The effects of climate change
- There is an increase in the average global temperature of about 1°C.
- A 0.19 m rise in the average global sea level has been observed.
- There is reduced snow cover in the northern hemisphere, melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica and there’s a 4% decrease in Arctic ice.
- Average precipitation over mid-latitude areas in the Northern hemisphere has significantly increased. There are more heavy rainfall events over most land areas. This leads to a higher risk of flooding in certain areas.
- Since the 1970s, droughts are longer and more intense. Drying in the Sahel, the Mediterranean, southern Africa and parts of southern Asia.
- Though some places have become colder, the general trend is a decrease in cold days and nights, with an increase in heat waves, as well as warmer days and nights.
- Over 30% of the increase in carbon dioxide has been absorbed by the oceans. The oceans are now 26% more acidic and in combination with warmer seawater, this is impacting marine life.
PLANTS AND WILDLIFE
Climate change has major impacts on biodiversity. Wildlife and plants will need to cope with:
- Habitat destruction and extreme weather events.
- Changed timing of seasonal events such as breeding and migration.
- Important events could go out of sync – like flowering and pollination.
- Species could become extinct or move to cooler locations.
- Warmer, more acidic seawater kills sea creatures.
- Some species, like fish, are becoming smaller to cope with higher temperatures.
Unhealthy ecosystems cannot protect people against climate change.
- They cannot capture as much carbon and keep it out of the air.
- They can’t protect against the impacts of extreme weather events.
- If ecosystems aren’t doing their job, the air we breathe and water we drink can no longer be cleaned properly.
- Excessive heat dries the soil, shortens growing periods and could increase weeds, pests and diseases. This could eventually result in complete crop failure.
- Extreme weather events and unpredictable rainfall affects crops that humans eat.
- Hotter conditions make it difficult to keep humans and livestock well-fed.
- More disease puts those living with HIV/AIDS at risk. Other health concerns include hunger, malnutrition, air pollution and heat stress.
- Many South Africans are living in poverty, have a high disease burden and inadequate housing. Because they are vulnerable, they can’t cope well with extreme climate events.
CLIMATE CHANGE AND THE ECONOMY
Very high temperatures are bad for the economy. A changing climate means a changing economy.
- ENERGY: Hotter weather demands more electricity for air conditioning. Higher energy demand makes electricity prices climb.
- FORESTRY: More disease outbreaks and resistance threaten forests and plantations. These are not just responsible for removing large amounts of carbon dioxide out of the air but could replace fossil fuels as a fuel source.
- FOOD: Food prices are increasing. Income from fisheries is declining due to smaller catches and destruction in coral reefs.
- TOURISM: Tourism contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and has a massive carbon footprint.
Climate change burdens the poor. The disadvantaged are the most vulnerable to climate change. Reasons include:
1. More food and water insecurity
2. Higher food prices
3. Loss of jobs
4. Negative health effects
5. Being forced to move
This article was published in collaboration with the Department of Environmental Affairs