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.
UCT’s African Climate and Development Initiative (ACDI), which holds the ARUA-CD secretariat, was awarded £10 000 (R181 700). One of 16 grants from the global higher education and research network this year, it will help the ARUA-CD to support research on climate-resilient landscapes, specifically at three study sites in South Africa, Kenya and Ghana.
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 ACDI deputy director Professor Sheona Shackleton.
“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.
As host to the ARUA Centre of Excellence in Climate and Development, UCT is playing a fundamental role in building the essential indigenous research capacity to see Africans become climate-resilient.
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.
“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.”
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.
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. 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.
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.
“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.
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.
“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.
Last year, UCT awarded funding to ARUA’s African Centre of Excellence for Inequalities Research (ACEIR) and the ARUA-CD until 2022.
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The University of Cape Town is an internationally renowned hub for climate change research and training. Our work is a strategic response to urgent knowledge and capacity needs on the African continent – climate change impacts have severe implications for economic and social development, and Africa is particularly vulnerable. Greater expertise is needed to understand the challenges and to design, evaluate and sustain solutions. Engaged research can help society innovate and support effective climate policies and strategies.
This series of articles shows how UCT researchers are working with governments, civil society and the private sector to co-produce knowledge that is impactful, moving us towards a more resilient African society.