Climate Change

Climate change is currently one of the most critical global issues facing the world. ASSAf’s activities in this area are selected to complement research efforts of climate scientists in South Africa.

The main thrust has been to focus attention on the implications for public policy in transitioning to a low carbon society, both at city level and regarding technologies that should be introduced to aid transition.

Forum for a Just Transition in South Africa

ASSAf’s “Forum for a Just Transition in South Africa” aims to contribute to a national process for a just transition to a low carbon and climate resilient economy, which leaves no one behind. A just transition is essential to our contribution to achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change and the Sustainable Development Goals. The Forum aims to be an outcomes-based project of the Academy, engaging flexibly through multiple modalities. The Forum will support ASSAf in its role with respect to evidenced-based scientific advice to communities, labour, government and business stakeholders.

In the short-term the Forum considers the contribution of the Academy to the national process of the JT.

In the medium-term, the Forum build its engagement with society, through inclusion of non-academic members and activities (e.g. workshops, seminars).

In the long-term, the Forum aims to establish ASSAf as a leading forum for research and reflection on South Africa’s just transition.

Biennial reports on the state of climate change science and technology development in South Africa

As the effects of climate change continue to be felt around the world, particularly in Africa, ongoing research has become critical to mitigate its impacts. In response, the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) has committed to produce two reports on climate change for Cabinet as part of “Outcome 10: Protect and Enhance our Environmental Assets and Natural Resources” of the Medium-Term Strategic Framework. Government’s five-year Medium-Term Strategic Framework incorporates an outcomes-based approach to complement the National Development Plan’s vision and trajectory that by 2030 South Africa’s transition to an environmentally sustainable, climate change resilient, low-carbon economy and just society will be well under way.

The Academy of Science of South Africa undertook these two assessments. The assessments aims to:

  • Provide a critical assessment and comparative overview of climate change scientific research and related technological innovations;
  • Identify any gaps or barriers in research and technology development value chains;
  • Suggest ways to improve the current situation and maximise opportunities for South Africa.

The first report, covering the period 2005 – 2015, was completed and endorsed by Cabinet in 2017. The second report, covering the period of 2016 and 2017, was released in 2021.

Green Technologies

ASSAf has recently completed a consensus study on “The State of Green Technologies in South Africa” (2014) for the Department of Science and Technology (DST). As part of the study, ASSAf hosted a symposium on “Green Technologies: Drivers, Barriers and Gatekeepers” on 10 September 2014. Participants at the symposium were drawn from academia, government, the private sector and civil society.

Strategic recommendations of the consensus study report are aimed at promoting implementation of green technologies and include:

  • Ensuring that policies play an enabling role by setting clear targets and instilling certainty in the market.
  • Government should actively shape the market through sound investments in research and development (R&D), education and training, and the implementation of market incentives.

The study panel was chaired by Prof Eugene Cloete, Stellenbosch University, and included the following panel members:

  • Prof Chris Buckley, University of KwaZulu-Natal
  • Dr Linda Godfrey, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research
  • Prof Diane Hildebrandt, University of South Africa
  • Dr Makhapa Makhafola, Mintek
  • Prof Anastassios Pouris, University of Pretoria
  • Prof Emile van Zyl, Stellenbosch University
  • Prof Jim Watson, UK Energy Research Centre 

Public Awareness of Climate Change

A major role of the Academy is to promote public awareness of science. ASSAf hosted an official United Nations (UN) media event to mark the release of the fifth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment report on Impacts, Risks and Vulnerabilities on 31 March 2014. The event gave leading South African scientists who had contributed to the report an opportunity to give direct feedback on findings to the media, and provided a platform for interaction between media and scientists.

Low Carbon Technologies

ASSAf hosted a two-day workshop in collaboration with Leopoldina (German Academy of Sciences) entitled “Technological Innovations for a Low Carbon Society” in October 2012 as part of the German-South African Year of Science 2012/13.

The themes of the workshop included:

  • Innovation processes in South Africa: How is technology driving growth?
  • Energy-water-food-nexus for resilient societies
  • Smart city innovations
  • Low cost, low carbon innovations for poverty alleviation

The proceedings report was launched in August 2013 at the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Leopoldina. It was noted that South Africa can be viewed as a ‘playground’ for finding innovative low carbon solutions due to the untapped wind and solar energy resources and its research capability.

Key messages that emerged were that human capital development is a key underpinning factor and that social development and human behavioural aspects are important in the South African context.

Towards a Low Carbon City

A consensus study entitled “Towards a Low Carbon City: Focus on Durban” (2011), identified key areas of intervention that would position the city of Durban on a pathway towards a low carbon city. Cities are recognised as major contributors to climate change, being densely populated with high levels of consumption and energy-use. Hence, they have a major role to play in addressing climate change issues.

The 12 strategic core recommendations include emphasising climate change co-benefits, promoting low carbon consumption and giving urgent attention to the transport sector by focusing on improving accessibility rather than mobility.

The consensus study panel was chaired by Prof Roseanne Diab and included the following members:

  • Prof James Longhurst, University of West England
  • Dr Shobhakar Dhakal, Global Carbon Project, Japan
  • Dr Robert Scholes, CSIR
  • Prof Dave Dewar, University of Cape Town
  • D Mongameli Mehlwana, CSIR
  • Prof Coleen Vogel, University of Witwatersrand
  • Mr Peter Lukey, Department of Environmental Affairs

COP 17 Side-event

ASSAf hosted a side-event entitled “Pathways towards a Low Carbon City” at the United Nations 17th annual Conference of the Parties (COP 17) in Durban in December 2011, attracting a wide variety of local and national representatives ranging from government, to academia, researchers, non-government organisations (NGOs) and the public.