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There can be no doubt that our regions need to work together to survive together and ensure that we can grow into a future that can sustain our lives, cultures, and our continued interaction as neighbouring countries, writes Andre Walters.

Climate Change does not stop at the borders between us and our neighbours. A number of organisations have already stepped up to the starting block to help us and the countries near us to deal with the horrifying effects of Climate Change that we have discussed in other articles in Leadership Magazine. For example, the Long-Term Adaptation Scenarios Flagship Research Programme (LTAS) for South Africa aims to respond to the South African National Climate Change Response White Paper (2011) by undertaking Climate Change adaptation research and scenario planning for South Africa and the Southern African sub-region.

Among the many issues they are tackling, they are also saying that “…the Adaptation Scenarios Factsheet Series has been developed to communicate key messages emerging from LTAS Phase 2 to policy- and decision-makers, researchers, practitioners and civil society”.

It is pointed out that South Africa is linked to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries in a number of ways. These include the trade of goods such as agricultural produce or services; through shared trans-boundary water resources; and through the migration of people. Climate Change impacts and adaptation responses in the SADC countries may directly (both positively and negatively) affect South Africa and vice versa, with potential socio-economic and environmental implications.

Therefore, as South Africa becomes increasingly integrated across all the relevant sectors, it has a very real interest in a climate resilient South African Development Corporation (SADC). This is especially important when we consider a darkening future for food and water security and with a wetter future with extreme weather threatening to strike us.

The worrying fact, it would seem, is that those SADC countries that are not climate resilient because of their differing economic developmental policies, resource availability, and infrastructure capacity levels, may pose a risk not only to South Africa but also to the whole region.

It is therefore vitally important that we all understand how these risks can be shared through, for example, actions like trade, technology transfers, and information sharing among SADC countries. We also need a clear understanding of how Climate Change will make these risks worse.

It is stated that we need to consider with great care the current climate variability and consequent hazards in SADC. The climate across the SADC region is highly diverse and driven by a range of distinct climatic systems. Evidence shows that the SADC region has already experienced an increasing frequency of hot days and a decreasing frequency of extremely cold days. Rainfall trends are variable, but there are indications of an increased inter-annual variability to date, with extremely wet periods and more intense droughts in different countries.

Here are just a few examples of what has been happening in our region: Cyclones in the eastern side of SADC have resulted in extensive flooding, causing economic losses and damage to infrastructure, crops, people’s lives, and their livelihoods. Drought has changed the length and timing of the growing season in a number of SADC countries and this has led to a drop in agricultural productivity, with lower crop yields. The indications are that these impacts are increasing and becoming persistent. This is leading to more food insecurity and food price increases.

Equally, energy generation has been affected for both ordinary people, with a lack of fuel and wood for example, and also on the national scale, like a loss in our hydropower potential and coal–generated power, like in the case of poor old Eskom.

Then there is also the question of our health-environment: Climate-related diseases are being triggered by heat waves and floods, with malaria, malnutrition, and diarrheal diseases striking us more often.

A number of warnings are being issued about Climate Change in our region. These include:

  • An overall annual warming, with a greater increase in temperatures in central regions, especially in coastal regions. This means an increase in the number of very hot days.
  • A general decrease in annual rainfall over the south-western Cape of South Africa, and parts of Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Zambia.
  • An increase in annual rainfall over East Africa and South-East South Africa, including large increases in rainfall for East Africa during summer. We have seen disasters strike in various parts of these regions, which have left many people desperate and homeless.
  • The predicted impact of Climate Change on precipitation, temperature, and the increased frequency and intensity of droughts and floods are likely to affect our whole region’s water resources and also our agricultural sectors. These impacts, it is said, are likely to be significant for subsistence farmers. Specifically, substantial decreases in the productivity of crop-suitable land because of Climate Change are projected in Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, and Zimbabwe, as well as in parts of Angola, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, and Madagascar.

However, good news sometimes, almost miraculously, also comes with the bad news. Experts are saying that there are potentially, even if strangely, a number of opportunities that are created for us by Climate Change. For example, substantial increases in crop productivity are projected for Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Tanzania, and Zambia.

But even with such possible good news, the bad does continue. For example, an increase in the spread of animal diseases is likely to affect livestock farmers throughout the region, and trading, migration, and ecological functioning are all likely to be affected by the impacts of Climate Change.

Crop growing areas and market requirements will change and this will bring both risks and opportunities for the import and export of crops within our beloved SADC region. As a result of crop failures and environmental changes, human, wild animal, and bird migration patterns are likely to become affected, if not worse. This is likely to impact on resource allocation, settlements, and health.

While there are said to be substantial uncertainties regarding projections about vegetation changes in SADC, our environments are predicted to shift considerably as a result of future Climate Changes. Our ecosystem may therefore not be able to support traditional rural livelihoods and the human populations that have come to be established all over our regions.

