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Climate Change Adaptation

The phenomenon known as “climate change”...

refers to an ongoing trend of changes in the earth’s general weather conditions as a result of an average rise in the temperature of the earth’s surface often referred to as global warming.

This rise in the average global temperature is due, primarily, to the increased concentration of gases known as greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere that are emitted by human activities. These gases intensify a natural phenomenon called the “greenhouse effect” by forming an insulating layer in the atmosphere that reduces the amount of the sun’s heat that radiates back into space and therefore has the effect of making the earth warmer.

Society can respond to climate change in two ways. The first is to find ways to cut the carbon emissions which are behind the rising temperatures and shifting weather patterns (so-called ‘mitigation’). This is geared towards slowing climate change in the future.

The second approach is to look for ways to live with the consequences of a more turbulent climate (so-called ‘adaptation’), which are already happening or will happen in the future. Investing in adaptation approaches can help vulnerable communities to cope with the effects of changing weather patterns.

These can include:

  • Climate-smart agriculture: these are methods that help farmers to maintain production and food security despite changes in temperature and rainfall.
  • Restoring and protecting natural landscapes: healthy ecosystems give poor communities many ‘free’ services like clean water, they help put the brakes on floodwater, and give grazing for livestock. Investing in restoring ecosystems is an investment in poor communities.
  • Early warning systems: these can help warn communities about imminent floods, storms and droughts, and advise on how to protect their assets and livelihoods.
  • Climate-proofing the built environment: reinforcing roads, houses and buildings such as schools and clinics against storm damage improves community health and maintains access to vital services.
  • Climate-resilient livelihoods: these allow people to make a living in such a way that they are able to cope with, and recover from, the effects of sudden or slow-onset changes in weather patterns.


Climate-Smart Agriculture

Climate-smart agriculture uses techniques that try to increase agricultural productivity in ways that are environmentally and socially sustainable, even as the climate changes. These methods include combining traditional and scientific knowledge to use proven practical techniques – such as mulching, intercropping with drought and flood-tolerant crops, crop rotation and changing planting schedules – and also using new and innovative practises such as enhanced weather forecasting, early warning systems and risk insurance.

Through climate-smart agriculture, farming communities in South Africa can respond to the challenges of climate change and support livelihoods using sustainable agricultural systems.


Restoring and Protecting Natural Landscapes

South Africa’s rich plant and animal life, and its ecosystems, give society a range of services that we depend on, such as clean water, waste processing and ways to break the intensity of fast-moving floodwaters.
Climate change will affect these services in many ways: droughts will dry grasslands and leave the soils exposed and vulnerable to erosion when the rains finally come; eroded wetlands will lose their ability to catch and hold water which they would later trickle-feed into rivers to help maintain their flow all year round, and loss of insect diversity will slow down pollination of agricultural crops.


Early Warning Systems

In many parts of South Africa, sudden and slow-onset changes in climate patterns are likely to mean an increase in severe weather events, with implications for many sectors of South African Society.

Investments in early warning systems can support vulnerable communities to prepare for anticipated changes and in so doing, protect their livelihoods and assets and avoid the loss of life.


Climate-Proofing the Built Environment

There are many ways to climate-proof settlements so that the built environment is better able to cope with extreme weather events. These include installing lightning conductors on buildings, placing buildings outside of areas that could flood, increasing the size of stormwater pipes so that they can cope with increased water volumes, and rehabilitating wetlands so that they slow down the water in flooding rivers.

Climate change will make natural and extreme weather disasters happen more often, and with greater intensity in many places. Designing, building or adapting infrastructure in these settlements, so that it can absorb the shock of these extreme weather events, is an essential, proactive part of disaster management in the face of climate change.

Investing in climate-proofing settlements helps to reduce loss of life and tries to stop physical damage to property which is costly and disrupts social services.


Climate-Resilient Livelihoods

Poor, rural and disadvantaged communities are more likely to struggle with the environmental shocks that come from weather-related natural disasters. In particular, climate change will have an immediate and measurable impact on the way goods are produced and sold, and on these communities’ ability to make a living. Investments in climate-resilient livelihoods support people to make a living in such a way that they are able to cope with and recover from the effects of sudden or slow-onset changes in weather patterns.

There are many ways to invest in making people’s livelihoods more resilient to climate shocks. These could include:

  • Supporting street vendors to keep their produce cool in the face of increasing temperatures.
  • Providing shelters for livestock that are affected by heat stress.
  • Creating alternative transport routes in times of flooding.
  • Setting up savings and insurance schemes.
  • Helping community members to diversify the ways they generate an income so that they are less affected by the negative impacts of climate change.