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[CAPE TOWN] South Africa has embarked on a national strategy to guide the country's response to climate change. The policy, launched last week by the deputy minister of the environmental affairs and tourism, Rejoice Mabudafhasi, proposes a number of priority actions relating to pollution and waste management, energy, agriculture and water.

According to the plans, attention needs to be focused on research projects that will assist with mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change. Shirley Moroka, deputy director of climate change at the Department Of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, says the strategy is aimed primarily at government departments, which are now expected to use it to develop plans of action for integrating climate change issues into their policies and practices.

The strategy identifies the development of renewable energy sources as a priority, saying that South Africa should be obtaining 10,000 gigawatt hours of energy from such sources by 2012. It also calls for the rapid development of a national authority — with the department of minerals and energy — to facilitate implementation of Clean Development Mechanism, which encourages rich countries to finance projects that reduce emissions of greenhouse gases in poor countries in return for credit against their own emissions targets.

Other specific needs identified are implementation of a national air quality monitoring network and assessment of technologies needed for climate change-related projects. The plan also highlights the need for more education, training and awareness initiatives about climate changes.

South Africa has previously recognised that health, maize production, biodiversity and water resources face the greatest threats from climate change. The country's mining and energy sectors — and the economy at large — are also vulnerable because of its high dependence on fossil fuels, which might have to be reduced if measures to mitigate climate change are implemented.

Bruce Hewitson, professor of climatology in the department of environmental and geographical sciences at the University of Cape Town, says that although the strategy is positive in principle, and that government action is welcome, there are a number of problems with it.

"It is based on outdated and scanty information and does not address the priorities or critical issues," he says. "Also the resource base is not in place."

Consequently, adds Hewitson, the strategy must be considered only as a first step and not as a definitive solution.