Of course, with regard to stability in the region under such uncertain future climate conditions, the individual adaptation capacity of surrounding countries within SADC is of importance to South Africa and the wider SADC region as a whole. All countries have been involved in the development of national statements on Climate Change, like what is called the ‘National Adaptation Plans of Action (NAPAs)’ and the National Action Plan (NAP). However, although inter-regional opportunities may exist, these plans do not seem to be well aligned with those of neighbouring countries in our region. The NAP process, in particular, has the potential to be integrated across the region in a systematic manner through capacity development and knowledge sharing. But it seems that this is not happening right now, even though a number of relevant policies and strategies do exist. These include the SADC Policy Paper on Climate Change, the SADC Water Sector Climate Change Adaptation Strategy, and the Regional Climate Change Programme. There are also a number of existing sector-specific strategies which support the adaptive capacity of the SADC region. Yet, it is said, they are not necessarily built to deal specifically with Climate Change adaptation. These include issue like those that are focused on shared water, migration and health, fisheries, biodiversity, and regional economic integration. Even though we all have policies that promote integration, the policy environment has generally become more destructive to increased regional trade over the past decade.

Reports would indicate that we are also exploring opportunities to develop regionally integrated adaptation. A strong message is that to adapt to the risks associated with the predicted impacts of Climate Change, an appropriate response would be for SADC member States to integrate. Integration requires adequate infrastructure, not only in terms of transport, but also energy, to facilitate economic development in all of the SADC countries. Integration is said to be vital for the continued growth and development of the SADC region, even without Climate Change clouding our horizons. Indeed, it will be especially relevant in a future that has less water.

As a result, countries will need to carry out their adaptation measures independently. Although integration is required regionally, SADC could possibly be incapable of implementing effective adaptation measures. It will only be with the support of individual nations, implementing a range of changes, that the adaptive capacity of a region can be improved. However, as the report says, there are risks and complexities associated with increased integration. Migration between countries which have different development profiles will become more difficult to control and manage when countries are increasingly integrated; ‘especially if they are not adapting to climate or economic shocks in an appropriate manner’.

The SADC region, as a whole, must develop beyond the point where entire economies are paralysed by droughts or floods, year after year. They say that what is especially pertinent is that a resilient country, one that is without a resilient SADC region around it, is in fact not resilient at all. To facilitate any development, all sectors need to allow regional integration to take place. Countries in the region differ not only economically, but politically and climatically. Their infrastructure and development also features.

The asymmetries in SADC, they say, are numerous. Therefore climate is not the only major consideration in the region. In some sectors, SADC is competent in the development of regional plans. However, in other sectors, the implementation of these plans has not been sufficient, or effective.

The challenge for SADC, therefore, is that all the nations within the SADC countries must ensure that there is adequate support for Climate Change. Alternatively, they say, a regional hub may support capacity development in order to support implementation. Aside from the development of capacity, the funding of initiatives and projects in SADC should be re-thought. Because of the high growth rates of a number of the SADC countries, there is indeed an opportunity for this to occur. However, without adequate funding to implement, and without integrated planning, we run the risk that some initiatives or infrastructure investments could be irrelevant and that they will therefore fail.

Finally, the experts offer a number of possible solutions. They are saying that a number of policies should be implemented to enhance the integration of Climate Change adaptation into development and ensure cross communication. These are as follows:

  • Health: SADC should ensure that disease surveillance at the regional, national and local levels are adequate to minimise the spread of relevant diseases.
  • Agriculture and Trade: at both national and regional levels, policies and strategies should be put in place to aid the growth of the agricultural sector, and to foster trade across all sectors.
  • Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functions: policy considerations should support a regional protection, restoration and management approach to biodiversity and ecosystem functions that includes the sharing of technology and skills, joint data sharing and planning, as well as the potential establishment of new trans-frontier protected areas.
  • Migration: appropriate policy options should be identified and developed to manage environmentally induced migration patterns, which are expected to be made worse by the impacts of Climate Change.
  • Integration: for integration to take place under minimal risks there needs to be political stability, economic integration and sustainable livelihoods. Particular policies which are aimed at furthering integration within the region should consider technology transfers, information sharing and data gathering, which will be important for building regional resilience to Climate Change. Support through early warning systems and monitoring of Climate Changes are important in this regard.

Additional research is required:

  • What are the vulnerabilities and the impacts of Climate Change on rural, urban and coastal settlements and infrastructure within the SADC region?
  • How can we support sound adaptation planning and the implementation of NAPAs, and the other plans, in the SADC region?
  • What are the vulnerabilities of the agriculture sector and what should be the appropriate adaptation strategies?
  • Do we know enough about our national and regional infrastructures and transportation requirements and other vulnerabilities across the SADC region?
  • What are the linkages between Climate Change and health, including the dynamics of disease transmission?
  • How serious are the economic impacts of Climate Change and the sea-level rise on the coastal settlements across the SADC region?

There can be no doubt that our regions need to work together to survive together and ensure that we can grow into a future that can sustain our lives, cultures, and our continued interaction as neighbouring countries.

Andre Walters is a veteran broadcaster.

Climate-related diseases are being triggered by heat waves and floods, with malaria, malnutrition, and diarrheal diseases striking us more often.

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