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Southern Africa worst hit by climate change

Hippos are stuck in a dried up channel near the Nxaraga village in the Okavango Delta on the outskirts of Maun, Botswana, April 25, 2024.
Hippos are stuck in a dried up channel near the Nxaraga village in the Okavango Delta on the outskirts of Maun, Botswana, April 25, 2024.

The Southern African Science Service Centre for Climate Change and Adaptive Land Management (SASSCAL) met in Namibia’s capital on Thursday to discuss ways to blunt the impact of rising temperatures in the region.

Global warming has surpassed the 1.5 degrees Celsius threshold agreed upon in the Paris Agreement, with January 2024 marking the hottest year on Earth since pre-industrial times.

The rising temperatures, experts say, are making environmental disasters worse.

Climate expert Francois Engelbrecht cautioned of “tipping points” if Southern African nations don’t adapt to climate change and limit their carbon dioxide emissions by moving from coal and oil to cleaner energies like wind and solar.

“In Botswana and Namibia, one of the biggest risks is that we are running the risk of completely losing the cattle industry," Engelbrecht said. "Because if the world should warm to about 3 degrees Celsius globally, it means in Botswana and obviously Namibia, the warming will be about 6 degrees Celsius, and that heat stress is so aggressive to the cattle that no breed can survive. All the cattle breeds will become unsustainable in terms of farming with them.”

Tipping points are events where climate systems change in such a way that they can no longer be reversed. As an example, Engelbrecht said, a prolonged drought in the Gauteng Province of South Africa that lowered water levels in dams and led to shortages in the city of Johannesburg, making it inhospitable.

Zambian geology scholar Kawawa Banda says research conducted under SASSCAL shows groundwater supply in the Zambezi Catchment Area shared by Botswana, Namibia and Zambia could be another tipping point.

“In the TIPPECC project, what we want to do is understand the risks associated with these drought conditions," Banda said. "We also want to understand the risks associated with tipping points around the quality, as well as possible complete depletion of this resource, so that actions around adaptation and risks are better informed from a water management perspective.”

TIPPECC stands for Tipping Points Explained by Climate Change. It is funded by SASSCAL. Jane Olwoch is the executive director of SASSCAL, which includes Angola, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zambia.

She says there is a need to integrate climate change into goverment policy, and information is a tool in sensitizing leaders to act on climate change by supporting renewable energy.

“We use science especially in green hydrogen to support demonstration pilot projects. In that way, we are bringing in new technology, new know-how, and giving our countries capability to respond to these new subjects like green hydrogen and renewable energy,” Olwoch said.

Namibia’s green energy ambitions involve the production of hydrogen and ammonia for foreign markets using solar and wind energy, some of which will be sent back into the electrical grid.

A clean source of energy, experts say, can replace oil, coal and gas in the near future.

In the Southern Hemisphere, Botswana, Namibia and Zambia are hit hardest by global warming, with SASSCAL research showing a 6 percent increase in the second half of the 21st century if nothing is done about it now.