17 May 2005

South Africa: Global Warming 'To Hit Africa Hard'

Johannesburg — IN 30 to 40 years the effect of global warming in Africa will be as devastating as malaria and other diseases, the British government's chief scientific adviser warned yesterday.

Sir David King is in SA to promote the Zero Carbon City programme, a campaign organised by the British Council to raise awareness on global warming, which the UK government has described as the biggest long-term challenge facing the global economy.

SA's Environmental Affairs and Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk said earlier this month that global warming would destroy thousands of plant species and reduce bird and mammal populations, negatively affecting eco-tourism and wildlife-based tourism.

SA still relies on fossil fuel, especially coal, which leads to significant carbon dioxide emissions.

Speaking in Johannesburg yesterday, King said global warming was one more "stress" that African countries would have to face.

"In 30 to 40 years' time, climate change will be as great as other stresses such as malaria," he said.

Carbon dioxide levels had risen to as high as 379 parts a million, and the ice cap on Mount Kilimanjaro was unlikely to last another 15 years.

He said research by the Chinese Academy of Sciences had shown that 8 000km' of that country's ice had already melted.

The increase in carbon dioxide would lead to significant changes in weather patterns, such as lower rainfall and desertification. There was no longer any doubt about the effects of global warming.

"Scientists are no longer discussing whether global warming is going to happen, but are looking at its impact and how we can reduce our carbon dioxide levels and lessen our dependence on fossil fuels," King said.

He said new buildings had to be energy efficient. He cited London's "Gherkin" building - the headquarters of insurer Swiss Re, built on the site of the Baltic Exchange - which was designed to use half as much energy as conventional buildings as it was self-heating.

King said global warming would be on the agenda at the meeting of the Group of Eight advanced industrial countries at Gleneagles, Scotland, in July this year.

President Thabo Mbeki has indicated that he will attend the meeting, to which developing countries Mexico, China and India have also been invited.

King believes that global warming cannot be curbed by government alone, as it would involve changing human behaviour.

"It is a cultural issue," he said.

"In London people drive SUVs (sports utility vehicles) that use more petrol than standard vehicles," he said.

King met SA's Science and Technology Minister Mosibudi Mangena yesterday. Speaking before the meeting, he said he and Mangena would discuss climate change "and how SA and Britain can work together in science and technology".

According to the British Council's Rohini Naidoo, King is set to meet Van Schalkwyk and "possibly" Minerals and Energy Minister Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.

Naidoo said the Zero Carbon City programme would include exhibitions to be held in Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth. The first of these would be held in Cape Town next month. They were designed to show the effect of global warming and measures to mitigate it.

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