction targets and financial pledges for future UN climate change negotiations. The progress of the US cap-and-trade legislation, while not the only barrier to an agreement, will certainly be a critical element in shaping the timeframes for an eventual treaty.

The key issues that are expected to be contained in the political agreement aimed for at Copenhagen were recently outlined by a British government official: "It would be substantive. It would set timelines, and provide the figures by which rich countries would reduce emissions, as well as the money that would be made available to developing countries to adapt to climate change."

As to the time required to translate such a political agreement into a legally binding treaty, most commentators consider three to six months an optimistic target, and the focus has increasingly shifted to COP16 to be held in Mexico in December 2010.

 

dec09 3b

Zuma’s Call to Action

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“Our message is simple. We have to stop the spread of HIV. We must reduce the rate of new infections. Prevention is our most powerful weapon against the epidemic.”

In his address on World AIDS Day in Pretoria, President Jacob Zuma drew a striking parallel between the struggle against apartheid and the battle to overcome AIDS, while also announcing a major new voluntary testing campaign.

“At another moment in our history, in another context, the liberation movement observed that the time comes in the life of any nation when there remain only two choices: submit or fight. That time has now come in our struggle to overcome AIDS. Let us declare now, as we declared then, that we shall not submit.”

The President used his AIDS Day speech to announce a new campaign that would seek to mobilize all South Africans to get tested for HIV. While he did not undergo an HIV test as many expected, Zuma did assure his audience that he had taken HIV tests and was aware of his status. He committed himself to complete another HIV test soon as part of the new voluntary testing campaign and urged South Africans to start planning for their own tests.

Other measures announced in his speech include:

  • All children under one year of age will get treatment if they test positive. Initiating treatment will therefore not be determined by the level of CD cells.
  • All patients with both TB and HIV will get treatment with anti-retrovirals if their CD4 count is 350 or less. At present treatment is available when the CD4 count is less than 200.
  • All pregnant HIV positive women with a CD4 count of 350 or with symptoms regardless of CD4 count will have access to treatment. At present HIV positive pregnant women are eligible for treatment if their CD4 count is less than 200.
  • All other pregnant women not falling into this category, but who are HIV positive, will be put on treatment at fourteen weeks of pregnancy to protect the baby. In the past this was only started during the last term of pregnancy.
  • In order to meet the need for testing and treatment, the government will work to ensure that all the health institutions in the country are ready to receive and assist patients.

Zuma called for a new era of openness, of taking responsibility, and of working together in unity to prevent HIV infections and to deal with its impact. He further argued that South Africa has no choice but to deploy every effort, mobilise every resource, and utilise every skill that the nation possesses, to ensure that South Africans prevail in the struggle for the health and prosperity of our nation. “We have to overcome HIV the same way that it spreads - one individual at a time.”