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What is climate change?

Which human activities contribute to climate change?

Climate change is caused by an increase in greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide due to human activities.

Scientific reports show that the rapid increase in greenhouse gases is linked to the increase in industrial activities and population growth.

Natural events can also cause changes in climate, for example volcanic eruptions which put small particles in the atmosphere. But these events only take place from time to time and not continously like greenhouse gas emissions from human activities.

Carbon dioxide emissions result from the burning of coal, oil, natural gases (fossil fuels) for producing energy that is used for transportation (for example, cars) and to generate electricity.

Clearing land for housing and agricultural purposes by removing plants, also leads to an increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Methane is generated during coal mining and in landfills and open dumps when organic waste decomposes. Nitrous oxide is produced by various industrial and agricultural activities like livestock production.

Impacts of climate change

The impact of climate change affects the way we live, for example:

  • our ability to grow food
  • our water supply
  • our health
  • plants and animals around us
  • economic conditions of families and communities.

Rising temperatures cause:

  • a rise in sea level
  • change in rainfall patterns
  • an increase in severe weather conditions such as floods and heat waves.

What is government doing?
Government, through several national departments, has committed itself to participate in the various international climate change agreements.

These agreements include the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). South Africa will host the UNFCCC COP 17 in 2011.

The Department of Environmental Affairs is currently driving the climate change policy development process. Various provinces and national departments are drafting their own, more detailed, climate change response strategies.

South Africa’s National Climate Change Committee (NCCC) is a multi-stakeholder forum that informs government on various climate change policies and measures.

What can we do to combat climate change?

  • save energy in your home, at school and at work
  • cut down fuel consumption
  • plant trees
  • limit the dumping of unwanted materials – recycle glass, tins and plastic items
  • make compost from organic materials and use it in your garden
  • become involved and spread the word about climate change and its negative effects to your family, friends and community.