Page 56 - UCT Research Report 2011

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UCT Research Report '11
Professor Mark New’s office has a
spectacular view from the top floor of the
Geology Building on UCT’s upper campus
and is reached through a complex maze of
corridors and discontinuous stairs. The new
Pro Vice-Chancellor for Climate Change
is the Director of the African Climate and
Development Initiative (ACDI), UCT’s new
inter-disciplinary initiative for linking and
developing the no less complex wealth of
ongoing climate change-related research at
the university.
Professor New is clear that climate change is not just
another research area. It is an unprecedented challenge for
humanity and a real threat to our civilisation, complicated
by the uncomfortable reality that the ‘enemy’ is ourselves.
This sets a provocative challenge for the ACDI: how to map
a pathway for Africa that protects economic development
and improves the lives of an African population that is set
to increase steeply, while switching to much lower carbon
emissions than have been typical of other developing
regions. What’s more, this must be done in a part of the
world that will likely be most affected by climate change.
The ACDI is developing collaborations across more than
20 departments at UCT, from the pure sciences to the
social sciences and the humanities, including the Centre
for Criminology, the Gordon Institute for Performing and
Creative Arts (GIPCA), and the Energy Research Centre
(ERC), a hub of expertise on energy scenarios for South
Africa and a key player in the development of South
Africa’s Long Term Mitigation Scenarios, to explore the
country’s options for developing while cutting emissions.
Professor New points out that a systemic approach reveals
substantial overlaps in these issues. Some possible
mitigation choices – for instance, using more biofuels,
would have significant implications for adaptation, putting
more pressure on water and land resources already
stressed by climate change.
“There’s a series of PhD projects in the faculties of Law and
Commerce, with the Department of Criminology’s Professor
Clifford Shearing,” says Professor New. “He’s interested in
the role of fulcrum organisations; those that can be agents
that strongly influence how we respond to climate change.
“They’re working with the insurance company Santam and
local authorities, looking at assessing natural disaster risk
and reducing premiums in the context, for example, of
good catchment management.
“We’re very interested in bringing different disciplines
together, to think systemically, in order to identify knowledge
gaps from single or multiple disciplines that may need to
be filled to improve our understanding of the systemic
issues. Phase one of ACDI is about networking and
enabling. We’re also looking at setting up partnerships
with entities like the Western Cape government, to clarify,
for example, what a green economy might mean in the
context of climate change, while creating processes for
dealing with complex multi-stakeholder issues.
“Our master’s degree in climate change and sustainable
development takes a similar approach, combining courses
from the engineering, commerce, humanities and science
faculties with a range of electives, and this is helping to
create a community of research-active teachers.”
Much of the research being done under the auspices
of ACDI is also characterised by this multi-stakeholder
approach. Professor New is enthusiastic about the recent
work by economics student Anthony Dane, for example.
“He did a master’s degree project on personal carbon
trading. He did some really cool experiments where he got
60 or so students to work out their carbon budget and then
set a cap for the total carbon that the group could emit.”
Dane says he concluded that: “mitigation policy frightens
people but it can be acceptable if adequately understood –
participating in the design process improved acceptability
“Then, within the ERC, there is innovative thinking
about energy and poverty, trying to understand energy
alternatives that do improve wellbeing, jobs and income,”
says Professor New. “The same solar technology can
have very different social impacts, depending on whether
UCT launches a co-ordinated
assault on
climate change
“Climate change is not just another
research area. It is an unprecedented
challenge for humanity and a real
threat to our civilisation, complicated
by the uncomfortable reality that the
‘enemy’ is ourselves.”