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Western Cape ready to face challenges of climate change, conference learns

23 February 2007, The Herald

South Africa faces the prospect of severe effects from global warming and the Western Cape is likely to be the province most affected. This was revealed at a conference hosted by the Western Cape environmental affairs and development department in George yesterday.

The conference heard that there was no longer any debate about whether South Africa would be affected by climate change. Discussions now hinged on what the national and provincial responses would be to the certainty of increases in average temperatures and radical changes in weather patterns.

In her opening address, environmental and land planning chief director Dipolelo Elford referred to a study conducted by the climate systems analysis group of the University of Cape Town which gave a regional assessment of the effects of global warming.

Elford said even if the signatories to the Kyoto Protocol adhered to those guidelines, there would be little tangible reduction of existing pollutants in the atmosphere for between 30 and 50 years.

In a presentation by OneWorld Sustainable Investments, a consultant retained by the department to formulate a response strategy for the province, the meeting learned that the effects had already been detected in the region. “We are seeing the disappearance of the transitional seasons of spring and autumn which are vital for some farming activities, such as fruit growing, which need a gradual change of temperature to produce fruit of export quality,” said Belynda Petrie.

Petrie also predicted that the interior of the Cape would become hotter and drier and the western section of the Western Cape would receive less rainfall, but the Garden Route area was likely to become wetter and windier.

Petrie said studies had shown that one of the effects of climate change in the region was that there was more likelihood of extreme weather such as the torrential rains experienced in August last year.

Delegates also heard that changes in ocean temperatures were causing the migration of fish shoals, giving opportunities to create fishing industries in new locations.
Department deputy director Dennis Laidler said while South Africa was a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol, as a developing country it had not yet imposed objectives for reduction of carbon emissions.

“However, as a country that uses mainly low-grade coal for electricity production, once the Protocol expires in 2012, we are likely to be subject to emission reduction targets,” he said.
Elford said the Western Cape province was further advanced in responding to climate change than any other region in Africa.

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