Climate change impacts are being felt across the globe as sea levels rise, tropical storms smash into coastlines, once-fertile lands battle with floods or drought and permafrost in the polar regions melts. Although Africa contributes relatively little to global warming, the region is suffering from its effects.

Although Africa contributes very little to climate change, the region is suffering from its effects. Unpredictable rainfall patterns are causing lower crop yields, soaring food prices and dwindling resources. While developed countries debate what climate change could mean for their future, it is already threatening the survival of the world's most vulnerable people.

Over 180 million people in sub-Saharan Africa alone could die as a result of climate change by the end of the century. Unpredictable rainfall patterns, lower crop yields, soaring food prices and dwindling natural resources are already causing increased human migration, tension and conflict.

Warmer temperatures and altered rainfall patterns could also create new habitats for disease-carrying organisms such as mosquitoes, opening up new areas to dengue, yellow fever and malaria.

South Africa - in a position to lead

South Africa can influence the battle against climate change, being an active member of the African Union, a vocal member of the G77, and one of the four developing countries poised to become a southern engine of global economic growth.

Its powerful combination of strong international leadership, progressive thinking and forward-looking policies are reflected in its calls for dramatic cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions and for mechanisms to help vulnerable countries adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Despite this, South Africa is the 14th highest emitter of CO2 in the world with emissions likely to rise sharply as energy demands increase. Most of its carbon emissions, around 80 percent of its primary energy needs, come from coal. The government plans to re-commission several retired coal power stations, and build more in the coming decade, with the remaining increase in capacity expected to come from new nuclear power plants.

As countless examples around the world show, nuclear power is not clean, cheap or safe. South Africa planned new reactors include the untested Pebble Bed Modular Reactor, which will cost an estimated 14 billion Rand (US$1.58 billion). A move from highly polluting coal energy to expensive, risky nuclear energy is not a viable solution.

Enormous renewable energy potential

South Africa is not only coal dependent at home, but it exports 60 percent of its coal, contributing to growing carbon emissions beyond its borders. It has set a target for renewable energy of four per cent of its total electricity requirements by 2013, and announced strong policies on energy and transport efficiency and carbon emission cuts. Despite this, the government has no effective energy efficiency measures in place and almost no implimentation of renewable energy production.

South Africa has immense potential for developing renewable energy, especially solar and wind. Greenpeace is campaigning for a global energy revolution using renewable energy, greater efficiency in energy production plus more efficient energy use. Based on existing technologies, we can halve global carbon emissions by 2050 while providing affordable energy, jobs and economic growth.

There is no time to delay. Instead of making the same costly mistakes that the climate-changing economies of the developed world have made, South Africa can leapfrog 'dirty development' and lead the African energy revolution.

Solutions

It is not too late to stop dangerous climate change. Greenpeace is calling for:

  • A peak in global emissions by 2015 and a steady decline thereafter;
  • Significant reduction in our dependency on fossil fuels, particularly coal, through the adoption of an energy revolution to move us from a world powered by fossil fuels and nuclear to one running on renewable energy;
  • Zero deforestation in the world's intact tropical forests by 2015;
  • Ambitious government targets and timelines on energy efficiency in vehicles and appliances.

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