From: Clare Nullis, Associated Press
Published September 12, 2006 12:00 AM

South African Environment Minister Issues Warning on Climate Change

CAPE TOWN, South Africa — Millions of Africans are at risk because of climate change, with rising global temperatures expected to lead to increased disease, drought and hunger, South Africa's environment minister warned Monday.

Marthinus van Schalkwyk said that 40 percent of African borders were formed by river channels and so even moderate declines in rainfall risked heightening conflicts over scarce water resources.

Van Schalkwyk said that Africa was especially vulnerable to global warming because it had fewer coping mechanisms than wealthier parts of the world.

"The cost will be counted not only by environmentalists, but also by economists, doctors, subsistence farmers and fisher folk," he told the opening session of a conference of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

"The cost will be measured not only in U.S. dollars and species loss, but in human mortality and morbidity, in millions of African lives at risk," he said.

Some 200 scientists are attending the U.N. sponsored working group meeting to try to finalize a report on the world's vulnerability and scope to adapt to climate change. The report, due to be published next year, is expected to provide the most authoritative assessment to date of the impact of global warming.

Van Schalkwyk said government's awaited the findings of the panel on how close the world was to "thresholds beyond which policy options will become very limited indeed and damage irreversible."

The impacts in Africa, and in many other parts of the world, could include a more rapid increase in sea levels, more extreme weather events, substantial decreases in surface water resources, accelerated desertification in arid zones and greater threats to health, biodiversity and agricultural production, he said.

African marine and fresh water fisheries already count among the world's most vulnerable, and so they will be especially hard hit by declining or migrating fish stocks as a result of climate change, he said.

Van Schalkwyk said coastal cities like Cape Town were at risk of anticipated declines in rainfall, as were ecological treasures like the Okavango Delta in Botswana and other wetland areas.

Scientists have also warned that many species in the famed Kruger Park and other national parks in southern Africa are threatened by the reduction in grazing areas, including the eland and zebras.

Rising temperatures at higher altitudes is also expected to increase the number of people at risk of diseases like malaria.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of scientists which advise the United Nations, has said that surface temperatures rose about 0.6 C (1 F) in the 20th century -- the largest increase in 1,000 years.

Climate experts say the trend will continue as long as carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels and other gases keeps building up in the atmosphere, trapping heat like a greenhouse.

Various computer models have predicted increases of between 1.4 C and 5.8 C (2.5 F and 10.4 F) by 2100, depending on how much is dome to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

Source: Associated Press

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