Climate challenge

2008-09-09 00:00

WITHIN the past week, the island of Cuba in the Caribbean has been battered by two major hurricanes, Gustav and Ike, a misfortune unparalleled in its history. There seems little doubt that the increased frequency of these events is in some way related to climate change and global warming.

It is not insignificant that the theme for World Tourism Day 2008, to be marked later this month, is “tourism responding to climate change”. According to Environmental Affairs and Tourism minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk, global mean temperatures have increased by 2,5°C to three degrees centigrade above 1990 levels. Gloomy predictions are that if the trend continues, it will have a devastating effect on biodiversity with, for instance, two thirds of animal species in the Kruger National Park becoming extinct. Given the dependence of tourism on the environment, the need for it to respond to climate change is self-evident.

But it is not just in the area of tourism that global warming will have an economic impact. The effects of global climate change will soon touch the pockets of many South Africans as insurance premiums for those living in what are believed to be high-risk areas are set to rise. This comes as international reinsurers say the South African insurance industry is poorly prepared for the effects of climate change.

Certain areas of the southern Cape, for instance, particularly parts of the Knysna area which have been affected repeatedly by floods in the past few years, are likely to be viewed as a high insurance risk. People living close to the seashore, too, might have to pay more, not only because of rising water levels but also higher wind speeds. Stronger winds drive waves well above the high-water mark — as happened in the storms that lashed the Cape Peninsula last week, where waves smashed windows, lifted concrete walkways and damaged coastal railway lines.

While having little alternative but to bear the costs, consumers, buffeted by both economic and meteorological forces, can at least do their best to reduce their own carbon footprints.

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