Insights From the Climate Change and Vulnerable Community Workshop

By Jack A. Dyer

Sixteen stakeholders rekindled their passion for climate-affected communities, among the dassies and succulents at SANBI’s Auditorium within the Pretoria National Botanical Gardens on the 16 to 17 October 2018, when the Adaptation Network hosted its Practical Adaptation for Vulnerable Communities Training Workshop. The workshop started with each participant symbolically choosing an animal and what it meant to us. For some it was a gecko, peacock, cockerel, horse or cow. For me it was a goose: evoking the perils of species migration and response. Whilst some of us may temporarily escape it and migrate like geese, to some extent we are all eventually vulnerable and must adapt or perish!

For five of us, our experiences bonded us from the initial meet at our guesthouse as we worked to master logistics and other challenges of being placed in a foreign location. From Kwa-Zulu Natal to Limpopo Province, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Flanders, we became committed to sharing our insights, experiences, successes and failures. As part of the greater group of participants, we recommitted ourselves to the ideals of a team contract and collective mutual understanding. We shaped our aspirations through posting notes as to what we desired from the workshop. Popular concerns included agreeing on common definitions of terms such as vulnerability, adaptation, resilience and mitigation. Others wished to learn successes and failures of other adaptation projects; share knowledge and experiences; ways of adaptation, broadening aspirations and innovation.

As a Durban of University of Technology recently appointed lecturer in Climate Change, Environmental Sustainability and Food Security, what I found most valuable were the series of adaptation tools and case studies with which to apply sustainability principles and theoretical training. In addition, networking with others locally and regionally, and understanding locally-specific experiences, facilitates good networking opportunities. Both of these enrich the curriculum and experiences that I can offer, i.e. in learning about organic rooibos farming that can be distributed to students as examples of best practice. Of greatest benefit to me regarding the training is with respect to the application of work, particularly the high emphasis on effective communication and inclusive participation. Locally focused case studies are needed, as well as psychologically conditioning people to value the need to act.  Psychological reluctance to prioritise climate change represents the foremost constraint and the need to focus on indigenous knowledge and facilitation was especially noteworthy. One participant devised the concept and warning of “facipulation” – aiming for facilitation but achieving manipulation rather than effective listening, mediation and research, particularly pertinent for those of us working with vulnerable communities. The Farmer Juggle highlighted this plight when many of us were faced with having multiple balls tossed about, whilst others were side-lined; portraying challenges faced when presented with multiple pressures.  Suid-Bokkeveld principles emphasised common sense to ensure effective facilitation mutually works for researchers and communities that they aim to assist.

The topics of climate vulnerability tools/case studies and climate finance stood out for me most -speaking to me of the core barriers to effective adaptation and being able to apply it pragmatically to the concept of investigating climate change impacts on vulnerable maritime communities/ecosystem resources. Several of these concepts will be beneficial in developing research investigating the potential impact of climate change on Southern African ports, logistics supply chains, vulnerable communities and ecosystem resources. This aims to overcome an existing Department of Environmental Affairs LTAS research gap as previous research focused on agriculture, fisheries, biodiversity and health. A presentation on access to climate finance and one on climate science pinpointed two of the most significant barriers to future-proofing and ensuring climate resilience against potential disruption risks.


The workshop’s innovative approach focused on team exercises: facilitating effective forms of popular communication and understanding relating to climate change and vulnerable communities. Its side effects, however, included revealing our innate competitiveness as humans, and also our ability to form partnerships and work effectively in teams. In the Gender Walk exercise we swopped roles and genders and had to respond to a series of questions, determining our fate and inclusivity. For example, I recalled the importance of overcoming stereotypes and to gain personal empathy; casting myself in the persona of the housewife married to a teacher. We shared experiences through simulating politicians and personally through an interactive Community Radio exercise, reminding us all too starkly of the gap between political statements and those actually pursuing climate change, as concerned individuals and communities. One challenge included taking several circles ringed with grooves and seeking to build towers of height, beauty and functionality. This symbolised the necessity of planning ahead and aiming for a firm foundation.  Otherwise, they provided an amusingly diverting means to grasp fundamental and crucial concepts.

Climate change is not always a barrier but a prospective opportunity. Climate-proofing South African and African communities, their economies and livelihoods through these climate change opportunities presents numerous co-benefits. Benefits include business continuity, resource security and sustainable development. Such benefits lower vulnerability, enhancing resilience through greater experience and awareness. This training workshop will have multiplier effects when promoting opportunities and encouraging students and communities through interactive scenarios, such as the exercises learnt.