Climate Change Adaptation: On the Ground in South Africa

Here we are again — another meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and another opportunity to advance the global negotiations on climate change action. As the manager of the Climate Action Partnership (CAP) — an alliance of eight South African nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including CI’s local affiliate, Conservation South Africa — I am particularly interested in the discussion around the role that healthy ecosystems can play in helping communities, species and natural ecosystems adapt to climate impacts.

As CI’s Hannah Campbell explained in a recent blog post, climate change adaptation is essential, yet the enormity of the task at hand poses a challenge to the creation of adaptation policy. Effective adaptation actions require the integration of sectors and disciplines across different scales, often with limited funds and capacity. We need to develop adequate and sustainable funding sources for climate change adaptation that support developing country adaptation actions and promote the exchange of knowledge among all countries.

So how can we convince policymakers to show crucial support for adaptation? One important step is proving how these efforts are working on the ground. In South Africa’s western Namaqualand region, CAP and Conservation South Africa are working with local municipalities to develop an adaptation plan that will be closely aligned with the municipalities’ disaster management planning. This plan includes conducting hazard and risk assessments to highlight the most vulnerable areas and to inform disaster reduction plans. CAP is also helping to advise the South African government as it drafts a national climate change strategy — emphasizing the need to incorporate the protection of natural ecosystems for their adaptation (and mitigation) potential.

Although a positive outcome from Cancun is essential to advance global progress on the climate change front, many decision-makers are already looking ahead to next year’s UNFCCC meeting in South Africa — a meeting which may finally result in a legally binding global climate change agreement. The hosting of these negotiations in South Africa will be a huge opportunity for us to showcase these pilot adaptation examples on our home turf.

Sarshen Marais is the CAP manager at Conservation South Africa.

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