Although less at risk than other African countries, South Africa may face an influx of “climate change refugees” from Zimbabwe and Mozambique, which are among the most vulnerable countries in the world.
“From a climate change perspective, we’re clearly at risk — it’s a real issue for us and a financial concern,” said Neil Morris, director of climate change and sustainability services at KPMG in South Africa.
The WEF report said following a year scarred by extreme weather, rising greenhouse gas emissions were rated as the third most likely global risk overall, after severe income disparity and chronic fiscal imbalances. Persistent economic weakness and urgent socioeconomic issues were derailing efforts to tackle climate change challenges, the environmental risk with the most knock-on effects for the next decade.
“Two storms — environmental and economic — are on a collision course,” said John Drzik, CEO of global management consulting company Oliver Wyman Group.
“If we don’t allocate the resources needed to mitigate the rising risk from severe weather events, global prosperity for future generations could be threatened,” he said.
The WEF report went a step further, warning that simultaneous shocks to the world’s economic and environmental systems could trigger “potentially insurmountable consequences”.
It highlighted two other major risk cases globally — complacency over health amid rising resistance to antibiotics, and the spread of “digital wildfires” sparked by the rapid spread of misinformation on the internet.
Given the greater certainty that global temperatures would rise to some extent, a “climate-smart” mind-set should permeate decision-making, the WEF said.
This had to become a part of urban planning, water-and food-security management, investment policy and demographic policy development. But the WEF said the sovereign debt crisis would make this more difficult.
This article originally appeared in Business Day live 9 January 2013