Climate change is real, experts say

Political leaders more obsessed with short-term gains are hampering the move toward policies that will protect the environment, the WWF has said. (Boris Grdanoski, AP)
Political leaders more obsessed with short-term gains are hampering the move toward policies that will protect the environment, the WWF has said. (Boris Grdanoski, AP)
Cape Town - Scientists and environmentalists have reacted with anger to emerging reports that dismiss the reality of climate change.

While climate scepticism is a popular topic in fringe political groups, the evidence points to irreversible climate change with devastating impacts for poor communities if no action is taken.

"No doubt, Africa is one of the most vulnerable continents to climate variability and change because of multiple stresses and low adaptive capacity. Environmental and climatic stress also raises existing inequalities between rich and poor," Professor Oliver C Ruppel told News24.

He is professor of Law at Stellenbosch University, specialising in Public International Law and Diplomacy, World Trade Law, Regional Integration Policy, Sustainable Development Law and International Environmental Law.

The UN IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has identified extreme weather events as part of a global warming trend that could see a temperature rise of over 5°C by 2100.

Sceptics

"If you look at the trend then I think that's pretty unmistakable and any proper analysis would tell you that we are heading in that direction," said IPCC chair Rajendra Pachauri recently in Australia as the body discussed the heat waves that affected the country.

The IPCC said it expects more extreme weather events as climate change takes hold.

Sceptics, however, have argued that a Medieval warming period proves that global warming is part of a natural cycle.

"Claims that global average temperatures during Medieval times were warmer than present-day are based on a number of false premises," World Wide Fund for Nature climate expert Richard Worthington told News24.

He said the warming period was not as widespread as the sceptics argue, and noted that temperatures warmed up significantly in the latter half of the 20th century.

"There is wide scientific consensus that the increased number and intensity of climate change induced natural disasters, such as earthquakes, volcano eruptions, tsunamis and hurricanes, is of alarming concern," said Ruppel, though adding that not all climate events lead to disasters.

Environmental activists took a stronger line against climate change sceptics, arguing that the evidence was unambiguous.

National consensus

"The rise of so-called 'climate denialists' is nothing new, even if it is positioned as something that is 'rising in prominence'. The science on climate change is clear: It is human-induced, and the longer we delay action the worse the impacts are likely to be," said Greenpeace Africa climate & energy campaigner Melita Steele.

Researchers in SA work with the IPCC on climate change, but there is no national consensus, said Worthington.

"The South African scientific community mostly participate with international scientific community, through the IPCC; work also done within Sanbi [the South African National Biodiversity Institute], CSIR, but no particularly nationalist process, nor an SA-specific consensus."

He added that the government adopted a National Climate Change Response White Paper in October 2011.

According to Ruppel, who serves as AR5 co-ordinating lead author for the Chapter on Africa of the UN IPCC, Working Group II, policies need to be in place to recover from disasters related to climate change.

"Policies to avoid, prepare for, respond to and recover from the risks of disaster can reduce the impact of these events and increase the resilience of people exposed to extreme events."


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