When there is scientific evidence that the ice cap of Marion Island has already melted by 60 percent in the past 50 years, and the surrounding oceans have got warmer by some 1,5 degrees Celsius over the past 40 years, who can still deny that climate change should be taken seriously by scientists and policy-makers alike?
Two landmark publications launched by the South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON) in Stellenbosch, highlight some pertinent socio-economic implications of environmental change.Jointly, these two publications combine knowledge and interpretation of environmental change at an unprecedented scale.
In his welcoming address at the launch the managing director of SAEON, Johan Pauw highlighted the fact that the collective wisdom captured by these publications presents serious challenges for South African business, the South African government, the environmental science community, all citizens as well as generations to come.
The first publication, Observations on Environmental Change in South Africa, is a richly illustrated publication that for the first time gives a picture of environmental change on land, in our oceans and in the atmosphere.
The book describes the principal problems and the main drivers of environmental changes, how the environment is responding, how these problems can be solved and how satellite applications can aid the monitoring of change. In addition, the book outlines the potential socio-economic consequences of failing to act.
In his keynote address Dr Phil Mjwara, director-general of the department of science and technology (DST), described the book as a ground-breaking publication that will have a long-lasting effect on science and environmental policy. More than a hundred authors from 32 local and eight international organisations joined SAEON in bringing the 300-page book to life. The project took more than three years to complete and is a tangible example of what is possible when scientists from diverse disciplines and institutions collaborate.
"What is remarkable is that all their efforts were voluntary, which has enabled us to make the book available free of charge in the interests of the broad dissemination of global change research results," Dr Mjwara said. A range of topics such as people and environmental change, atmospheric systems and climate change, and observed phenomena in the terrestrial, freshwater and marine and coastal environments are covered.
Among the issues raised is the projection that South Africa's population will reach 57 million by 2050, but that sheer population size is not the main driver of environmental change; in fact, it is unsustainable land-use practices and inadequate management policies that should concern us. Since up to 90 percent of rural households use locally harvested natural products for domestic needs — income generation and 'safety nets' when times are tough — it is clear that sustainability planning and policies are becoming critically important.
The livelihoods of rural households are therefore severely threatened by the uncertainties brought about by a changing climate. Although rich in scientific content, "Observations on Environmental Change in South Africa" is written in an easy-to-read style which makes it accessible to a broad audience, including decision makers in government, civil society and business.The second publication, Combat Change with Change, was written in response to a suggestion by the DST. It is a novel addition to the debate around environmental change in that it has aimed to empower decision and policy-makers by summarising and translating the key findings of the book into policy considerations.
"This booklet is a valuable and rather unique "bridge" to span the omnipresent divide between the natural sciences and public policy," Dr Mjwara said. He urged his colleagues in government to study and debate the issues and recommendations flowing from the publication of these two books.
Mopane worms are harvested by many households in the loweld during the summer.