Mbali Ntuli | More day zeroes are coming – we need to hold leaders accountable over climate change

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Mbali Ntuli addresses the media on her candidacy for the DA leadership.
Mbali Ntuli addresses the media on her candidacy for the DA leadership.
Papi Morake, Gallo Images

There are more day zeroes coming. We know this, the science is clear. We have had a foretaste of what is to come. It is now up to our leaders to ensure we are prepared for it, argues Mbali Ntuli, candidate for leadership of the DA.


In January 2018 the DA-run City of Cape Town was beset by the Day Zero water crisis. It made headlines around the world as the Mother City came alarmingly close to an unimaginable disaster.

Thankfully it was avoided, but it had a detrimental effect on regional and international tourism that year, and the year after. The local economy contracted, and it forced every single person living in the greater Cape Town Metro to dramatically change their behaviour in an effort to ensure that the city did not run dry. The water crisis was many months in the making, and leadership of the Metro had been monitoring it closely and responded by raising the alarm when it was right to do so. This was absolutely the responsible thing to do, although unpopular at the time.

In post-analysis the underlying reason for the Day Zero crisis was an extreme drought which began in 2015. Researchers at UCT, who analysed the weather data, determined this was “a very rare and extreme event” which may be “linked to anthropogenic climate change.”

So, what if I told you there was a similar kind of monolith approaching? A massive, slow-moving disaster unfolding gradually everyday in our country right now and we are ignoring it? A threat that the scientific community has been sounding the alarm about, but we just don’t seem to be listening, perhaps because unlike COVID, it is creeping up on us slowly and gradually? Scarily, we are not really even talking about it the way we should, or doing anything about it really. The silence of many of our politicians on this issue is deafening, and for some their total ignorance means many don’t even know or understand what's headed our way.

In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the 630-page Special Report on Global Warming at 1.5° which disturbingly identified South Africa as a “climate change hotspot” which is warming at twice the global average. This report is among a few, the culmination of a tremendous scientific effort, which speaks to a depth of scientific consensus that has existed on the issue for around 30 years. The alarm has been sounded, and like day zero, it is really time to listen.

The U.S. Military and their Intelligence Services, the largest and most powerful armed force on the planet, has designated climate change as the biggest emerging threat and risk to global and regional security that we face in the world today.

Our own government, in the National Climate Change Response White Paper published in 2018, has acknowledged that should we fail to “limit the average global temperature increase to below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, the potential impacts on South Africa in the medium to long-term are significant and potentially catastrophic.” It goes on to then say, “Life as we know it will change completely” and that “Increased occurrence and severity of veld and forest fires; extreme weather events; and floods and droughts will also have significant impacts. Sea-level rise will negatively impact the coast and coastal infrastructure. Mass extinctions of endemic plant and animal species will greatly reduce South Africa’s biodiversity with consequent impacts on eco-system services.”

Some estimates posit that some 200 million climate refugees will be on the move in central african states by 2050 as the Earth’s equatorial regions become progressively uninhabitable. It will give rise to regional wars over natural resources, and terrorist groups will increasingly begin to become more pervasive as these conflicts escalate.

The Climate Crisis is not political, but addressing it is. Adopting a national policy agenda that places nature at the heart of our decision-making will take ethical and moral courage. South Africa is the 14th largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world; we are directly responsible for dealing with our part of the problem we helped create, and must do so meaningfully.

That’s why I am pushing for the official opposition to hold our government to account on its climate response, and to raise our national ambition on it especially, to ensure we critically keep warming below 1.5°C in line with the Paris Agreement. There are more day zeroes coming. We know this, the science is clear. We have had a foretaste of what is to come. It is now up to our leaders to ensure we are prepared for it, and to treat it like the emergency it is.

Even though we are beset by many pressing urgent national problems, we simply cannot afford to ignore this any longer. If we fail to deal with this meaningfully, the climate and ecological crisis is going to exacerbate every single one of our existing problems, making our current load that much harder to bear.

If we want a hopeful future, we must make sure that it is a sustainable one.

- Mbali Ntuli is a DA member of the provincial legislature in KwaZulu-Natal and candidate for the leadership her party.

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