Minister of Science and Technology Derek Hanekom delivered a keynote address at a panel discussion that will explore how science and technology can provide solutions to meet emerging challenges regarding global sustainability in sub-Saharan Africa.
Hosted by the International Council for Science (ICSU), in partnership with the University of Cape Town (UCT), the event brought together renowned experts, educators, development agencies, and scientists working on global environmental change research in a range of disciplines.
The panel discussion was part of a three-day interactive workshop held from 31 October to 2 November 2012, to discuss Future Earth, a new 10-year research programme on global sustainability that is being established by the Science and Technology Alliance for Global Sustainability.
Derek Hanekom’s keynote address:
May I begin by thanking the Executive Director of the ICSU Global Secretariat, Mr Steven Wilson, for inviting me to deliver opening remarks at this panel discussion on the very important issue of global sustainability for human development in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Thank you also to Dr Max Price and his colleagues at this fine university for hosting the event here this evening. Because of UCT’s alignment of its research strategy with national research and development priorities, 25 of our research chairs, as part of the South African Research Chairs Initiative, are at this university. These include a carbon-dating facility, one of our two new research chairs in the palaeosciences. UCT also has two Centres of Excellence, funded by the Department of Science Technology (DST) through the National Research Foundation.
For those of you who may not know, ateam of students at this university recently won a research grant of R2,5 million from the National Research Foundation for their “biodigester”, a natural fermentation process that converts organic waste into an alternative potential energy source. The first biodigester is already in use in one of the residences at UCT. In Asia, more than 40 million homes already use biogas for the partial provision of their household energy needs.
a malaria cure on the horizon?
Still on the subject of research excellence at UCT, a few months ago H3-D, Africa’s first integrated drug discovery and development centre based at this university, announced the identification of a possible single-dose, orally administered malaria cure following their discovery of a compound that might be able to block transmission of the parasite from person to person. This breakthrough came after extensive research undertaken by the Medicines for Malaria Venture based in Switzerland, and UCT’s Drug Discovery and Development Centre, led by Professor Kelly Chibale. Professor Chibale quite rightly called this “a proud day for African science and African scientists.”
The main focus of the discussion this evening will be on Future Earth, the movement launched at the Rio+20 Earth Summit four months ago by an alliance of international partners from global science, research funding and UN bodies. Future Earth is a significant development because it is a worldwide, interdisciplinary research programme. This will enable it to engage a new generation of scientists by exploring ways in which science and technology can respond effectively to the risks and opportunities associated with global environmental change.
The panel of experts assembled here this evening will deliberate on how Future Earth, as a broad alliance, can co-produce the scientific knowledge that societies around the world need in order to face the risks posed by global environmental change and to find solutions to these daunting challenges. This kind of panel discussion is a sensible, practical way of engaging young scientists as well as the media to debate research needs, priorities and opportunities for achieving sustainable development in Africa.
While the scope of Future Earth is global, a number of issues require region-specific approaches and alliances to provide robust observation and forecasts of regional environmental changes and to assess potential impacts and vulnerabilities. Specific regions such as sub-Saharan Africa are particularly vulnerable to climate change and therefore have a vital contribution to make the study of worldwide environmental change and building a global picture for making the much-needed transition to sustainability.
Two trends are placing the continent of Africa under ever-increasing pressure. The continent is experiencing rapid urbanisation and has no fewer than six of the world’s ten fastest growing economies. To help alleviate some of this pressure on the continent and to address the issue of sustainable development, the Department of Science and Technology’s national strategies have over the years set out specific objectives. Moreover, South Africa’s National Sustainable Development Strategy which was approved by Cabinet in November last year, acknowledges that South Africa needs to ensure that a green economy is supported by practical, tangible initiatives to shift towards a resource-efficient, low-carbon and pro-employment growth path.
The transition to a resilient, low-carbon economy features strongly in the recently released National Development Plan. However we do face particular challenges in pursuing this goal. This is a global problem requiring a global solution, and given the present realities of international climate change policy, it will be immensely challenging to the commitment set out in our Vision 2030 to reduce our emissions without compromising other key objectives such as creating jobs, addressing poverty and growing an internationally competitive economy. In other words, we will need to balance economic growth and urbanisation ambitions with environmental sustainability.
The transition to a green economy will require the development of new and innovative policy approaches – approaches that will give us much-needed flexibility in the short to medium term, whilst constantly keeping our eyes on our long-term carbon emissions goal. The three-day Future Earth workshop, of which this panel discussion forms an integral part, is well timed.
It is essential that we improve our scientific understanding of global change, and that we build on technological capabilities to counter the effects of that global change. The DST has initiated a programme of developing a critical mass of highly skilled and motivated young researchers in sustainability sciences, participating in a number of international research partnerships.
Government is currently the largest funder of research and development in our country. We have developed a Research, Development and Innovation Infrastructure Funding Framework to improve the research infrastructure of South Africa’s higher education and research institutions to make them more globally competitive and more attractive to international students and researchers. The funding framework prioritises four areas: scientific equipment, specialised facilities, high-end infrastructure and access to global infrastructure.
Today, SA has more than 30 bi-national science and technology agreements, compared to a mere handful in 1994. Several of these partnerships have been forged with African countries, with whom we are currently funding joint projects to an estimated value of over R50 million, helping to facilitate active research networks between South African researchers and researchers from African partners such as Algeria, Namibia, Kenya, Mozambique, Zambia, Egypt and Angola.
Domestically, the South African government continues to provide resources in support of scientific research partnerships. Our eight science councils are all engaged in technology transfer and capacity-building by undertaking research for social, scientific and technological development – development that leads to an improvement in living standards for all South Africans.
I would like to commend the University of Cape Town, the International Council for Science, which has a membership of 141 countries are represented, and the International Social Science Council for organising this evening’s event. I would also like to thank the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency and the International Social Science Council for their financial assistance.
This Future Earth Workshop, as you know, started yesterday and will be concluded tomorrow. I have every confidence that, like this evening’s panel discussion, the workshop will produce its fair share of rigorous debate as we all engage in important deliberations in pursuit of humanity’s common objectives: to produce a cleaner, safer and more sustainable future for all of humankind – a world in which no child is malnourished or goes hungry, where no child is denied access to education in a world in which all people enjoy a life of dignity and greater equality. To achieve this we need to work together to nurture our planet earth and its resources.
We will need to apply the best of our scientific knowledge to find sustainable ways of enhancing food production and rural incomes, guided by a better understanding and a profound respect for the eco-systems that sustain us.