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SA on verge of burning up


More heatwaves, longer dry spells and increasing rainfall intensity. Shifting climatic zones, degraded ecosystems and landscapes, frequent veld fires and overused, stressed natural terrestrial and marine systems.

This is not the South Africa of the future, but the present, sketched in the draft National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy, published in the Government Gazette on May 6 by the Department of Environmental Affairs.

The strategy provides a “common vision” of climate change adaptation and climate resilience for South Africa, outlining priority areas to achieve this vision. It identifies a set of key adaptation-related sectors including water, health, human settlements, agriculture and commercial forestry, biodiversity and ecosystems, and disaster risk reduction and management, advocating for the inclusion of climate change into plans for these sectors.

“South Africa is experiencing significant effects of climate change, particularly as a result of increased temperatures and water variability. The observed rate of warming has been 2°C per century or even higher - more than twice the global rate of temperature increase for western parts and the north-east.

“There is evidence that extreme weather events in South Africa are increasing, with heatwave conditions found to be more likely, dry spell durations lengthening slightly and rainfall intensity increasing.”

The draft strategy, a 10-year plan that will be reviewed every five years, intends to be the “cornerstone” for climate change adaptation in the country to “reflect a unified, coherent, cross-sectoral, economy-wide approach to climate change adaptation”.

Adapting to climate change is an “opportunity to transform the economy, strengthen the social and spatial fabric, and become more competitive in the global marketplace”.

The most pressing challenges South Africa faces are poverty, unemployment and inequality.

“Changes in climate are predicted to exacerbate these challenges, as climate change will have direct impacts on natural resources and infrastructure, affecting food security and health, threatening water resources and impacting on development.”

These impacts will be especially felt by the poor, who will be more exposed and have fewer resources to cope.

“Climate change is predicted to result in a further widening of the gap between the rich and poor.”

While the National Development Plan seeks to eliminate poverty, deliver environmental protection and promote economic development by 2030, it “does not test the sensitivity of achieving these goals in light of climate change and variability”.

“Finance set aside for development needs to incorporate climate change so that infrastructure and communities are resilient to future climate impacts. Furthermore, climate change needs to be mainstreamed into budgetary processes in all spheres of government.”

Africa is likely to experience changes in climate earlier than other regions, and therefore adaptation measures are urgently required.

“The costs of adaptation in Africa could increase to $100 billion per year by 2050 in a world that experiences more than 4ºC warming by 2100. Increased funds from developed countries for adaptation in African countries would help fund these costs.”

However, adaptation finances are required from continental and national levels, too. The projected cost range for South Africa’s adaptation response under a low mitigation scenario from 2020-2030 is between $0.42bn and $30.8bn. For a moderate to high mitigation scenario, the projected cost range is $3.4bn to $29.8bn, says the draft.

“The wide-ranging projected costs in these scenarios reflect the lack of certainty and data regarding the effects of climate variability, which make it difficult to calculate the cost of adaptation. However, it is clear that substantial finance will be required to implement the (strategy) to achieve meaningful adaptation in South Africa.”

The strategy moots several adaptation responses, which include:

Supporting the agricultural sector to implement more efficient, climate-smart and conservation agriculture practices, using and managing water more sustainably

Expanding food garden programmes to reduce the potential food security risks associated with changes in climate

Monitoring and controlling alien invasive species that benefit from climate change and developing responses to prevent them from spreading

Ensuring that climate change projections are integrated into long-term biodiversity management plans

Ensuring that national, provincial and local disaster management plans address climate change

Creating a more adaptive electricity system by encouraging the development of an adaptive and decentralised electricity system so that the system is more resilient to climate disruption

Building an enhanced climate change public health flagship programme to build a healthier, more resilient population; capacitating health-care facilities to manage climate change-related health effects

Developing guidelines on environmentally responsible mining practices that promote climate adaptation to ensure mining operations and mine closures consider surrounding ecosystems that will help build resilience

Investing in high-quality, climate-resilient public infrastructure including transport infrastructure, that will withstand disasters and have an extended lifespan

Ensuring that water management institutions incorporate adaptive management responses

Identifying individuals and communities at most risk from climate change within local municipalities and delivering targeted climate change vulnerability reduction programmes

Investigating the potential for expanding sectors and kick-starting new industries that are likely to thrive as a direct or indirect result of climate change effects. This will involve identifying climate change impacts that will bring about new industries and opportunities.

The draft strategy is available at: and comment by emailing



Disclaimer - The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the BEE CHAMBER

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