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It’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture, given the short-term emergency of the load-shedding crisis, but it’s important to remember that climate change is the main reason for the entire world having to wean itself off fossil fuels.

No amount of political rhetoric can change the scientific facts that global temperatures are rising, icebergs are melting and the effects on Southern Africa will be devastating.

A report by Wits University professors Bob Scholes and Francois Engelbrecht, Climate effects in Southern Africa during the 21st Century”, lists dramatic changes in long-term weather patterns, agriculture and food security, water availability and biodiversity. They say that further extreme events “such as heat waves, high fire-danger days and oppressive temperatures affecting human comfort and health” can be expected with low or unsuccessful climate-change mitigation efforts.

In SA, the lack of effective forward planning, combined with weak policy implementation, is one of the reasons our state-run network monopolies are in such dire condition and causing profound economic destruction. With climate change we have the advantage of knowing what’s coming, but still we’re woefully underprepared.

The most distressed network industry, energy, is arguably the most advanced in its decarbonisation drive through the Just Energy Transition road map and Eskom’s plans to decommission coal plants and develop and facilitate renewable energy plants. The biggest threat is political failure to implement.

The transport industry has the responsibility of replacing internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEs) with electric vehicles (EVs), but we have barely got out the starting blocks. SA’s important export markets, the EU and UK, are phasing out ICEs by 2035 and 2030 respectively. Ominously for the local automotive industry, neither will allow sales and imports of such vehicles, and they are also planning to introduce heavy carbon taxes on imports.

But it is water that is the primary medium through which the effects of climate change are being felt in SA. Research shows climate-change effects are affecting both water quality and availability through changes in rainfall patterns, with more intense storms, floods and droughts; changes in soil moisture and runoff; and the effects of increasing evaporation and changing temperatures on aquatic systems.

Already the planet has been suffering extreme weather events. These are set to get worse, aggravated by the likely return of the El Niño weather pattern in the Pacific later this year. Business Day reported last week that this could cause global temperatures to temporarily surge 1.5°C above their pre-industrial average in 2024 (“El Niño offers a glimpse of a grim future”, January 19). That implies the planet is failing in its attempts to keep global warming to a maximum of 1.5°C by 2050.

We witnessed how woefully underprepared the country is with the KwaZulu-Natal floods last year, and more extreme weather events are headed our way. Our infrastructure, particularly waterworks, urgently needs to be upgraded, while government’s bureaucratic structures from local municipality level upwards need to be streamlined to cope with emergency situations.

The total cost to repair the damage to the infrastructure in KwaZulu-Natal is estimated at R17bn, but more than 400 people lost their lives and the human suffering is ongoing, with more than 40,000 people displaced.

Climate-resilient infrastructure needs to become embedded into SA’s infrastructure development — while of course the entire R1-trillion infrastructure package needs to be accelerated. This includes strengthening and expanding storm drains in key risk areas, especially to divert water from roads, bridges and other infrastructure, greater investment in bulk water pipelines to transport water from newly wetter regions to drier areas, ensuring building codes are adapted for the new conditions, and spatial planning to redirect based on risk factors.

A recent Intellidex research note points out that there is no direct link between SA’s infrastructure projects and climate-change plans. The Climate Change Bill has no direct link to infrastructure and the National Infrastructure Plan 2050 has no clear plan on how climate resilience will be embedded in infrastructure projects.

Intellidex identifies key issues to be addressed, including a lack of expertise and the need to integrate critical institutions and streamline bureaucratic processes — the latter having been particularly problematic in the response to the KwaZulu-Natal flooding. To attract private sector financing, projects will need to demonstrate a good risk-adjusted business case for green infrastructure projects. The state will need to consider other innovative financing mechanisms, possibly including green bonds.

We cannot hide from this. Inevitable as today’s electricity crisis was because of past failures to act in time, so too is the certainty of extreme weather events and the wider effects of climate change causing more devastation to our country.

• Mavuso (@BusiMavuso2) is CEO of Business Leadership SA.

Floods in KwaZulu-Natal damaged infrastructure and put people out of their homes in many parts of the province. Picture: SANDILE NDLOVU
Floods in KwaZulu-Natal damaged infrastructure and put people out of their homes in many parts of the province. Picture: SANDILE NDLOVU
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