Research & Innovation 2015-16 - Page 88

Thought leader
African development
in a changing climate
The fossil-fuelled energy systems that fired the industrialisation of the western
economies of Europe, North America, the USSR, and more recently the emerging
economies have had a range of positive socioeconomic development outcomes.
But these economic growth spurs came with environmental and (ultimately) social
costs that are increasingly being felt, and will grow for many decades into the
future. Climate change is one of the most high-profile examples of unsustainable
development, write Mark New, Gina Ziervogel and Britta Rennkamp.
Adaptation to climate change
Building a climate-adapted society makes good
development sense. Many of the most vulnerable in
Africa are caught in poverty traps that are reinforced
by climatic impacts. For example, droughts and floods
cause damage to farms and property; and households
spend years recovering, only to be knocked back by
the next drought or flood.
Being locked into these poverty traps contributes to
other negative development impacts, such as poor
nutrition and health, and reduced access to education.
But climate adaptation makes sense across all facets
of society, not just the most in need: a climate-adapted
Western Cape water-resource system can deliver
greater water security for Cape Town; houses – large
and small – that are well-designed stay cool in summer,
and warm and dry in winter; a supermarket chain that
works with its suppliers to build climate resilience into
food production is better able to sustain supplies when
weather extremes hit.
Adapting to climate change in South Africa and the
wider African continent is therefore a truly multifaceted endeavour, in which engaged research can
play a critical enabling role. It involves, among other
factors: understanding and forecasting how weather
and climate at different scales across Africa might
change as the globe warms; exploration of what these
climatic changes mean in terms of impacts on society;
identification of solutions and options that reduce
vulnerabilities and enhance societal and environmental
well-being; and probably most critically, figuring out
how to shift, transform and enable the systems and
institutions that govern our societies to implement the
actions that are needed.
For Africa, climate-change adaptation has to be
considered in the context of development agendas,
and of how it aligns with other SDGs. First, to have
traction, adaptation actions must contribute
to positive social and economic
development outcomes. However,
tensions can emerge when
desired development outcomes
lead to maladaptation; for
example, water-intensive
economic development in
regions that are predicted to
become water-stressed under
climate change. This requires
reflection on what it is about
existing politics, economics and
planning that makes more holistic,
longer-term thinking – including about
climate change – difficult.
A contributing factor is certainly the
knowledge and capacities of those in
both the public and private sector to
‘mainstream’ climate-change adaptation

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