In what promises to be a groundbreaking initiative in the battle against climate change, Stellenbosch University (SU) has announced the establishment of a new School for Climate Studies, which will be officially launched in June 2021.
The School will create transdisciplinary capacity to combine the climate-related knowledge systems of SU's faculties, the public sector's climate policies and initiatives, the private sector's climate redress and innovation capacities and the social impact mission of SU in both academic and applied ways – all in support of the transition to a climate-resilient society and a low-carbon economy.
The vision of the School is to be a world-class institution for interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary climate and related studies in and for Africa, and to support and encourage research partnerships with other entities, both nationally and internationally. It has a broad mandate to work across all faculties, centres and institutes at SU, as well as with other national and international higher education institutions and public and private enterprises.
According to Prof Eugene Cloete, SU's Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research, Innovation and Postgraduate Studies, this is the first school of its kind in South Africa that has the status of a faculty.
He adds: “South Africa is a major contributor to greenhouse gases on the African continent. It has become essential to move towards a greener economy. Stellenbosch University has the expertise to lead the way through research and innovation, and has already done cutting-edge research on, for instance, renewable energy. Stellenbosch is also leading the field in the move towards a carbon-neutral university."
The School will conduct research, coordinate curricula development and facilitate postgraduate training, advice and consultancy as well as technology transfer in the multiple fields of climate studies. This will be achieved by engaging a network of researchers at SU and other universities, institutions and organisations in South Africa and abroad to actively collaborate on climate studies and their application. One such collaboration will be with the Global University Alliance on Climate (GUAC), which includes the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the University of California, Berkeley, and other leading universities across the world. SU is the only African member of GUAC at present.
The way forward
According to Cloete, the development of new undergraduate and postgraduate climate studies curricula (modules) has already commenced. “We believe every student who graduates from SU should understand the importance of climate, and know how to make decisions in their respective workplaces to mitigate climate change by moving towards a green economy. SU is also in the process of developing a master's degree in climate studies to build high-level capacity in this field.
“South Africa and the African continent desperately need human capacity to deal with climate change, from policymaking level in government to the implementation of practical solutions to mitigate climate change. The move towards a green economy will create many new careers in engineering, manufacturing, agriculture, renewable energy, and research into the fundamental drivers of climate change. Virtually every industry will be affected."
More about the School for Climate Studies
The School for Climate Studies at SU will engage in the following core activities:
1. Research and development
- Consolidating and integrating current thinking on climate, particularly in Africa, including climate variability and climate change, and the multiple interactions between human socioeconomic and ecological systems and the climate system
- Developing and implementing an innovative, Africa-focused research programme that responds to established and emerging issues so as to understand climate impacts as well as adaptation and mitigation responses, and thereby supports human climate resilience
- Making available research results by means of publications, research papers, seminars, short courses and dissemination to relevant stakeholders, including the broader community
- Obtaining, procuring and managing specialised equipment, software and facilities for climate studies so as to create the required platforms for data-intensive research and innovation
2. Learning and teaching
- Facilitating and developing curricula, sharing climate training and learning expertise across multiple faculties at SU through undergraduate and postgraduate modules, and coordinating interfaculty climate training. The quality assurance of undergraduate and postgraduate modules will be the responsibility of the respective faculties.
- Developing climate competence (monitoring, impacts and adaptation) through student research projects
- Hosting climate workshops, short courses, training events, congresses and any other appropriate events, such as summer and winter schools
3. Collaboration, capacity building and consultancy
- Strengthening and expanding current climate studies collaborations at SU
- Facilitating new climate research partnerships and collaborations across SU's faculties
- Establishing new climate-related strategic partnerships and collaborations with other researchers and institutions in Southern Africa, the rest of Africa and further afield
- Developing new academic capacity, career paths and infrastructure for climate studies at SU
- Creating opportunities for students to gain work experience in leading national and international public and private entities engaged in fundamental and applied climate studies, while the entities benefit from having access to talented students
4. Commercialisation and social impact
- Offering consultancy services to other departments and divisions at SU as well as to clients and partners outside SU, within the School's capacity and the SU policy framework
- Providing climate expertise to industry and other private and public organisations
- Contributing to the development and application of climate-related technologies that address issues on the broader social agenda, such as diversity, inclusivity, poverty alleviation and job creation