The mitigation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions was urgent and could not be delayed, as lags in the climate and physical systems of the Earth meant that the effects of such cuts would only be realised in years to come, South African National Biodiversity Institute climate change and bioadaptation chief director Guy Midgley argued.
By: Christy van der Merwe
He noted that adaptation to the effects of climate change was more of a "slow motion emergency", as humans may have time to learn to adapt.
Midgley added that he was concerned about the delays to progress on this issue caused by climate change denialists, and said that while scepticism was justifiable, denial was counter-productive, and pragmatism must win out before critical thresholds were breached.
"Those who try to undermine our knowledge are simply ignoring what we know. We understand the carbon cycle well - especially carbon dioxide," Midgley said, after refuting a number of common claims made by climate change denialists.
As part of the Copenhagen Accord, South Africa has signalled that it would take nationally appropriate mitigation action to enable a 34% deviation below the ‘business as usual' emissions growth trajectory by 2020, and a 42% deviation below the ‘business as usual' trajectory by 2025.
These commitments were, however, conditional to the provision of financial resources, the transfer of technology, and capacity building support by developed countries, and a legally binding multilateral agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
University of Cape Town Energy Research Centre professor Harald Winkler asserted that this deviation commitment, and the need to mitigate GHGs opened up significant opportunities for South Africa to join the race to the future of the so called ‘green economy'.
It would allow the country to build up new industrial capacity around climate friendly technologies, such as concentrating solar power, and potentially widen the energy choice set beyond coal and nuclear power.
In this regard, Environmental Affairs director general Joanne Yawitch stated that the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) would be hosting a Green Economy Summit from May 19 to May 21.
She said that the summit would involve multiple governmental departments and stakeholders and would attempt to address how the potential for South Africa's involvement in the green economy could be realised.
Yawitch noted that there was a strong focus on the green economy in the Industrial Policy Action Plan (Ipap2), which was recently released by the Department of Trade and Industry. She said that work needed to be aligned so that the two departments work in tandem on these issues.
Yawitch said that the country's climate change policy, which the DEA was working on, the Integrated Resource Plan for the energy sector, the Ipap2 and the green economy summit all needed to come together in a coherent way.
She said that the various departments would need to work together on a concrete way forward, and to enable the intentions and discussions to be realised in practice.
"I am confident that we will end up with coherence rather that fragmentation," Yawitch stated.
Edited by: Mariaan Webb