On The Record | SA’s response to climate change? Low political support, lack of funding, say experts

  • More severe weather events may occur in SA in the years ahead due to climate change.  
  • As droughts and flooding take place in parts of the country, the president has established the Presidential Climate Commission. 
  • But experts say not enough is being done, and that funding for adaptation is severely lacking. 

South Africa is set to see more severe weather events, such as heavy rainfall and extreme drought, as climate change affects the country.

The Nelson Mandela Bay municipality in the Eastern Cape is battling as taps run dry due to a multi-year drought, while flooding has caused havoc in large parts of KwaZulu-Natal.

The country has, however, started to address the effects of climate change, with President Cyril Ramaphosa establishing the Presidential Climate Commission.

France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union have launched a Just Energy Transition Partnership with South Africa, to mobilise $8.5 billion to support the country’s decarbonisation efforts.

Join News24’s On The Record summit on 1 September, where we will be discussing climate change.

News24 deputy business editor Ahmed Areff will lead the conversation on climate change, aiming tough questions at the head of Eskom’s Just Energy Transition department, Mandy Rambharos, and the Centre for Environmental Rights’ executive director, Melissa Fourie, among others.

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News24 spoke to two experts regarding the key problems in terms of climate change in South Africa, the plans in place to address climate change, and whether enough is being done: 

What are the key problems when it comes to climate change in South Africa?

The University of KwaZulu-Natal’s climate change expert, Professor Tafadzwanashe Mabhaudi, tells News24 climate change is a cross-cutting issue, whose impacts, although felt directly through certain sectors, will be felt across a wider spectrum of society.

“For example, the floods in KwaZulu-Natal and damage at the Durban Port affected supply chains across the country and region, sending economic ripple effects,” Mabhaudi said.

“Likewise, successive and severe droughts will translate into socio-economic crises due to rising food prices and loss of livelihood. So, that is to highlight that the problems are interlinked.”

Mabhaudi said rising temperatures would lead to an increase in the intensity and frequency of weather extremes, such as droughts and floods, like in Cape Town and Gqeberha.

“The key problem is that, with the majority being poor and residing in rural areas, they have a low adaptive capacity, which makes them particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts.

“So, in these areas, climate change impacts could act as a multiplier for existing levels of poverty and inequalities, and push people further into poverty and widen inequalities.”

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The University of Cape Town’s African Climate and Development Initiative director, Professor Mark New, said climate change needed to be addressed through both reducing global warming and adapting to climate change.

New said global warming could only be reduced through reducing greenhouse gas emissions, in the hope of keeping global warming to a maximum of 2 degrees Celsius.

“As one of the larger historical emitters of greenhouse gases, and with a high dependence currently on coal for electricity and industrial processes, and petrol and diesel for transport, South Africa has a big job to transition out of a fossil fuel energy system, starting now, and finishing this transition by 2050,” he said.

New said global warming would lead to a decrease in rainfall over much of South Africa, apart perhaps from some areas in KwaZulu-Natal and the lowland areas of Mpumalanga.

“Ironically, at the same time, rain that does fall is likely to be more intense. So we will have more frequent dry days and periods, but also higher risk of damaging rain when it does rain.

“In the longer term, a major challenge for coastal areas will be sea level rise, which can lead to coastal erosion, coastal flooding events, and eventually inundation in low-lying areas.”

What are the plans in place to address climate change in South Africa?

New said South Africa has emissions reduction targets that it hopes to implement and achieve.

He says most provinces and quite a few of the well-resourced municipalities and metropolitans have climate policies and strategies.

“South Africa also has a climate change bill currently sitting with the National Assembly for discussion and, hopefully, approval. This will ‘institutionalise’ responsibilities for climate change action within the three tiers of government.

“Overall, SA is probably better positioned in terms of policy and strategy than many other countries in the region.”

A view from On the Record partner, Nedbank


Nedbank’s managing executive for investment banking, Brad Maxwell, says climate change is an existential threat to South Africa’s economies and ecosystems.

“From the deadly storms that pounded KwaZulu-Natal in early 2022 to periods of extreme drought, we are vulnerable to the increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events. All too often, the broader impact of climate change affects impoverished communities the most severely.”

But, Maxwell added, South Africa finds itself at the forefront of this Just Transition commitment.

“As a starting point, the Climate Change Bill, introduced to Parliament in February 2022, and currently under consideration by the National Assembly, recognises that South Africa has a role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Should the Bill become law, it will form the first legal framework in South Africa to respond to the impacts of climate change.”

Mabhaudi said South Africa has a National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy, National Framework for Climate Services and a region-leading draft Climate Change Bill already in place.

The Presidency has also established the Presidential Climate Commission to respond to the cross-sectoral need for adaptation to change.

“However, as with other strategic documents and policies, the issue of policy incoherence and implementation gaps challenge the successful implementation of these plans.”

Do you believe enough is being done to address climate change in South Africa?

Mabhaudi said that, while a lot has been done, more could still be done.

He particularly cited a lack of funding for climate adaptation and mitigation.

“Furthermore, there is a need to mainstream climate change into government planning, so that all government plans and strategies must be subjected to a screening that assesses whether they contribute to climate change adaptation and mitigation.”

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He said the levels of awareness within society remain very low.

“Climate change only becomes topical when there has been a disaster and lives have been lost. That should not be so. As the greatest challenge of our generation, there should be more effort towards building awareness of climate change.”

New added that South Africa’s progress was slower than it could be, due to the political environment.

“For instance, the last round of independent renewable power producer bids has been delayed by many years. Getting this new generation on tap earlier would also have prevented nearly 95% of the recent load shedding, according to a recent study,” New said.

He said there was a lot to do on adaptation to climate change, such as reducing heat and flood risk, in existing urban areas.

“This requires retrofitting climate resilience into these existing places, which does cost money and effort. There are many pilot projects in this area, but nothing happening at scale,” New said.

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