Climate change 'awareness low'

THERE is a worrying lack of public awareness of climate change and solutions for it, Environmental Minister Buyelwa Sonjica said yesterday.

THERE is a worrying lack of public awareness of climate change and solutions for it, Environmental Minister Buyelwa Sonjica said yesterday.

"It is long overdue that partnerships need to be formed with government to provide the knowledge that might guide planners and managers in urban, rural and coastal areas," she said at a gathering of the newly launched South East African (SEA) Climate Consortium in Port Elizabeth.

The consortium consists of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Rhodes University, University of Fort Hare, the Sustainable Seas Trust and the Wilderness Foundation, which aims to build an intellectual and practical capability to tackle problems of climate change.

Sonjica said the voice of previously disadvantaged universities was sorely missed in climate change decisions thus far and she was confident that the SEA Climate Consortium was a step in the right direction.

South Africa has an energy-intensive and coal-dependent economy and as such is a greenhouse gas intense economy.

At the same time South Africa is vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, especially if global temperatures rise by more than two degrees Celsius by 2050.

Sonjica said South Africa must act and contribute to a world that ensures the impact of greenhouse gasses does not get out of hand.

She said climate change threatens to undermine many of the United Nation's Millennium Development Goals which includeeradicating hunger and poverty, with severe consequences for the world's poorest people.

"Millions of them may be forced off their land and become climate refugees," she said.

Referring to universities, Sonjica said South Africa and Africa need science, monitoring and the creation of knowledge bases in the fight against the effects of climate change.

She urged universities to work with government.

Sonjica said several efforts were already under way to support adaptation research and action but capacity remains limited while problems mount.

Universities were also slow to respond to climate change adaptation.

"We see universities as offering better economies of scale in using existing organisational, intellectual and financial resources," the minister said. - Sapa

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