Professor Mark New, Vice-Chancellor and Director of the African Climate Initiative (ACDI), UCT. Image source:

The mitigation task

The Paris Agreement under the UNFCCC aims to limit global warming well below pre-industrial levels by 2 ° C, but if we look at current policies so far, he explained, “they give us the best estimate of 3.6 ° C. the world’s warming by the end of the century with a probability of 95% is almost certain that the temperature will remain below 4.9 ° C and almost certain that the temperature will be above 2.6 ° C. Given the policies that still need to be implemented, “this gives us a 50/50 chance of keeping below 2.8 ° C … with an uncertainty range of around 2.3-3.5 ° C.”

“In fact, this suggests that ambitions, in terms of these promises, should really increase significantly over the next 5-10 years,” said Professor New, who noted that the longer the reduction in global emissions is delayed, the harder it becomes to achieve. the goals of the Paris Agreement due to the constant accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

As for Africa, where significant development is still needed to avoid contributing to its own vulnerability, the continent will have to invest in climate-compatible development using low-carbon energy development paths, said Professor New. At the same time, the continent will have to skip traditional methods of industrialization, which used to follow the energy path with high carbon content – for many African countries this will require North-South cooperation, investment and technical support.

The task of adaptation

Adaptation lies at the other end of the problem of climate change, and it remains an area where Africa is lacking in terms of implementation, said Professor New: “In most African countries, they are in the early stages. [the adaptation process] – understanding of risks. There have been national risk assessments, there have been sectoral risk assessments … but very little in terms of taking the next step. ”

Another issue worth noting at the implementation stage for Africa, Professor New noted, is that the focus remains on current climate risks. “What was missing was the integration of immediate risk with how that risk will evolve over time … in many cases at the moment there is a fairly large gap that links action now with the reflection on what that action means in the long run and perhaps change some actions now to take into account how risks may change in the future. ”

Focus on the basics

As for Africa, many of the reasons for the vulnerability and impact of climate risks lie in the way we look at development on the continent, with a focus on a growth-oriented economic model, he explained: “If we are really going to enable climate-compatible development, eventually we need to work fundamentally on the development planning process, in essence, informing and changing regional and national development planning so that it is climate-compatible. ”

In this area, said Professor New, extensive technical and socio-policy research is being conducted in identifying climate-compatible development pathways and developing the necessary tools and techniques, as well as building capacity to support policymakers in the transition to climate-friendly development planning. However, instead of doing new research, we need to focus on “pooling existing knowledge, transferring knowledge between different parts of the world and in Africa, and translating work to obtain existing evidence and knowledge and bring it to the goal of developing planning space. “,” he said.

Researchers involved in climate-compatible development must have the technical expertise as well as the ability to work in an interdisciplinary challenging environment, skills and competencies in systems thinking, anticipation skills, integration skills and interpersonal skills, Professor New explained. He noted that training programs in Africa on climate change remain, however, largely technical.

“Although there is a great deal of science on how to instill these other competencies in both students and graduate students, it is not really being implemented …” Professor New explained. “We really need to think about the types of researchers we produce and how our curricula and graduate programs can actually start delivering graduates who are able to come to earth in terms of solving these problems.”

The Sixth World Sustainable Development Forum was held on 27-28 January 2017 at the Southern Sun Cape Sun in Cape Town. Click here for more information.

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