Some Key Environmental Issues in South Africa

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Biophysical Issues

In many cases, the reason for biophysical environmental issues is that the resources are public goods and thus undervalued in the economy (Goodstein 2002).[Goodstein]


South Africa is water stressed (i.e. there are 1 000—1 699 m3 of water per person per year) and is predicted to be short of water by 2050 (Clarke and King 2004).[] In the report, South Africa: Initial National Communication under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, it is predicted that South Africa will use most of its freshwater resources in the next few decades without considering the impacts of climate change (Government of South Africa 2000).[] This means that water resources need to be carefully managed. The excessive use (at rates greater than the recharge rate) of groundwater could reduce the availability of surface water (CNdV africa 2005).[]

Water use by agriculture, households and industry results in pollution which increases the costs of ensuring clean and disease-free water (Clarke and King 2004).[] Pollution reaches the oceans through pipes (e.g. sewage outfalls and storm water outlets) and waterways and contributes to biodiversity loss and other coastal problems (CNdV africa 2005).[]
Air pollution

South Africa generates 50% of the air pollution on the African continent. Vehicular transport and electricity generation are two major contributors to air pollution in South Africa (CNdV 2005).[]


My experience of municipal workers in Penhill, Eersterivier is that if it is natural, it must be destroyed. During my secondary education, I prevented the brush cutting of a small patch of indigenous vegetation on the public open space next to my home. The municipal worker pointed to a Protea scolymocephala (planted) and more-or-less said “What about that?” A more recent example is arriving home from Stellenbosch to find the entire open space diagonally across from my home had been mowed on the excuse that it was a fire hazard. A fire break would have been quite adequate especially since roads provide fire breaks on three sides and on the side without a road there is a drainage ditch a few metres from the household boundaries. The public open space has not yet fully recovered from that mowing.

Fisheries depletion

Suffering from the loss and degradation of coastal spawning areas.

Non-renewable resources

Mining is not sustainable as the resources are depleted by the process Goodstein (2002)[] contends that this is not the case if we somehow use created capital to offset reductions in natural capital. The evidence of Eskom’s budget for renewable electricity generation (Gosling)[] suggests the that such an offset is unlikely in South Africa.

Mining also prevents agriculture or urban development and in turn, urban development may prevent mining (CNdV africa 2005).[CNdV]
Global Warming

The potential impacts of global warming are likely to exacerbate existing issues (e.g. water and biodiversity) and need to be considered in planning for the future (Erasmus et al. 2002, Bomhard et al. 2005, CNdV africa 2005).[CNdV] The Stern Report indicates that, without action, global warming will eventually harm the economy (Stern 2006).[]

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