Opening address by the Deputy Director-General to the delegates of the First Lead Author Meeting of Working Group II of Assessment Report Six (AR6)

Durban, South Africa, 21 January 2019


Your Worship the Mayor of eThekwini Municipality, Counsellor Zandile Gumede;
Member of the Executive Council for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Ms. Nomusa Dube-Ncube;
The IPCC Chairman, Dr. Heusong Lee;
The IPCC Vice Chairs, Working Group II Co-Chairs, and other Bureau members present here today;
Members of council and staff of the University of KwaZulu Natal present here today;

Distinguished delegates; ladies and gentlemen;

On behalf of the Department and the Minister of Environmental Affairs, it is a privilege to welcome you to the First Lead Author Meeting of Working Group II of Assessment Report Six (AR6) of the IPCC. Once again welcome also to one of South Africa’s most beautiful coastal cities, eThekwini. We find ourselves within the Province of KwaZulu Natal, South Africa’s greenest Province. This is a province with rich diversity in its climate and vegetation. From the beaches and coastal forests of eThekwini, you will be able to travel through the KZN Midlands into the grasslands of the Drakensberg mountains – reaching altitudes of more than 3000 m above sea-level! Or, if you’d like to travel northwards along the coast, you may explore the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park famous for its black and white rhinos, or the coral reefs of Sodwana close to the border with Mozambique.

Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,

Many of us at this gathering still have in mind the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and the intense and vibrant discussions that took place in Katowice around the IPCC’s Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 ºC (SR1.5). As you know SR1.5 was the first IPCC report within the AR6 cycle, and the very first report to be compiled through a direct collaboration across all three IPCC Working Groups. The report explored in great detail the impacts of climate change under 1.5 °C vs 2 °C of global warming, including regional impacts. Moreover, the report provides clear guidance on the pathways we have available to restrict global warming to 1.5 °C, or alternatively, to 2 °C. I was happy to note the participation of a number of South African and African scientists in SR1.5, and also in the Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere and Special Report on Climate Change and Land, which are both currently being finalised.

SR1.5 did not fail to meet the high expectations that existed around its release, both globally and in South Africa. A first key message of the report is that there are substantial benefits to be achieved in terms of avoiding the climate change impacts if global warming can be restricted to 1.5 °C.

Let me provide you with some regional context, by first emphasising that South Africa as a country, and also the larger southern African region as a whole, is already experiencing systematic anthropogenic-induced climate change. Over the South African interior temperatures are already about 2 °C higher than a century ago, that is, temperatures in the country are rising at about twice the global rate of temperature increase.

Further to the north, over Botswana, temperatures are rising at a rate of about 3 °C per century – Botswana is in fact one of the regions with the highest rate of temperature increase in the entire Southern Hemisphere. As a consequence of this drastic rate of temperature increase, extreme temperatures events have also increased in their frequency of occurrence.

We are experiencing more frequent heat-waves and high fire danger days across the region. The summer of 2015/16 was the warmest ever measured in southern Africa, and co-occurred with a very strong El Niño event. The oppressive temperatures combined with a severe drought to substantially reduce the maize crop yield in southern Africa.

Thousands of cattle died right here in the northern parts of KwaZulu-Natal, and our neighbouring country Botswana lost about 20% of its cattle. Climate change science tells us that 2015 and 2016 being such exceptionally warm years, the warmest years ever recorded by humans, can be attributed to the combined workings of global warming and the strong El Niño event - and the same holds in terms of the regional impacts in southern Africa.

A second important example of the regional climate change impacts, that I’m sure many of you have heard about, is the Cape Town drought of 2015-2018, which almost brought the city to its knees. In fact, whilst dealing with this drought South Africans coined the term “day zero”, indicating the day when the city would completely run out of water. During the same period, we also experienced a sequence of devastating veld and forest fires along South Africa’s south coast and Garden Route to the east of Cape Town.

We were fortunate to receive close to normal winter rains in 2018, which broke the four-year drought and avoided the City of Cape Town completely running out of water. However, a recently published climate change attribution study tells us that the risk for droughts of this magnitude occurring in Cape Town has already increased by a factor of three, as a consequence of man-made climate change.

I was thus not surprised to note that SR1.5 has identified southern Africa as a climate change hot-spot region. The report clearly indicates that under 2 °C of global warming substantial increases in heat-waves, high fire-danger days and more frequent drought are likely in southern Africa. This will impact on our agriculture and water security, and constrain economic growth. However, if we can restrict global warming to 1.5 °C, many of these impacts can be reduced or even avoided. SR1.5 in fact makes a clear case that most countries in the world can benefit substantially if we can restrict global warming to 1.5 °C.

It is against this background that you are meeting here this week, to commence work on Working Group II report of the IPCC, which will assess the latest evidence on observed and projected climate change impacts and vulnerabilities, and the adaptation options we have available to deal with these.

For us living in the developing world, where climate change vulnerability is relatively high and adaptive capacity is relatively low, the findings from WGII will be of the utmost importance. In your assessment over the next few years, I would thus like to encourage you to focus on a number of aspects that will be key in informing climate change adaptation in the developing world:

Firstly, regional information and assessments of projected impacts and vulnerabilities will be most important. To this end, I have taken note that the WG1 report has focussed chapters on regional climate change, climate services and also a climate change Atlas showing projected regional changes. This is very positive, but it is essential for the uptake of this information in the WGII report. That is, the excellent collaboration between WGI and WGII experts that we’ve seen in SR1.5 needs to carry over in the AR6 WGI and WGII assessments.

What policy makers need are detailed regional assessments of climate change impacts on agriculture, water security, energy demand, human health and biodiversity. Moreover, it is essential for this information to be further quantified in terms of quantitative assessments of the economic impacts of climate change. Here I refer primarily to the impacts of climate change on economic growth, which SR1.5 has qualitatively assessed to be the largest in developing countries in the tropics and Southern Hemisphere subtropics. It is also important to quantify the costs that climate change mitigation may have on the economies of developing countries.   

Secondly, I’d like to encourage you to maintain the strong focus SR1.5 has placed on climate change in cities. Rapid urbanisation is expected in Africa over the next few decades and into the 21st century, and how this growth can be sustained under climate change is a critical question. Important issues here are impacts on human health and mortality in cities as a consequence of more frequent heat-waves and stronger Urban Heat Islands, and how to ensure the water security of cities within the context of a changing climate.

Thirdly, I have often heard the statement that climate change adaptation is in the first place something that needs to happen locally. Whilst that may very often be true, I would also like to encourage you to assess and ponder, more than in previous Assessment Reports, how countries and regions can collaborate to adapt to climate change.

Here in southern Africa, for example, we are increasingly realising that we may need enhanced schemes of regional food trade as a climate change adaptation. African countries can perhaps also develop ambitious infrastructure schemes to increasingly transport water and energy within different countries in response to climate change risks. That is, colleagues, international collaboration may be key to open new doors in climate change adaptation.

To conclude, excellences, colleagues and delegates, let me wish you a most fruitful week of deliberations and planning here along the South African east coast. May the IPCC spirit of international collaboration, sound evidence-based assessments and consensus guide you as move forward to compose this report - a report that will be most important globally and in particular in the developing world and in Africa.