Helping municipalities plan for climate change

Published: 01 August 2017 |  Public Services SA

Responding to climate change is a priority for local governments, as they work to protect the quality of life of the country's most vulnerable residents; to help with this process, SRK Consulting has developed a rapid vulnerability assessment (RVA) tool.

"Understanding climate risks is essential for local government, in particular, to be able to effectively implement adaptation measures for vulnerable communities and sustainable local economic development, in terms of the Durban Adaptation Charter for Local Governments,"  said Warrick Stewart, SRK Consulting  principal  environmental scientist.

"SRK's RVA tool helps municipalities to understand the links between climate change and local environmental and socio­ economic implications, and to determine the necessary proactive and reactive response measures."

While climate changes are intrinsically linked to climatic events, climate impacts are linked to  the existing socio­ economic and environmental conditions of a region. SRK environmental scientist, Victoria Braham, therefore highlighted that vulnerability was a function of the exposure of an area to climate  change  and its sensitivity to the resultant impacts, while its adaptive capacity would cushion such impacts. So exposure, sensitivity and  adaptive capacity all had  to be carefully measured,  and  this is where the RVA tool comes into its own.

The City of Mbombela (COM) is among those where the tool has been successfully applied. 'The COM appointed SRK Consulting to develop a climate change strategy and implementation plan," said Khethiwe Malaza, head of the Environmental Management Unit at COM. 'The strategy is meant to guide and equip the city to build climate resilience and  improve the community's adaptive capacity."

Some of the actions contained in the implementation plan are already being implemented by the city, said Malaza. "Working with the COM, the spatial context of the area was analysed through the municipality's Spatial Development Framework and Integrated Development Plan, breaking each development zone down into economic sectors," said Braham. "We could then determine the vulnerability per zone and sector by assessing existing and future stresses to the system, by projecting future climate change impacts for the municipality (its exposure), and by determining the degree of sensitivity and  adaptive capacity of the system."

The RVA's findings were then used to inform the management actions that the COM should prioritise in their Climate Change Response Strategy.

"Using the RVA tool, we considered the social resilience of the communities in the study area, the resilience of  the biophysical environment, and the relationship between them," she said. " We believe this is a relatively new approach within South African local municipalities.

According to Malaza, the main challenges that climate change will bring are likely to be the extremes of heavy rains and drought. She said the RVA is an important tool to guide the COM management to prioritise rural infrastructure development and promote the protection of aquatic and terrestrial  ecosystems.

'The RVA highlighted the main sectors that are highly vulnerable to climate change yet have a low adaptive capacity," said Malaza. "This provides a starting point for the city." The other climate change implication would be more regular drought and water shortages.

The COM is home to a wide range of economic sectors from agriculture, mining and forestry to industry and tourism, which were all assessed during the application of the RVA tool. The tool is flexible enough, however,  to be applied more narrowly; at a company or project  level, for example.

The development process for the tool was informed by the Department of Environmental Affairs' Let's Respond Toolkit, which helps integrate climate change response into municipal integrated development plans.
 

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