By Selene Brophy
Fact:Anything above 1.5 degrees Celsius increase in the earth's temperature is a death sentence for all human life. Climate change is a slow, often invisible killer. Most of us are either unaware of the effects of our consumer-driven behaviour or we choose to remain blissfully detached from its reality.
All the world's industrial issues such as plastic will sort itself out and the water from our taps will just keep flowing indefinitely.
Until it doesn't.
In the summer of 2015 this became a reality for much of South Africa as drought began to grip five of the country's nine provinces, as is still a major concern going forward.
Added to this, SA has a legacy of coal-based fuel and energy production to overcome.
But SA, as a developing country, is not unique in the climate change issues it faces. Issues that affect simple things we take for granted like breathable air, dependable weather patterns, ecosystems and drinkable water.
We've been in a race to save the planet since the inception of the Kyoto Protocol, best described as a limp handshake amongst the nations of the globe. Enter the Paris climate conference (COP21) of December 2015, where 195 countries adopted the first-ever universal, legally binding global climate deal – a sort of Chinese handcuff aimed at propelling all concerned into meeting their individual National Contribution Plans and achieve the main objective to limit the global temperature increase.
Minister Molewa has signed the Agreement on behalf of the South African Government – an agreement that is universally regarded as a seminal point in the development of the international climate change regime under the UNFCCC.
But what does the Paris Climate Change Agreement mean exactly, and more specifically what does it mean for SA?
The Paris Agreement was adopted on 12 December 2015 at the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC CoP21) held in Paris from 30 November to 13 December 2015. The Agreement was adopted after four years of intense negotiations that was mandated by the 17th UNFCCC CoP held in Durban in 2011.
It represents a comprehensive framework, which will guide international efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions and to meet all the associated challenges posed by climate change.
It signals the dramatic change in pace towards the low carbon development from 2020 onwards through commitments of countries in ambitious national plans called Nationally Determined Contributions.
Through this commitment, the countries involve recognise that climate change represents an urgent threat to human societies and the planet, requiring the widest possible cooperation. The main objective of the Agreement is to limit the global temperature increase to well below 2 degrees Celsius, while pursuing efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees. The recognition of the 1.5 degree target is of central importance to South Africa as an African and developing country that is highly vulnerable to climate change.
Signing the Agreement requires that countries will later need to adopt the agreement within their own legal systems, through ratification, acceptance, approval or accession. The agreement will enter into force when ratified by at least 55 countries, which together represent at least 55% of global emissions.
South Africa is already acting on a number of key projects and its INCC plans to enhance efforts to transition to a lower carbon economy and society.
SA's ‘Nationally Determined Contributions' plan in a nutshell
The nature of the climate change challenge is one characterised by the overuse of a global commons in an unequal world.
Each country submits its INDC on the understanding that the Paris Agreement is binding, fair and incorporates a no-backsliding and progressive approach to reducing the effects of climate change - all of which is hinged on the necessary finance, technology and capacity building to reduce greenhouse gases.
Along with other developing countries, South Africa is especially vulnerable to its impacts, particularly in respect of water and food security, as well as impacts on health, human settlements, and infrastructure and ecosystem services.
As part of the ultimate solution to the global challenge of climate change, South Africa is firmly committed to working with others to ensure temperature increases are kept well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. This could include a further revision of the temperature goal to below 1.5°C in light of emerging science, noting that global average temperature increase of 2°C translates to up to 4°C for South Africa by the end of the century.
South Africa's emissions by 2025 and 2030 will be in a range between 398 and 614 Mt CO2–eq, as defined in its national policy. This is the benchmark against which the efficacy of mitigation actions will be measured, says the DEA.
“This temperature goal is an essential starting point for our INDC, and we believe this goal should inform all countries' contributions. Near zero emissions of CO2 and other long-lived Green House Gases are needed in the second half of the century to avoid even greater impacts that are beyond adaptation capability. The solution must lie in collective action,” says the department of environmental affairs.
Climate change and energy challenges
As a developing country, with overriding priorities to eliminate poverty and eradicate inequality, South Africa has to prioritise its major challenges. In addition to creating descent employment opportunities and sustainable economic development, it must improve basic education, health and social welfare and along with access to food, shelter and modern energy services.
South Africa is presently facing acute energy challenges that hamper economic development, as it is historically heavily dependent on coal. With set goals for poverty reduction by 2030, SA has made good progress in implementing climate-compatible sectoral plans, such as the integrated energy and electricity plans (IEP and IRP), industrial policy action plans (IPAP) and the new growth path (NGP).
The department says the full implementation of these policies and plans will bend the curve of South Africa's GHG emissions towards a peak, plateau and decline trajectory range.
Heavy investment of R32.8bn and climbing
SA is already investing heavily in transforming its energy sector. At the heart of this part of the transition to a low-carbon energy sector is a complete transformation of the future energy mix, which is designed to replace an inefficient fleet of ageing coal-fired power plants with clean and high efficiency technology going forward, says the DEA.
South Africa is investing about 6% of what would be the upper end of the costs of its adaptation per annum for the period 2021 to 2030 – totalling US$ 2.31 bn (about R32.8bn @ R14.23/$) in 2015.
Some of the key programmes said to be scaled up further going forward include:
1. Working for Water (WfW) and Working on Fire estimated at US$1.2 bn per year.
2. Working on Wetlands estimated at US$0.12 bn per year.
3. Water Conservation and Demand Management estimated at US$5.3 bn per year.
4. Land restoration estimated at US$0.07 bn per year.
Added to this, the department says some technologies that could help South Africa to further reduce emissions that have been identified include:
- Energy efficient lighting
- variable speed drives and efficient motors
- energy efficient appliances
- solar water heaters
- electric and hybrid electric vehicles
- solar PV - wind power
- carbon capture and sequestration
- advanced bio-energy.
Come #EarthDay 2017, we'll have a much clearer picture of who is on board this Climate Change train and who is not, as as all parties to the Convention are able to sign the Agreement until 21 April 2017.