The Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the National Research Foundation (NRF), in collaboration with the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), recently hosted a three-day national conference on global change in Gauteng.
Following the finalisation of the Global Change Implementation Framework, one of the decisions by the global change research and policy communities was to have an annual event to reflect on the progress in, and showcase products and services emerging from the implementation of the Framework.
These annual events would run from 2011 to 2018, and would consist of dedicated high-level publications alternating with national conferences.
The first event in this series was the publication in 2011 of ‘Observations on Environmental Change in South Africa,’ championed by SAEON. This dedicated high-profile volume documents the latest observations of global change trends and their policy implications.
The national Global Change Conference constituted the high-profile annual event in 2012. The central theme of the conference was “Understanding Global Change for Innovation towards a Resilient Society.”
An ominous relentless time-bomb
The opening address was delivered by the Minister of Science and Technology, Derek Hanekom. Here are some highlights from his address:
“Climate change is an ominously and relentlessly ticking time-bomb that needs to be defused by not just the delegates at this event, but by every person on Earth.
This conference brings together about 250 national global change stakeholders, including researchers, policy-makers, and members of the private sector and civil society, to exchange ideas and to deliberate on the latest developments in global change research and technology development.
This event will focus on the latest research findings and innovation initiatives emerging through programmes funded or supported under DST’s Global Change Grand Challenge Plan. It will provide an ideal opportunity for the forging of new partnerships and networks. And it will drive the process of building the next generation of young scientists by providing a forum for them to present their research to, and interact with, more experienced scientists.
Strengthening science & technology capacity
The conference will address three main issues. Firstly, the central role of science and technology in addressing climate change, as part of a broader response to dealing with environmental challenges. Secondly, this event will highlight the contribution the DST is making to strengthen science and technology capacity in this area. And finally, this gathering of like-minded individuals and organisations will re-iterate the importance of building stronger links between the research and policy communities to ensure the effective and speedy conversion of research findings into policy and action.
Initiatives aimed at improving our understanding of global change include the SA Risk and Vulnerability Atlas initiative, which was launched in 2009 to aid decision-making processes at various levels. The Atlas was conceptualised as a multi-phase initiative with Phase 1 focusing on developing an operational spatial database system and Phase 2, running until 2014, looking at operationalising the system.
Another DST programme involves building resilience to the impacts of global change by stimulating large-scale technology development and innovation in key sectors of the economy. A Resilience Innovation Programme is being scoped, with waste and water as priority sectors for the next two to three years. The DST has finalised a contract with the CSIR to conduct a feasibility study to inform a national Waste Innovation Programme.
The National Sustainable Development Strategy, which was approved by Cabinet in November last year, recognises that South Africa needs to ensure that a green economy is supported by initiatives to move towards a resource-efficient, low-carbon and pro-employment growth path. The green economy has been identified as a priority in Government’s New Growth Path, and is an important component of the National Development Plan.
A number of governance structures and management tools have been established for effective and efficient implementation of the plans outlined in the Global Change Grand Challenge. Implementation architecture has been developed, outlining roles and responsibilities of various role-players and how they interface with one another. Many of the elements of this architecture are now in place.
Improving understanding of global change
I would like to briefly share with you a few notable achievements in our quest to improve the scientific understanding of global change.
- This year, a 10-Year Global Change Research Plan was finalised. The aim of the Plan is to focus global change research and channel the required investment. Research in various research thematic areas of the Plan is progressing well.
- The Global Change Research Plan has facilitated collaboration between our global change research networks – in particular through the Applied Centre for Climate and Earth System Science (ACCESS).
- Three additional South African Research Chairs in global change were approved in 2011/12 and are ready for implementation. These include Energy and Climate Change Policy, Resilience Innovation and Social Learning Systems.
- A number of environmental observation and monitoring platforms are fully operational – the South African Earth Observation Network (SAEON) now has a full complement of six operational nodes, while the South African National Space Agency is now fully functional.
We, in South Africa, certainly have no excuse for not taking a lead in efforts to combat climate change – our country is, after all, blessed with an abundance of renewable energy potential, with some of the world’s best conditions for solar and wind-energy.
It is surely time for us to stop hoping for the best and to start planning for the worst.”
‘Observations on Environmental Change in South Africa’ is available for download at South African Risk and Vulnerability Atlas.
Minister of Science and Technology Derek Hanekom. Image: Sapa.