Understanding changing climate in the context of megaprojects – A South African perspective

By Prof. Vannie Naidoo

There are several infrastructure mega-projects in South Africa, including the international Square Kilometre Array radio telescope, a  dig-out port in Durban, the ongoing upgrade of the R573 (a regional route in South Africa), the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, and SA Connect (which aims to connect schools, health facilities, government offices and service centres in underserviced rural districts).

The costs of these projects may run into millions or billions of rands, and the average citizen may not see the value of making such enormous investments.  However, the mega-project industry has contributed to increasing employment in the country over the years, and in the long term these projects are vital to sustain the country’s economy and business climate. As an emerging economy, South Africa needs infrastructure mega-projects to remain competitive and reinvent itself as a premium investment, tourist and business hub in Africa.

Nonetheless, in recent years, climate change-related natural disasters like floods have disrupted such projects.  Last year, KwaZulu-Natal experienced destructive floods and even an earth tremor.  The current heavy rains in several provinces, and droughts in the Gqeberha area, among others, are an indicator of things to come.  The mega-project industry has to find new ways of carrying out their business in the context of this new reality.  

As a nation and as part of the global village, steps need to be taken urgently to ensure water security and to reverse the skyrocketing build-up of greenhouse gases. Our duty in society is to promote more greening initiatives in business, in spite of the potentially huge impact this may have on the economy and society worldwide.

The inescapable fact is that the Earth is our only home.  The human species has taken so much from her that we have to step up and become responsible custodians of our planet.  This is the reality faced by governments across the world.

In the last few years, there has been an upsurge of floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, and tornadoes. These natural disasters have a major impact on the scheduling, costs and staffing of mega-projects. Looking on the bright side, however, there are new technologies and innovations that can assist in improving efficiency and keeping track of materials on site during disasters.  

Project managers can acquire technologies to track earthquake and weather patterns, enabling them to make preparations to safeguard their staff and sites. Especially in flooding and earthquakes, staff need to know about impending disasters in time to vacate affected sites and move to safer grounds. To address such risks and vulnerabilities, project managers can also use sensors, open satellite images and unmanned aerial vehicles to record the real-time situation of land, rivers and critical infrastructure.

Climate change is a global challenge and requires leading researchers, scientists and scholars across the world to collaborate in finding solutions, as well as collaboration between governments to implement these solutions.

The mega-project industry, like all industries and all the world's inhabitants, is affected. As temperatures rise and polar ice melts, sea levels rise.  Countries like the Netherlands are making progress in protecting their people and infrastructure, reinforcing their dykes and improving their climate change policies.

Sweden has developed technologies to lower carbon emissions in its industries.  There is strong government legislation in this regard, and already about 60% of the country's national energy supply comes from renewables.  Denmark leads the world in climate change action, with proactive legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 70% by 2030 – below its 1990 levels – and is targeting net zero emissions by 2050.

All countries have a stake in keeping this planet safe for human habitation.  South Africa, which has the worst carbon emissions in Africa owing to its heavy reliance on coal, needs to pass and implement legislation that will supports climate change initiatives, while enabling industry and mega-projects to continue.

Prof. Naidoo is an associate professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s School of Management, Information Technology and Governance.


© 2021 Department of Science and Innovations . All Rights Reserved.