by Garreth Bloor

A nation prepared: adapting to climate change

What is SA’s plan of action?

Disaster risk management is everybody’s business

“Disaster risk management is everybody’s business”. These are the no-nonsense words of Ken Terry, head of disaster management at the national Department of Co-operative Governance.

Though he works for the government and is not shy to emphasise the need for companies to look beyond numbers when it comes to climate change, his approach still appears more reflective of a driven business professional than a classic government manager. Terry’s department says “communities must be able to understand the risks they face” in the current national environment in light of global weather pattern shifts.

“Identifying natural hazards, and understanding their potential impact on people and assets, is a fundamental element of guiding resilient development,” a statement from the department says. So what does all this mean for business?

The department is clear that disaster risk assessment is important in and of itself, examining the likelihood and outcomes of expected disaster events. It is a point not lost to the private sector. Projections by Jeremy Grantham, a British investor and co-founder – as well as chief investment strategist of Grantham Mayo Van Otterloo, a Boston-based asset management firm – in a November 2012 newsletter to clients highlights the impact of the climate on growth alone, given the increases on the costs of doing business and lower overall expected growth rates.

The effect of global warming on social structures and resources will impact the cost of doing business and the ability to provide jobs and deliver affordable goods and services effectively.

So what are the problems facing a government such as that of South Africa, which believes many in the private sector and society are unaware of the nature of the challenge?

At the Understanding Risk Forum’s closing ceremony last year, Terry said the key issue is to get people involved and for them to understand the implications of climate change. “In South Africa, one of our biggest challenges is to get the message across.” 

The global forum, brought together by the Understanding Risk Network, had by and large argued that disaster risk information “enables the quantification of the expected cost of disasters at the macro level and at the micro level. The macro level includes economic losses to society and fiscal losses to the government, with the micro level encompassing factors such as losses to homeowners, firms and agricultural producers.”

As members of the Understanding Risk Network argued, risk assessment empowers decision makers at all levels to understand and own their exposure to natural hazards.

Terry has been clear that no one should think of disaster risk management as something they do not need to consider. The economic impact is clear and the social effects will affect companies, even in a crude (purely profit-based) analysis.

According to President Jacob Zuma, South Africa’s lead representative at the United Nations, there should be a changed approach to agricultural practices in light of climate change: “Climate-smart agriculture seeks to enhance agricultural productivity by improving on resilience”.

He added that “farmers should be at the centre of this transformation of the agriculture sector”.

According to the government’s research, agriculture has a huge potential to reduce greenhouse gases cost-effectively through changes in agricultural technologies and management practices, particularly in developed countries. “Climate-smart agriculture includes proven practical techniques including mulching, inter-cropping, conservation agriculture, crop rotation, integrated crop-livestock management, agro-forestry, improved grazing and improved water management.”

The Durban Adaptation Charter, signed by close on 1 000 local governments from around the world, is emphatic on promoting “the use of adaptation that recognises the needs of vulnerable communities and ensures sustainable local economic development”. 

The government said it is applying its disaster risk management approach through co-operative governance, both in line with current legislation and the spirit of the Constitution. The Disaster Management Act of 2002 (Act No. 57 of 2002) states that government must establish a national disaster management centre, which will be responsible for promoting integrated and co-ordinated national disaster risk management across all spheres of the government.

“As climate change increases its impact on agriculture, we strongly support African leaders in their efforts to boost action that will help feed Africa and the world,” World Bank managing director Sri Mulyani Indrawati said.

Zuma and former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan have a consensus that links climate change, food security and poverty. Zuma said: “We need to engage on emerging issues including finance and technological support, and approaches such as climate-smart agriculture that are geared toward addressing food security, adaptation and mitigation”.

The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said it aims to increase its support to new and existing smallholder farmers and will seek to work in close collaboration with the provinces to achieve its targets. Several local and provincial governments have already outlined their approaches with a large degree of consistency on the key issues. All that remains to be done now is effective co-ordination and delivery.  

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