A degraded rural landscape in Lesotho at the peak of the 2016 drought. A degraded landscape is less resilient in drought conditions and offers fewer services to local communities. Photo: Sheona Shackleton.
The African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA) Centre of Excellence in Climate and Development (ARUA-CD), hosted by the University of Cape Town (UCT), is set to strengthen Africa’s voice in the climate-change discussion thanks to a funding allocation from the Worldwide Universities Network (WUN) that will also hasten delivery on the continent’s climate and development agenda.
The WUN Research Development Fund grant will help the ARUA-CD to support research on climate-resilient landscapes, specifically at three study sites in South Africa, Kenya and Ghana. Led by Professor Sheona Shackleton from the University of Cape Town, the ARUA-CD’s WUN research will draw together scientists from different disciplines and institutions, including experts on livelihoods and adaptation; environmental history; ecosystem services; hydrology; biodiversity; agriculture; climate risk; and water, energy, and food security.
The ARUA-CD’s work will not only strengthen Africaʼs voice in climate negotiations, but also enhance delivery on its climate and development agenda, said Professor Shackleton, who is also ACDI’s deputy director .
“The ARUA-CD’s work will not only strengthen Africaʼs voice in climate negotiations, but also enhance delivery on its climate and development agenda.”
“We aim to improve the quality and quantity of African research, and its impact on decision-making. This is African-led science, for African application,” she said.
Starkest warning to date
The urgency was hammered home when a recent special report saw leading climate-change scientists give their starkest warning to date regarding global warming: Current efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions will not prevent us from overshooting the “safe” upper limit of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
For African countries that are vulnerable to climate stresses and risks, the alert is a major cause for concern.
Many parts of Africa are already considered hotspots for climate change, which means that they are warming faster than other regions on the planet, and experiencing more erratic rainfall patterns and longer heatwaves. Future temperature increases will likely be devastating to life in these areas as climate change exacerbates risks, threatening humans and nature.
It is against the background of a clear, urgent need to find solutions to ensure climate-resilient, low-carbon development, especially on the African continent, that ARUA-CD is focusing its efforts on magnifying the impact of African research in the climate space.
ARUA-CD members meet with representatives of a local municipality in Ghana. Photo: Chris Gordon.
The ARUA constitutes a research network of 16 universities that supports centres of excellence across the continent, one of which is the ARUA-CD. The focus is on building indigenous research capacity to enable Africa’s people to take control of their own future.
The 13 centres of excellence are organised around key themes linked to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). UCT hosts both the climate change and poverty and inequality research hubs, the former coming to the university in 2018 following a highly competitive selection process. Fellow WUN members the University of Nairobi and the University of Ghana are UCT’s partners in this endeavour.
Reflecting the location of each university, the ARUA-CD consists of three nodes, located across the continent (in southern, eastern and western Africa). The aim is to avoid duplication of research efforts, creating a critical mass of scientists working together to undertake comparative research.
Professor Shackleton explained that understanding the social and environmental impacts of climate change requires systematic and longitudinal place-based research. This research can inform climate-related interventions and facilitate their implementation in settings that span many sectors and involve various land uses.
“This research can inform climate-related interventions and facilitate their implementation in settings that span many sectors and involve various land uses.”
“The landscape approach enables regular and long-term interaction between all stakeholders, thereby creating an opportunity to build trust, facilitate mutual learning and influence change,” she said, adding that these “living labs” are not only places of knowledge co-production, but can help identify solutions to the region’s climate challenges.
Professor Sheona Shackleton is UCT’s lead on this WUN project. Photo: Millicent Amekube.
The ARUA-CD’s WUN research will draw together scientists from the Worldwide Universities Network and experts from other universities known as WUN Plus partners (WUN +).
“Together we can explore local responses to short-term shocks and long-term environmental change.”
“Together we can explore local responses to short-term shocks and long-term environmental change,” Shackleton said.
“The landscape approach also provides a focal point for the work of students, enabling them to cross-pollinate ideas and support one another.”
The ARUA is currently seeking funding for all 13 of its centres, with the partners of each also undertaking fundraising to support comparative research and student exchanges.
This article is a slightly adapted version of the story that originally appeared on the UCT website on 25 February 2019.
For more information about WUN research groups, please visit this page.