Up to two-thirds of the animal species in the Kruger National Park could become extinct if global temperatures increase at the current rate reports Shaun Benton of Bua News. This warning came on July 21, by the minister of environmental affairs and tourism, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, at the opening of a conference on climate change at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens.
Van Schalkwyk was quoting from a report about the effects of climate change, published by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) at the end of June. The report showed that if climate change continues unabated, the damage to one of the country's most popular tourism destinations would be devastating.
The minister stressed the importance of avoiding the unmanageable impacts of climate change through a global response that would keep the average temperature increase of the globe below two degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. "This represents a make-or-break challenge to world leaders.
To avoid the worst impacts of climate change, all countries need to carry their fair share of responsibility to limit a global temperature increase to below two degrees Celsius. "It will be a failure of this generation of leaders if any developed country shirks its responsibility for the problem.
"The next 18 months will show whether world leaders, and in particular the largest historical polluter the United States, are ready to rise to this challenge," the minister said. He said the current US administration was not willing to commit to absolute emission reductions, but only to more rapidly slow the growth in their emissions by 2025.
"If the rest of the world follows this example, we are facing a catastrophic temperature increase of between four degrees Celsius and six degrees Celsius," he added. South Africa now faces a difficult decision relating to its own efforts to reduce emissions in order to mitigate the effects of climate change. Also, the country needs to build a low carbon economy and a climate resilient society, as well as make moves to adapt to some of the unavoidable impacts of climate change.
It would not be economically, environmentally or politically sustainable for South Africa to continue without a carbon constraint, van Schalkwyk said, as he highlighted some of the vulnerabilities the country faces. These include - under a worst-case scenario - crop net revenues in Africa being decreased by up to 90 percent by 2100, with small-scale farmers being the hardest hit.
The proportion of the African population at risk of water stress and scarcity could increase by 18 percent in only 25 years - from 47 percent in 2000 to 65 percent in 2025. Growing water scarcity, increasing population and degradation of ecosystems in Africa could lead to an increase in the number of environmental refugees who flee to countries that are better resourced, holding out the potential for huge conflict potential on the continent.
In the Kruger National Park, a temperature increase of between 2.5 degrees Celsius and three degrees Celsius could lead to the extinction of 24 percent to 59 percent of mammals, 28 percent to 40 percent of birds, and from 13 percent to 70 percent of butterflies. In terms of other invertebrates, 18 percent to 80 percent of these could be lost, as will between 21 percent and 45 percent of reptiles.
A loss of up to 66 percent of all animal species could become a reality if nothing is done, said the minister. Also speaking at the conference, Western Province minister for economic planning and tourism at the time, Tasneem Essop, said that local reactions to this international research should strive toward increasing renewable energy targets in the province.
The conference, themed "Practising the Craft - Writing about climate change and global warming", is hosted by the Fynbos Foundation in association with the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University and the Nieman Society of South Africa.