Climate change has already hit southern Africa. Here’s how we know
Many people still think of climate change as a phenomenon that we will only face in the distant future. Perhaps that’s partly because climate change projections about rising temperatures and extreme weather events are tied to future dates: 2030, 2050, or 2100, for instance.
But it’s important to realise that we already are experiencing climate change, and have done so for some time now. Over the past century, global temperatures have increased by approximately 1°C. Sea level rise is already starting to affect certain low-lying coastal communities. The world is experiencing more frequent and intense extreme climate events.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) 6th Assessment Report: Physical Science basis, released in September 2021, contains a comprehensive – and largely grim – assessment of the state of both recorded and projected climate change globally. The IPCC is the United Nations body for assessing science relating to climate change – a group of expert scientists from around the world, who author scientific reports on the state of the earth’s climate and future climate change projections.
Its latest report compiles research from 1400 papers, and will serve as an important reference document for the COP26 meeting in Glasgow, Scotland, from October 31 to November 12. It’s there that science is turned into policy.
Such policy is critical for the whole world – and urgent for southern Africa, which is particularly vulnerable to climatic changes. The region has already been experiencing climate changes that are more rapid, and with impacts that are more severe than the global average. It also struggles with a low adaptive capacity: there’s little capital available for investment in measures to protect against future climate hazards, and very pressing immediate human rights needs for a large proportion of the population.
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