Dr Alec Joubert has recently been cited in an article in South Africa’s Financial Mail. In “The Heat is On”, by Stafford Thomas, Alec talks of the projected nature of climate change in South Africa.

Climate change is an inconvenient truth, as former US vice-president Al Gore put it, but one that business and government ignore at their peril.

“We’re not just talking climate change, but major risks,” says Santam’s strategy unit head, Vanessa Otto-Mentz. The risks are many , ranging from food security to extreme weather events.

Driving climate change is global warming that “continues unabated”, warns US space agency Nasa , which reports that 2010 was the world’s hottest year on record, as was the past decade.

These changes can be attributed to emissions of greenhouse gases related to human activity, says Alec Joubert, director of climate consultancy Kulima Integrated Development Solutions. He adds that the outcome will depend on how much these emissions will grow or be cut. It is widely accepted that without major cuts the global average temperature will rise by up to 6°C by 2100.

The impact of climate change is already being felt in SA, says Deon Nel, a CSIR climate specialist. In the Western Cape’s Eden district, which includes Mossel Bay, George and Knysna, there has been a 2°C rise in average winter temperatures since 1940, he says. This is causing concern, in particular among hop farmers as it is affecting the crop’s growth. Elsewhere in the Western Cape, higher winter temperatures are causing the quality of deciduous fruit crops to deteriorate, says Otto-Mentz.

Average winter rainfall is also projected to decrease in the Western Cape as cold fronts shift further south, says Joubert. Cape Town, which is nearing the limit of its surface water, is assessing underground water sources.

All of SA will see rising temperatures, but inland areas will be the worst affected, says Nel. According to CSIR studies, given moderate to high growth in greenhouse gas emissions, the coast is likely to warm by around 1°C by 2050 and 3°C by 2100. The interior temperatures are expected to climb by about 3°C by 2050 and 5°C by 2100. SA’s current average annual temperature is 16,6°C.

Nel says these rising temperatures will have many consequences, including greater reliance on underground water, which will increase energy use. Joubert says the outlook for crops is one of more failures, which could approach one in two seasons in the 2090s if climate changes are as severe as some are predicting.

Putting it bluntly, Philip Thornton of the International Livestock Research Institute told a climate conference at Oxford University in 2009: “The prognosis for agriculture in sub- Saharan Africa in a five-degree [temperature increase] world is truly appalling.”

But climate change goes way beyond agriculture. Nel says rainfall intensity is likely to increase across SA, increasing flooding and infrastructure damage risk. The temperatures of the world’s oceans are also rising, ice masses are melting fast and sea levels are rising by 3,28mm annually, according to Nasa estimates. The threat to low-lying coastal areas is clear. Less obvious is a rise in the severity of weather-related events. “The increase in [coastal] storm activity and severity is likely to be the most visible impact [of climate change] and the first to be noticed,” warns the CSIR. Among the most vulnerable areas are Cape Town’s Table Bay, Saldanha Bay, Port Elizabeth and the developed areas of KwaZulu Natal’s coast. Santam CEO Ian Kirk says insurance risk is rising in a number of coastal areas.

Despite climate change’s dire consequences, annual UN conferences aimed at lowering emissions have achieved little more than promises from governments. At this year’s conference, to be held in Durban, the vested interests of the 193 UN member countries will again be competing with the need for a more binding legal agreement based on common sense.