Economic impacts of climate change in South Africa: a preliminary analysis of unmitigated damage costs

Economic impacts of climate change in South Africa: a preliminary analysis of unmitigated damage costs

Economic consequences of global warming in South Africa

What are the predicted economic impacts of climate change in South Africa? This paper attempts to provide preliminary estimates based on secondary data from the findings of the Vulnerability and Adaptation Study for the South African Country Study on Climate Change (1999). The impacts on natural, agricultural, human-made and human capital are addressed using the change in production approach..

Findings include the following:

  • Tourism may be affected due to a loss of habitats and biodiversity, and due to changes in temperature, humidity and malaria risk, and represents the biggest potential economic loss since tourism contributes as much as 10% of GDP.
  • Changes in ecosystem function, the loss of biodiversity and non-market impacts, brought about by changes in temperature and precipitation, represent the second largest potential economic impact.
  • Significant decrease in river flow in the southern and western catchments are predicted, leading to a shrinkage of areas amenable to the country’s biomes to about half of their current extent, with huge losses in biodiversity.
  • The productivity of rangelands increases due to a CO2 fertilisation effect.
  • Whilst changes in terrestrial animal diversity could not be predicted accurately, the study suggests huge losses of species due to range shifts.
  • Forests, small but locally valuable in terms of commercial production of timber and non-timber products stand to be entirely lost.
  • Savannas, important for grazing and the subsistence harvest of numerous resources may be radically reduced, leading to large losses of productive value.
  • Agricultural systems are not nearly as affected as natural systems with the impacts on crop production relatively minor in relation to the value of the sector as a whole.
  • Finally, the impacts of climate change on human health are considered, concentrating on the increased incidence of malaria, the proportion of deaths being expected to increase and the costs in terms of the treatment costs of the sick and the loss of earnings of the sick or their carers.
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