Knowledge for Action: Scoping a climate adaptation knowledge system to enable a socially just transition to a low-carbon adaptive South Africa

By ACDI, CSAG, Wits Researchers (LTAS Collaboration)

A research team from African Climate and Development Initiative (ACDI) and the Climate System Analysis Group (CSAG) at UCT, and the Global Change Institute (GCI) at Wits, has been working with the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) and GIZ to scope the third phase of the Adaptation Research Flagship as outlined in the National Climate Change Response Policy (DEA, 2011).  As part of this project, a multi-stakeholder workshop was held in Johannesburg on the 6th June 2018 with the aim of presenting preliminary findings of the scoping exercise.  The workshop was organised around three main blocks of engagement, namely an opening panel discussion, presentation of research findings and finally discussion regarding optimising the adaptation knowledge landscape.  A brief workshop report back is provided below.

Over the past few months the research team has explored the South African climate adaptation knowledge landscape through a process of interviews, surveys and document reviews targeting the public and private sectors, academia and civil society.  This enquiry surfaced a range of different ‘knowledges’, an even broader range of knowledge needs, and an equally broad range of knowledge generation activities – and many gaps.  In seeking to categorise and present this range in a manner that could inform the future research agenda, the team explored additional avenues of enquiry including some fundamental questions relating to the national priorities that have adaptation relevance; the information required to inform these priorities from an adaptation perspective; who the information is for and whether it is accessible or not; and whether there is sufficient strategic direction and leadership in the generation of adaptation related information as it stands.  The preliminary findings of this scoping exercise were presented at the workshop with the aim of enabling a wider input and facilitating discussion on the best approach to take going forward, given the complexity of the South African adaptation knowledge landscape.

Setting the tone for the day, the opening panel discussion – featuring Tlou Ramaru (DEA), Chris Jack (CSAG), Patrick Bond (Wits School of Governance), Dorah Marema (GenderCC) and Steve Nicolls (National Business Initiative (NBI)), spoke to the climate compatibility of South Africa’s national development trajectory, thus situating the adaptation research agenda within broader societal goals, context and process.  This panel raised issues around the disconnect between South Africa’s current economic trajectory and adaptation & mitigation priorities, as well as the need to critically assess the relevance and alignment of national priorities in this regard.  It further raised the question as to whether we [South Africans] know what development should or could look like within our national context, and highlighted the need to understand and address issues of power and the country’s fundamental inequalities in the context of adaptation  The panel further highlighted the complexity of climate related risk and the challenge of, yet need for, connecting across scales to enable a connection between policy and actions that are taking place at the local level.  The need for further focus on implementing adaptation action was also called for, as well as the need for more co-explorative learning processes and transdisciplinary research processes to support that action.

In the second block of the workshop, the research team shared some insights and provisional findings that had emerged from the research to date.  This included sharing an evaluation of the first two phases of the national Adaptation Flagship Research Programme (namely the Long Term Adaptation Scenarios (LTAS) phases I & II), and an initial attempt at outlining key aspects of the South African climate adaptation knowledge landscape.  This was complemented with broader survey findings, in terms of perceived climate risks, knowledge gaps and knowledge needs, and the research team’s thoughts on the post 2018 adaptation research agenda.  The latter included a look at possible knowledge approaches and framings for adaptation processes going forward, including a climate change knowledge system approach and a climate change – political economy approach.

The third and final block of the workshop was a Samoan Round Table Discussion, a process that focuses the entire workshop’s attention on a discussion among 3 to 6 people in a panel format.  A series of questions, emerging from the research, were posed and workshop participants were asked to provide input by participating in the panel on a rotational basis, taking turns to ‘tap out’ panellists and replace them.  This resulted in a lively and dynamic discussion surfacing a variety of perspectives on the scope and utility of the future national adaptation research agenda.  Discussions highlighted the need to support the integration of climate adaptation into development priorities and implementation processes across government, business and civil society domains. Participants identified several challenges to integrating climate adaptation including the difficulty in making the case for adaptation and effectively communicating climate risks and climate science to policy and decision makers. Inclusive transdisciplinary methods and co-production of knowledge were flagged as key processes to ensure adequate climate adaptation. The need for some kind of knowledge commons to curate and provide access to climate information as a public good was raised, along with discussion of existing initiatives, access to climate information and expertise, the role of climate knowledge brokers and multi-stakeholder research collaborations.

The research team is now engaged in finalising the project through the integration of the workshop inputs into recommendations for the way forward for a third phase of the national Adaptation Flagship Research Programme.  These recommendations will hopefully assist the DEA to shape the way forward.