Climate change threatens the livelihoods of millions across the planet and Africa is one of the more vulnerable regions.

In response, UCT has launched a major initiative to consolidate UCT’s response to the pressures and threats of climate change on the African continent. The African Climate and Development Initiative (ACDI) was launched late in 2009 at the behest of the Vice-Chancellor, Dr Max Price, to build knowledge and research capacity in climate change at UCT. Professor John Parkington was appointed as Acting Pro-Vice-Chancellor in 2010, and started off the initiative in a creative and proactive way. ACDI’s bottom line is to address Africa’s climate and development challenges from an African perspective.

According to the newly appointed director of ACDI and UCT Pro-Vice-Chancellor for climate change, Professor Mark New, there is plenty to be concerned about. Africa is one of the regions most sensitive to climate change, not only because the climate is more variable in the tropics and sub tropics, but also because there is less capacity on the continent to cope with the impacts of climate change. In addition, against the backdrop of accelerated economic development, it is increasingly urgent that the continent finds low-carbon solutions to economic growth or it risks exacerbating the threat of an unpredictable climate.

“While much of what needs to be done in Africa on the climate issue is political and economic, it is important that the research community works to provide government and business leaders with evidence based on high-quality research on which to base action on both mitigation and adaptation,” says New.

New is confident that the opportunities in this arena are huge. UCT already has an impressive track record in the climate-change arena, from applied research to active involvement at policy level with the global climate-change negotiations. ACDI embraces and builds on these initiatives.

ACDI will immerse itself in three main functions: cutting-edge research, teaching at postgraduate level and social/public awareness.


On the research front, ACDI will facilitate and co-ordinate strong multi-, cross- and trans-disciplinary research programmes that draw, initially, on the unique natural setting available in the south-western Cape (the interplay between two oceans, local geology and flora juxtaposed with distressing socio-economic conditions) but which will extend and expand northwards into Africa.

The research is informed by the challenges of achieving development in the context of high levels of inequality and poverty. From this perspective ACDI is focusing its research on solutions ranging from the global to the local scale covering the scientific, engineering, legal, social and political aspects of climate change.

The subject matter of a social science component of ACDI is policy and climate action itself.Research and development will focus on initiatives that promote sustainable economies and lifestyles, which in turn promote developmental (pro-poor) objectives. Strong research in the pure and applied sciences and social sciences will underpin ACDI’s activities, thus informing innovative models for adaptation and mitigation, particularly for, although not limited to, the poorer communities in Africa.

Research under the ACDI banner was kick-started in 2009 with initial funding from the Carnegie Corporation. Two foundation projects selected in a competitive evaluation process were given the green light – one focusing on long-term vegetation change, driven by the Plant Conservation Unit, and the other on governance, driven by the Africa Climate Change Innovative Governance Hub.

In addition, the Vice-Chancellor’s Strategic Fund awarded a "collective" grant to six proposals researching issues related to climate change and development.


Central to the ACDI vision is the development of a strong taproot into primary disciplines, from undergraduate through to postgraduate levels of the curriculum. To this end, training in relevant disciplines occurs through research master’s and PhD degrees. At a more general educational level, a multidisciplinary coursework master’s programme in the general field of Climate Change and Development will be implemented in 2011. This programme is tailored to the needs of those wanting general exposure to the issues of climate change and mitigation, and who have ambitions for a more vocational application.

Social engagement

Part of the education of citizens, including students in schools and universities, should be familiarity with, and an appreciation of, their natural heritage and its global significance. ACDI actively creates this awareness and raises general levels of engagement with issues of climate change and climate variability. Most importantly, the quality of its research enables debate and public awareness of contrasting arguments in a responsible way.

Three highly successful public seminars were held during 2010 drawing an audience from all walks of life. The debates stimulated through these seminars are important for raising awareness and facilitating intellectual discussion.

New said that these three activities would work together through the establishment of strong partnerships throughout Africa to develop African leaders of the future who have an intimate understanding of the physical and human needs of Africa, and who will contribute to addressing this all-important issue facing humankind.

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