South Africa is a mega-diverse country of immense natural beauty that is blessed with an abundance of natural mineral, fossil and renewable resources. South Africa’s physical assets are matched only by its people - a truly Rainbow Nation.
However, South Africa is also a water-stressed developing country - still dealing with the legacy of apartheid, the challenge of poverty, and unemployment as well as the gap between rich and poor, low levels of education and the endeavour to deliver basic services to all its people.
South Africa is both a contributor to, and potential victim of, global climate change given that it has an energy-intensive, fossil-fuel powered economy and is also highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate variability and change,
Against this national context, Government accepts the conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its 4th Assessment Report that warming of the climate system is unequivocal and that it is very likely that the increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations is responsible for much of this warming trend since the mid twentieth century.
With this, Government regards climate change as one of the greatest threats to sustainable development. Government also believes that climate change, if un-mitigated, also has the potential to undo or undermine many of the positive advances made in meeting South Africa.s own development goals and the Millennium Development Goals.
Government also acknowledges that –
The stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that prevents dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system will require the efficient international implementation of an effective and binding global agreement on, among others, greenhouse gas emission reductions;
That, together with all the other countries responsible for significant greenhouse gas emissions and considering its developing country status, South Africa, as a responsible global citizen, is committed to reducing its own greenhouse gas emissions in order to successfully facilitate the agreement and implementation of an effective and binding global agreement on, among others, greenhouse gas emission reductions;
That notwithstanding the impact of any global agreement, South Africa will have to adapt to the unavoidable impacts of climate change through the management of risk and the reduction of vulnerability; and
That although there will be costs associated with South Africa.s greenhouse gas emission reduction efforts, there will also be significant short and long-term social and economic benefits, including improved international competitiveness that will result from a transition to a low carbon economy.Furthermore, that these costs will be far less than the costs of delay and inaction.
With this, Government will continue to engage actively and meaningfully in international climate change negotiations, specifically the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations, in order to secure a binding, multi-lateral international agreement that: will effectively limit the average global temperature increase to at least below 2°C above pre-industrial levels; and that is inclusive, fair and effective; has a balance between adaptation and mitigation responses; has an appropriate development - climate response balance; and is based on the recognition that solving the climate problem will only be possible if it is undertaken within the context of developing countries' priority of achieving poverty eradication and promoting development.
Notwithstanding our international efforts, and given the cross-cutting nature of climate change impacts and responses, Government further believes that an effective response to climate change requires national policy in order to ensure a coordinated, coherent, efficient and effective response to the global challenge of climate change.
The policy outlined in this Green Paper serves as the embodiment of the South African Government’s commitment to a fair contribution to the stabilisation of global greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere and the protection of the country and its people from the impacts of unavoidable climate change. It presents the Government’s vision for an effective climate change response and the long-term transition to a climate resilient and low-carbon economy and society – a vision premised on Government.s commitment to sustainable development and a better life for all.
Should multi-lateral international action not effectively limit the average global temperature increase to below at least 2°C above pre-industrial levels, the potential impacts on South Africa in the medium- to long-term are significant and potentially catastrophic. Even under emission scenarios that are more conservative than current international emission trends, it has been predicted that by mid-century the South African coast will warm by around 1-2°C, and the interior by around 2-3°C. After 2050, warming is projected to reach around 3-4°C along the coast, and 6-7°C in the interior. With these kinds of temperature increases, life as we know it will change completely – parts of the country will be much drier; increased evaporation will ensure an overall decrease in water availability significantly affecting human health, agriculture and the environment in general; the increased occurrence and severity of veld and forest fires and especially extreme weather events such as floods and droughts will also have significant impacts; sea-level rise will negatively impact the coast and coastal infrastructure; mass extinctions of endemic plant and animal species will greatly reduce South Africa’s biodiversity.
In addition to the increased atmospheric CO2 concentrations measured at the Global Atmosphere Watch station at Cape Point, some climate change impacts are already being observed to a lesser or greater degree. For example, the sea-level around the South African west coast is already rising by 1.87 mm per year, the south coast by 1.47 mm per year, and the east coast by 2.74 mm per year. It is also well established that observed surface air temperatures over land as well as the number of frost days have changed with statistical significance since 1950 across South Africa and that these changes are consistent with, and have sometimes exceeded, the rate of mean global temperature rise. Increased fire frequency has been observed in the winter rainfall biomes of the fynbos and succulent karoo and significant increases in precipitation since the 1950's have been observed in the south-west of the country and significant decreases in the northeast, especially in dry years.