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Land degradation and climate change in South Africa

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This paper considers the potential impact of future climate change on the nature and extent of land degradation in South Africa. The basis of the assessment is the comprehensive review published by the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEA&T) as a contribution to the South African effort in respect of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. The DEA&T report is founded on information collated from 34 workshops, one in each of the agricultural regions of South Africa, involving some 453 participants consisting mainly of agricultural extension officers and soil conservation technicians. This analysis reveals that land degradation is underpinned by poverty and its structural roots in colonial and apartheid political planning. Nevertheless, future climate change represents a key challenge to the developing economies of countries like South Africa. Regionally downscaled models predicting the nature and degree of rainfall changes in the future are used to assess the possible impact of future change on the South African land degradation situation. It is concluded that the most severely degraded areas of the country, including large areas of the former ‘homeland’ states, are likely to become even more susceptible under predicted climate change scenarios.

Keywords: South Africa; climate change; desertification; land degradation assessment; land use; vulnerability

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Environmental and Geographical Science, University of Cape Town, Rondebosch 7701, South Africa 2: Institute for Plant Conservation, Department of Botany, University of Cape Town, Rondebosch 7701, South Africa s: ;, Email:

Publication date: June 1, 2003

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