Impact assessment: Coastal cities will become increasingly prone to flooding as sea levels rise. A new report on the effects of climate change is calling on city authorities to take steps to limit the damage caused by these changes. Picture: THE TIMES/ESA ALEXANDER
Impact assessment: Coastal cities will become increasingly prone to flooding as sea levels rise. A new report on the effects of climate change is calling on city authorities to take steps to limit the damage caused by these changes. Picture: THE TIMES/ESA ALEXANDER

Across SA heat waves will scorch the interior, coastal cities will battle to push back the encroaching sea and people will fondly remember Eskom’s load shedding. It is 2050 and the planet is ravaged by climate change.

Billions feel the effects of this change every day and cities across the globe grapple with flooding, famine, temperature extremes and inequality.

A new report, The Future we Don’t Want — How Climate Change could Impact the World’s Greatest Cities, predicts that by the middle of this century, millions of people will be crammed into the growing number of megacities across the globe. The report was compiled by C40 Cities, the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy, the Urban Climate Change Research Network, and Acclimatise.

They predict that Port Elizabeth, Cape Town, Durban, George, Paarl and Uitenhage will be battling to overcome coastal flooding. About 800-million people living in 570 cities will be vulnerable to rising sea levels, which will also cause water shortages, with Cape Town, Paarl and George most at risk in SA. A further 2.5-billion people’s food supply will be threatened and 470-million people’s power supply will be affected by rising seas.

"For decades, scientists have been warning of risks climate change will pose from increasing global temperatures, rising sea levels, growing inequality and water, and food and energy shortages," says C40 Cities executive director Mark Watts.

"Now we have the clearest possible evidence of just what these impacts will mean for the citizens of the world’s cities.

"This is the future nobody wants. Our research should serve as a wake-up call on just how urgently we need to be delivering bold climate action."

The report was launched last week at the Adaption Futures conference in Cape Town.

It highlights how South African cities will have to deal with rising sea levels, and how Kimberley will be hit by extreme heat waves.

The researchers point out that 70% of cities in the world are already dealing with the effects of climate change.

In a study published in the South African Journal of Science, it was found that from 1960-2010 the interior of SA had a temperature increase of 2°C. Limpopo had a rise of 1°C and Gauteng nearly 2°C. This may signal the coming of killer Highveld thunderstorms.

"When general temperatures increase, the amount of energy in the climate system increases and it has to be dissipated somewhere and typically it is released through more violent rainfall events," says Christina Culwick, a researcher at the Gauteng City Region Observatory, who wasn’t involved in the report.

The researchers stress that, across the globe, cities are already putting in place measures to limit the future effects of climate change.

DA Western Cape spokesman on environmental affairs and development planning Tertius Simmers says proactive planning and adaptive measures, rather than reactive measures, are needed to mitigate the effects of climate change. "The Western Cape is prone to the effects of climate-related hazards. Between 2003 and 2008, direct damage costs associated with climate-related extreme events in the Western Cape amounted to approximately R3.16bn," he says.

The poor will feel the impact of climate change the most, according to the C40 Cities report. The authors predict that nearly 215-million people will be living in poverty in 495 cities by the middle of this century, and they will regularly be exposed to three-month average maximum temperatures of at least 35°C.

This will be an eight-fold increase in the number of people living in poverty exposed to such extreme conditions.

The Gauteng City Region Observatory recently published a map of the province showing who was most vulnerable to disasters brought on by climate change, rapid urbanisation, population growth and poor planning. It should clearly show that poor communities would bear the brunt.

One of the aims of the C40 Cities report was to highlight the urgent action that needs to be taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The researchers stress that, across the globe, cities are already putting in place measures to limit the future effects of climate change.

"For most C40 cities, the impacts of climate change are not a far-off threat.

"From Cape Town to Houston, mayors are seeing severe droughts, storms, fires and more," says Antha Williams, head of environmental programmes at Bloomberg Philanthropies and a C40 Cities board member.

"As this report shows, C40 mayors are on the frontline of climate change, and the actions they take today — to use less energy in buildings, transition to clean transportation and reduce waste — are necessary to ensure prosperity and safety for their citizens."

In India deaths attributed to heat waves have doubled over the past two decades. During a 2015 heat wave in the north of the country, 2,000 deaths were recorded.

To reduce the number of deaths, 30 cities and 11 states in India have developed a Heat Action Plan that uses an early warning system to alert the authorities and residents up to a week before the heat wave arrives. The plan also suggests changes to outdoor working hours and improvements in health services responses.

South African cities have committed to CO² emissions reductions, and urban centres along the coastline are looking at ways of limiting the effects of rising sea levels. Cape Town has developed an Integrated Coastal Management Policy and Plan that includes mapping areas and identifying communities at risk from storm surges and sea level rises.

Johannesburg has greening policies, Culwick says, that could help cool the city. Trees and green lungs such as parks are known to offset the heat generated by concrete.

She says lessons learnt now will help Johannesburg cope in mid-century. In 2016 Joburg experienced severe flooding, that included one event that left parts of the N3 highway under water and fatalities.

"What we need to do is start getting better at dealing with our big rainfall events, and that will help us prepare in the future," Culwick says.

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