Up until now, many businesses have been slow to adopt a climate change strategy. As climate change is increasingly becoming a pressing issue globally, and especially in Africa where we often lack the resources and infrastructure to withstand the potential risks that climate change pose to our welfare and economy, CSI can no longer afford to ignore climate change challenges.
In South Africa, most organisations don’t view climate change with the same urgency as some of our many socio-economic challenges, like poverty, education inequality, high levels of gender-based violence, and other pressing needs. This is a worldwide tendency, as the latest PWC Annual Global CEO Survey showed that only 30% of CEOs across the world are prioritising climate change.
However, can South Africa, together with the rest of the world, afford to ignore climate change?
Over the last decade extreme weather events, as a result of climate change, have increased globally, including in Southern Africa. Temperatures are increasing above the global average and big South African cities like Cape Town and Durban have in recent times been experiencing climate change-induced drought and associated water scarcity. Another examples of a recent extreme weather event, is the tropical cyclone, Idai that killed more than 1300 people in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi in March 2019.
As global warming intensifies, we are likely to see more extreme weather events, including heatwaves, tropical cyclones and droughts.
As the frequency and intensity of these extreme weather events keep increasing, our food systems are increasingly threatened, and especially vulnerable food-insecure households will bear the brunt, as food becomes scarcer and thus more expensive. Smallholders generate 90% of total agricultural output in Southern Africa, but 30% of this production is likely at risk from climate hazards. The most important climate hazard we face is heat stress, represented by high growing season temperatures. Heat stress can lower the productivity of crops, such as wheat and maize, and livestock. It also affects human labour and increases the risk of natural disasters and reduce the growing season.
South Africa is globally one of the top five countries in terms of carbon emitted per unit of energy. As a country we are greatly dependent on burning coal for energy, which is the biggest contributor to green gas emissions in our country.
In 2010, the South African government has committed to a 42% reduction in emissions by 2025 and net-zero (removing all man-made greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere through reduction measures) by 2050. However, we first have to overcome the many challenges including exacerbating development problems, concern from business about global competitiveness and exports, concerns about reduced employment and concern about the impact that it will have on poor households. To meet net-zero global objectives, South Africa will have to transform its carbon-intensive economy, and simultaneously meet its development needs.
Corporates can play a role in reducing green gas emissions by utilising renewable energy resources to power their offices and operations. They can also contribute to initiatives that look at reducing emissions, like joining and sponsoring tree planting initiatives to restore forests, the restoration of soil carbon in agriculture and the restoration of ecosystems like wetlands.
Organisations also need to look at their investments and whether or not they’re investing responsibly and ethically, and in ways that consider the environment. We can no longer afford to ignore climate change, but should rather actively work together to ensure our country meets the carbon emission reductions that are necessary to protect our society and our economy.