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South Africa gets first School for Climate Studies

Stellenbosch University has launched a School for Climate Studies, the first of its kind with faculty status in South Africa.

The School has been started to support the country’s transition to a climate-resilient society and a low-carbon economy. It will create a transdisciplinary capacity to combine the climate-related knowledge systems of Stellenbosch University’s faculties, the public sector’s climate policies and initiatives, the private sector’s climate redress and innovation capacities, and the social impact mission of the university’s academic and applied efforts.

It will also conduct research, coordinate curricula development and facilitate postgraduate training, advice and consultancy as well as technology transfer in multiple fields of climate studies. The newly created faculty won’t draw on only Stellenbosch University (SU) researchers but also engage with a network of researchers at other universities, institutions and organisations in South Africa and abroad for collaboration.

One such collaboration will be with the Global University Alliance on Climate, which includes the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of California, Berkley and other leading universities of the world. At the moment, Stellenbosch is the only African member of GUAC.

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Buti Manamela, Deputy Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, said at the launch of the School that a joint report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change emphasises the need for a new generation of scientists who are not only experts in their field but also able to think across multiple disciplines to identify innovative solutions to climate challenges.

“We now know with greater clarity that our economies and ecological systems are co-dependent and interacting. While human ingenuity is infinite, our natural resources are not. Ingenuity is needed now more than ever before to allow vibrant human societies to develop sustainably within a finite resources landscape,” said Manamela.

He said focused studies on climate change are a positive step towards giving this issue the attention it deserves – a move away from dealing with it under the traditional umbrella of environmental studies or science. A direct benefit of this focused approach would be the potential for new knowledge, the development of a new generation of well-trained climate scientists and students and increased researched outputs which will bring about scientific evidence to support policy development, planning and general decision making.

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Professor Wim de Villiers, SU Rector and Vice-Chancellor, said this new faculty would off South Africa very urgent and necessary services. “Sometimes, it seems that we as South Africans tend to revert to the notion that only the major economies of the world are the big offenders when it comes to our warming planet. But actually, as a major contributor to the emission of greenhouse gases on the African content, South Africa cannot simply sit back and shrug off this mounting humanitarian crises.”

Prof Guy Midgley, SU leading expert on biodiversity and global change science, said climate change presents an opportunity for the School to identify risks and harness the opportunities. “A 2018 World Economic Forum report identified extreme weather, natural disasters, water crises, the failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation, food crises and large-scale involuntary migration as the major risks to the global economy by virtue of their likelihood and impact. It is very obvious that these are all elements of the same problem – an overuse of the environment. So, we need to look at this holistically if we want to solve it.

“It is really about how we integrate two very complex systems – the ecological system and the economic system. For some reason, we prioritise the economic system. We feel that human well-being lie in economic well-being. This has led to the strip-mining of the world’s ecological system to support the economic system. We should reset the balance between the two.”

Theresa Smith
Theresa Smith is a conference producer for Clarion Events Africa.