Minister Molewa addresses launch of Lekwa Radar Climate Change Monitoring project

University of North West, Potchefstroom campus, 22 March 2018

 

Programme Director,
University of North-West Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Refilwe Phaswana-Mafuya,
Chief Executive Officer of the SA Weather Service, Mr Jerry Lengoasa,
Group Executive:  Research and Development at the Water Research Commission, Dr Stanley Liphadzi;
Partners in the Project;
All staff members;
Distingished guests;

Ladies and gentlemen:

It is an honour for me to be here today to be part of this historic occasion. Today we are launching the Lekwena Radar Climate Change Monitoring Programme, an initiative that will indisputably advance the quality of life of many South Africans.

This event comes in an important month in the environmental calendar as we join the international community in commemorating World Meteorological Day, marked annually on 23 March. The theme for this year is: “weather-ready, climate-smart”, and the programme we are launching today will make sure that we will indeed stay weather ready and climate smart.

Across the world, the ever-growing global population faces a wide range of weather-related hazards. These include tropical cyclones, storm surges, heavy rains, heat waves, droughts and many more climate-related risks.

South Africa’s standards of health, security, and economic wellbeing are connected to the climate and weather.

Every day we see communities and businesses grappling with environmental challenges due to unusual, extreme, or changing climate and weather conditions. Decision-makers, resource managers, business and policy leaders, educators, and citizens are increasingly requiring information to help them understand and address climate-related challenges and opportunities.

South Africa is not immune to these climate risks and droughts, floods and other severe weather conditions. They have, however, become more frequent and extreme, as the world’s climate has changed drastically.  

It is a situation that South Africa foresaw, and which was confirmed through the research conducted for the South African Environment Outlook reports, and in the development of government policies and responses to ensure our people are able to adapt to, and assist in mitigating, climate change. Thus the development of the country’s Long-term Adaptation Scenarios as part of the response to climate change.  

We have witnessed this a number of times in the recent past, with the occurrence of unprecedented extreme weather events due to climatic variability in the country, ranging from severe storms and cyclones to a debilitating drought over large parts of the country. The reality became more evident last week whenour government declared the current drought crisis across the country a national disaster.

In recent years, South Africa has experienced an El Niño-related drought that is reported to be one of the worst meteorological droughts since 1904. The drought and heat conditions have impacted on already dry and drought-stricken parts of the country, exacerbating existing vulnerabilities and affecting sectors such as water and agriculture.

Furthermore, provinces such as the Western Cape, Free State and the Northern Cape have experienced water restrictions, widespread crop failure and substantial depletion of livestock.

From late 2016, intense storms followed this drought resulting in flooding in other parts of the country including Gauteng, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo.

The Western Cape winter rainfall region is, however, still suffering one of its worst droughts in decades.

Consequently, ladies and gentlemen, the launch of this radar is crucial towards ensuring that the local community has access to climate information so people are able to improve their readiness to respond to the early warnings that will be issued.

The Lekwena Radar Climate Change Monitoring Programme is relevant to the implementation of the National Framework on Climate Services (NFCS), which is in its final stages, and was developed by the Department of Environmental Affairs in collaboration with the South African Weather Service. 

The overarching goal of the NFCS is to enable better management of the risks of climate variability and change at all levels, through development and incorporation of science-based climate information and prediction services into planning, policy and practice. The nature of the NFCS requires an interface with different stakeholders within the various levels of government, and outside government. This will ensure a well-coordinated structure with good governance to enhance the country’s capability to provide integrated climate services to all relevant users in a manner that empowers them to be climate resilient.

Through this new climate service, the government will be able to anticipate natural hazards and take decisions to reduce their impact upfront due to early projections.  As a result, ordinary citizens will receive early warnings thus enhancement of safety. Other benefits include increasing business profitability and tackling the challenges of public health such as waterborne diseases caused by extreme weather conditions and climate variability.

The programme is also directed at improving productivity, strengthening national economies, protecting the environment and providing a more secure basis for future planning on hourly to multi-decade timescales.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In our National Intended Contribution tabled with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2016, South Africa committed to enhance the early warning system.  The enhancement of early warning systems, protecting local communities from extreme weather events, and promoting climate smart agriculture practices are important  in an era where we are working as a government through the National Development Plan to transition the country to an environmentally stable, climate change resilient, low-carbon economy and a just society by 2030.  

In this regard our commitment to and the full implementation of all elements of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, the NDCs including loss and damage in its entirety becomes absolutely vital.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are reminded regularly of the effects of climate change through the reports of water shortages, failed crops affecting food supplies or floods and hurricanes in other parts of our country and the rest of the world.  We are confronted by a reality that compels us to invest far more seriously in adaptation, ensure investment in climate friendly technologies, and addressing loss and damage from both slow onset and extreme weather events.

This new project takes us closer to making a proportional contribution towards the realisation of an early warning system.

Nationally, there has been increased momentum in the implementation of the National Climate Change Response Policy. The Department of Environmental Affairs has increased its support to provincial governments and local municipalities so that they can conduct their own climate risk and vulnerability assessments, as well as draw up climate change adaptation plans for local level climate change response – all in line with the adaptation goals of the country.

Furthermore, through the National Adaptation Fund, the Department supports a number of projects across three provinces, namely KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and the Northern Cape. These address raising climate resilient livestock; producing climate resilient rooibos tea; introducing climate smart vegetable production as well as investing in water security, saving schemes and in climate proof infrastructure. 

One of the notable projects yielding results is the one being undertaken with the support of the Department and focusing on building resilience in the Greater uMngeni Catchment in KwaZulu-Natal. The project produces early warning systems in support of local communities and small-scale farmers to inform them about, amongst other things, climate-proof settlements (built and ecological infrastructure), settlement planning and climate resilient agriculture.

The Department of Environmental Affairs has further initiated the development of the National Climate Change Strategy (NAS), which will provide the strategic framework to anchor climate responses to specific sectors. 

In doing so, it is important to note that one cannot provide appropriate adaptation responses without the necessary climate data or information to inform us of what the climate risk is, or to guide us toward appropriate planning and adaptation responses. This requires reliable infrastructure.

Weather radars therefore provide agriculture alerts and flood warnings through the monitoring of rainfall intensity. They are also used regularly for recreational planning, and other weather-impacted activities. 

Radar measurements have also been key to many remarkable advances in our understanding of the atmosphere, and to better weather prediction over a variety of temporal and spatial scales. Such advances have been enabled through a combination of progressive improvements in radar hardware, signal processing, automated weather-based algorithms, and displays.

It is therefore important to find synergy and create partnerships with various government institutions to ensure that infrastructure such as the Lekwena Rader Climate Change Monitoring Programme is not limited to academic research, but will make a significant contribution to the network of data sources that inform climate change and disaster responses in the country. That can be better done through collaboration and partnerships.

It is through a programme like this one that I am hopeful that our people will be better prepared for future extreme weather events thus ensuring a reduction in loss of life and infrastructure, and contributing to our country’s progress towards a climate-resilient nation.

I thank you.