The Cost of Climate Change in South Africa

Spotlight Activity: The Cost of Climate Change in South Africa

South Africa is extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate variability and climate change. Climate change poses arguably the single greatest challenge to South African society. The changes impact not only the biophysical world but also directly impact the way in which humans live and interact. Most of these impacts affect vulnerable communities particularly those situated in the rural areas.

In South Africa, the millions of people living in rural areas are amongst the poorest and the most vulnerable and have a low capacity for resilience with which to cope with climate change. The overwhelming majority of the rural population are reliant on social grants, remittances from urban areas and farming, and forest-based livelihood strategies.  Many rural areas are populated by high numbers of children and the elderly as people of a working age often migrate to urban areas in search of work. Children and the elderly are more vulnerable to climate change because they lack the means for adaptation. They are particularly vulnerable to severe heat stress, food insecurity, and malnutrition and all of these can catalyse the opportunity for other types of illnesses. 

The increased occurrence of the disastrous weather conditions in our country has moved government to intensify its actions in the fight against climate change. The National Climate Change Response White Paper was developed in 2011; the policy identifies different vulnerable groups, including children and recognises the need to respond to a changing disease profile, especially adverse to children as a result of climate change. On the 6th of May 2019, the South African Minister of Environmental Affairs, released an adaptation strategy that will allow our country to plan and respond better to the increased impacts of climate change. The draft National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy introduces measures to adapt to the effects of climate change. The adaptation strategy is guided by the overarching principle of sustainable development, which is the cornerstone of Vision 2030 contained in the National Development Plan. The strategy also defines the country’s vulnerabilities, outline how we can minimise these vulnerabilities and how we can turn them into opportunities.

Status: Right Direction

The South African government has been active in generating strategies, policies and plans that respond to a growing awareness of the impacts of climate change. The draft National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy is a good move to deal with the intensified impacts of climate change in South Africa. The strategy will help to classify the country’s vulnerabilities and mitigation measures to be taken to reduce these vulnerabilities. However, mitigation and adaptation strategies that are child-sensitive still need to be developed and timeously implemented. Children represent more than a third of South Africa’s population and are one of the social groups most vulnerable to climate change.

Take Action

Dear Honourable Minister Barbara Creecy,

We appreciate the adaptation strategy and we believe that once the strategy is adopted for implementation, it will contribute enormously to lessen the vulnerabilities in our country. The strategy will also support South Africa in meeting its international climate change obligations and is in line with our commitment to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

Send Action Alert Message to:

Department of Environmental Affairs                                                                                            

Environment House                                                                                                                                 

473 Steve Biko Arcadia                                                                                                                                                      

Pretoria 0083

Tel: +27 12 399 9000 

Learn more

For a more comprehensive view of National Climate Change Response White Paper 2011, see

See “draft National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy 2019”,

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