Conservation & Environmental Matters

Extreme Weather Ahead

South Africa will be split into two extreme climate zones in the east and west within the next 50 years.

The Western and Northern Cape will become more drought-stricken while Limpopo, Gauteng, mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal will endure long dry spells followed by torrential rain and flooding.

Bleak predictions of how climate change would impact on water supplies and agriculture were presented by the south African National Biodiversity Institute at a meeting attended by the Minister of Environmental Affairs ma nd tourism, Marthinus van Schalkwyk.

Without intervention from the government, expect changes caused by weather in the future included:

An inability to produce maize in the western parts of SA

A drastic decrease in river flows in western parts of the country and also, on a smaller scale, the eastern regions

Possible extinction of numerous plant species in less than 100 years - the Karoo, home to unique floral species, would be significantly affected, as would the south-western Cape's fynbos

A decline in bird and mammal populations, with high rates of extinction in the central Highveld and the Lowveld and

Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, North West, Mpumalanga and Limpopo are at risk of becoming malaria hotspots due to high temperatures.

Rainfall pattern could change dramatically, depending on how much fossil fuel was burnt world-wide, with up to 45 mm less rain in the Western Cape in July 2050 compared to now. Up to 50 mm more rain could fall in KwaZulu-Natal in Dec ember 2050, according to the climate Systems Analysis Group at the University of Cape Town.

A National Climate Change Response Strategy was launched by the government last year to tackle the challenges of climate changes.

Guy Midgley, the head of the South Africa national Botanical Institute's Climate Change Research Group, said warning signs were already visible in the northern and southern hemispheres.

"We think that the increasing level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is allowing tress to grow much more efficiently in relation to grasses, and that leads to bush encroachment," he said.

Ilse Fredericks and Nashira Davids -
Published in the Sunday Times