Climate Change

An introduction to climate change, greenhouse gasses and the climate change policy context in South Africa.


What is Climate Change?

To understand climate change, you first need to understand the Greenhouse Effect and why Greenhouse Gasses are important. The greenhouse effect is a naturally occurring phenomena in the earth’s atmosphere.

As energy from the sun enters the atmosphere, some of this energy is reflected back into outer space and some energy is trapped in the atmosphere. This flow of energy traps enough heat in the atmosphere to allow for life on earth to flourish. The energy is trapped in the atmosphere partly due to the presence of greenhouse gases. Greenhouse gases include Water Vapour, Carbon Dioxide, Methane and Others.

Human activities are increasing the amount of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. The burning of coal to generate electricity, burning of petrol in cars, some chemical processes in industries, and many farming activities all add to the amount of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere.

This increase in Greenhouse Gases is causing more energy to be trapped in the atmosphere. You can think of the atmosphere as a blanket that is getting thicker and thicker, as more greenhouse gasses are released into the atmosphere. As more energy gets trapped, the atmosphere heats up. This heating up process is referred to as Global Warming.

As the earth’s atmosphere gets hotter, there are impacts on how global weather systems work. Some areas will experience large increases in temperatures while others will have less marked increases in temperatures. Some areas will get more rain, while others will get less rain. These large scale changes in long term weather patterns is what is referred to as Climate Change.

The video below provides an introduction to Climate Change.

Causes of Greenhouse Gasses

There are a wide variety of activities that cause greenhouse gasses. These activities are summarised in the diagram below.

Climate Change Policy Context In South Africa

There are many different international and national climate change policies and structures. The video presentation on the right is a summary introduction to this system and includes: 

  1. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
  2. The Paris Agreement
  3. South Africa’s Nationally Determined Contributions
  4. The National Climate Change Response White Paper
  5. The National Development Plan
  6. Long Term Mitigation Scenarios, and the
  7. Long Term Adaptation Scenarios