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The long-awaited sixth assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is an important contribution to enhancing scientific understanding of climate change, which must inform international policy at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, in November.

The first clear message of the report is: climate change is happening now. We have reached 1.1°C of global warming above the pre-industrial average already. All parts of the world are experiencing heatwaves, floods, droughts and other extreme weather as a result of human-induced climate change. These will dramatically increase in intensity with further global warming.

The second clear message from the report is: it is now unequivocal that the climate change we are experiencing is as a result of human activity. The debate about the science is over. We need to take urgent action to avoid dangerous climate change that poses an existential threat to humanity.

It is still possible to keep global warming to within the limits contained in the Paris Agreement (1.5°C to 2°C). This requires urgent and swift action, now and over the next three decades:  for COP26 it means all countries submitting revised, and more ambitious, nationally determined contributions to reducing greenhouse gases by 2025 and 2030. It also means all countries making a mid -century commitment to net zero emissions.

The report finds that the present rate of global emissions is 40Gt of CO2 per year. If we continue to emit CO2 at the current rate, the 1.5°C threshold will be exceeded in about 10 years. 

The report also analyses climate change information available for the Southern African region. The findings confirm earlier evidence that our region is warming twice as fast as the global average. And so we can conclude that our region is likely to become drier, suffer more extreme weather events and, because of reductions in precipitation, be prone to wildfires. 

SA remains firmly committed to contributing our best effort towards the global cause of addressing climate change. In this regard we will be submitting our revised nationally determined contribution to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change ahead of COP26.

Our country also has an aspiration to reach a low carbon economy and a climate resilient society by 2050. In this regard the work of the Presidential Climate Commission to research and identify pathways for a just transition to a low carbon economy and climate resilient society by mid-century has never been more important.

The issue of justice in SA’s climate transition is of paramount importance. As we move away from reliance on coal-based energy generation we must ensure workers and communities dependent on the coal value chain do not carry a disproportionate burden of the transition. This means repurposing power stations facing decommissioning and a deliberate programme of re-industrialisation in the affected towns.

Current research suggests that if well planned and co-ordinated, our energy transition could improve air quality, reduce CO2 emissions, advance energy security and generate new employment and livelihood opportunities.

Climate justice also means attention to the most vulnerable groups in our society, especially women and children, that will be most severely affected. Drought and extreme weather events threaten subsistence agriculture on which almost 2-million to 3-million people depend.

Climate change threatens tourism and the biodiversity economy, which sustain nearly half a million jobs. If left unchecked these climate impacts will reverse the developmental gains that we have made since the dawn of democracy in SA.

Significant investment in new forms of agricultural production, biodiversity management and in climate proofing the built environment is necessary to adapt to climate change and the extreme weather patterns it brings.

SA reiterates the common African position ahead of COP26:  that ambition and climate action need to be dramatically increased to advance all three of the interconnected global goals in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change's Paris Agreement — mitigation, adaptation and means of implementation.

African countries are already struggling to adapt to the reality of a changing climate and they urgently require international support for their mitigation and adaptation efforts.

To avoid the stark future foreshadowed by the IPCC report COP26 needs to prioritise securing finance, technology and capacity building support from developed to developing countries.

If we can make progress in this regard in Glasgow it may be possible to turn Africa’s climate change liability into a new opportunity for green growth and the job-creation opportunities that accompany it. 

• Creecy is forestry, fisheries & environment minister.

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