Global warming and resulting climate change is attributed to an increase in greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere.
Although debate still rages as to the causes of this increase in greenhouse gas, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report has stated a greater than 90% probability that the increases were anthropogenic, directly related to human kind’s exploitation and burning of historic fossil fuels.
The simple facts state that we are producing more greenhouse gases than the planet can naturally reabsorb through plant materials, the oceans and sedimentary rocks. This has resulted in increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of over 400 ppm (parts per million) against pre-industrial levels of 280 ppm.
The scientific consensus requires radical reduction on current levels to reduce and stabilise emissions at 350 ppm. It is hoped that this will limit average global temperature increase by 2 degrees, however the secondary impacts of global warming continue to accelerate warming more rapidly than science has predicted, and we now run the risk of moving into runaway and rampant climate change if emissions are not curbed significantly.
Climate change legislation and risk
Although as yet, South Africa has no legislation that governs carbon emissions, taxation that supports South Africa’s emission reduction commitment is on the horizon which is expected in 2017.
Early adopters who understand their carbon exposure and start gearing themselves for the low carbon economy will be best positioned to embrace this change. More worrying however is the impact that South Africa has on current emissions and the effects that climate change will bring to our shores.
To stabilise emissions the scientific consensus requires an 80% or more reduction on 1990 levels by 2050 and full decarbonisation by the end of the century. It is hoped that this will limit average global temperature increase by 2 degrees.
South African carbon emissions context
The South African average of 8.9 tonnes per capita is among the highest per capita emissions in the developing world. Due to its reliance on coal, South Africa ranks among the dirtiest energy producers in the world. As a country, we rank 16th on the global emission list.
Global warming and climate change will bring with it a drying climate and increasing desertification from the west. From the east and in the interior we anticipate catastrophic climate events, heavy rainfall and tropical storms, interspersed by periods of drought. The resulting high precipitation on parched earth will have significant impacts on soil erosion leading to crop reduction and food insecurity.
The UK Met office predicted that if we continue on a business as usual curve in terms of emissions production, we can expect annual average temperature to increase by 4 degrees and increases in parts of Southern Africa of up to 10 degrees Celsius.
The South African government has committed to an emission reduction of 34% by 2020 and 42% by 2025 against a business as usual curve. This is an aggressive target when seen in the context of Eskom’s strategy and the fact that 25% of the population is still in energy poverty. On Eskom’s current trajectory emissions will only increase as more of the population gain access to the grid.
All businesses in South Africa need to be engaged in the challenge of how we transition to a low carbon economy. Providing a credible assessment of your emissions through The Carbon Report acts as a reference and creates a foundation for companies to become actively involved in the effort to minimise emissions and so create a sustainable future.
The transition to a low carbon future is inevitable and those that manage this risk proactively will be better geared for this emerging economy.