Science and Technology Minister Derek Hanekom. Picture: SOWETAN
Science and Technology Minister Derek Hanekom. Picture: SOWETAN

THE need to act on climate change is a "no-brainer", Science and Technology Minister Derek Hanekom said on Monday at South Africa’s first National Global Change Conference in Boksburg.

According to some climate scientists, even if countries cut their carbon emissions immediately, global temperatures would rise 2°C. Others forecast an even larger increase. This would give rise to more extreme weather events, with serious implications for biodiversity, human health and livelihoods.

Delegates attending Monday’s conference said many academic institutions were studying climate change, and policymakers in South Africa were working to mitigate against an increase in global temperatures, but neither side spoke to the other.

Monday was also the first day of the United Nations’ 18th Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC summit, held in Doha, Qatar, where policymakers and country representatives were to discuss ways of curbing climate change and adapting to changing weather patterns.

"To act effectively, we need to constantly deepen our scientific understanding of the drivers of global (climate) change and its impact on various regions of the world," Mr Hanekom told the 250 delegates. "It is incumbent on the scientific community to reflect on and use the tools and discipline of scientific thinking to identify appropriate and effective actions."

The government has been pushing the green economy as a way of creating employment and realise South Africa’s pledge to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 34%, from a "business as usual" trajectory, between 2009 and 2020, and by 42% by 2025.

Also, one aim of the Department of Energy’s Integrated Resource Plan 2010 is to have renewable energy make up 42% of all new power generation in South Africa by 2030.

Sustainability Institute head Mark Swilling said the green economy offered a new growth avenue, mainly because of "the challenge of rising resource prices".

"Globally, there are resource constraints driving new discourses," he said.

But in a panel discussion, Ivan Turok, deputy executive director in the economic performance and development unit of the Human Sciences Research Council, asked: "If the green economy is such a compelling case, why is it not happening by itself?"

He said the main impediments to business playing a larger role in the green economy — which is being driven by the government — were institutional inertia, path dependency, the convenience of conventional and "ungreen" behaviour and the fact that "greening costs more in the short term".

National Business Initiative director of climate and energy Valerie Geen said that another reason was that private industry did not agree on the form of the green economy.

"Do we all know what a green economy looks like?" she asked. "We (business) need tangible examples."