The FRACTAL project


By Alice McClure

Introduction to the Future Resilience for African Cities and Lands (FRACTAL) project: co-producing accessible, timely, applicable and defensible climate information for real-world decision making.

In the 21st century, addressing climate change in cities necessarily includes building urban resilience by ensuring that people, infrastructure and economic activities are able to withstand a new set of conditions and continue to function well. Africa’s future is dominated by a growing number of urban residents. This creates complex climate risks and vulnerabilities that connect cities with distant places and resources on which they rely; for example, a city might rely on hydropower plants in other districts or neighbouring countries for water. Climate change substantially complicates the development policy and planning landscape. These decision-making challenges are exacerbated by the lack of scientific climate information that is readily accessible and applicable at the city regional scale.

To address these challenges, the FRACTAL project aims to advance scientific knowledge about regional climate responses to human activities (such as burning fossil fuels and changing land surface cover), and work with decision makers to integrate this scientific knowledge into climate-sensitive decisions at the city-regional scale. In particular, the project is contributing to addressing challenges faced by governing institutions when making decisions relating to water, energy and food with a lifetime of 5 to 40 years.

FRACTAL has been designed to facilitate co-production of knowledge across disciplines and foster strong collaboration between researchers, city government officials and other decision makers in southern Africa. To this end, embedded researchers will work in the real world and practices of the people shaping and making these decisions in a city region, for example in a municipality, ministry or treasury.

Social learning labs will also be important platforms for stakeholders from various backgrounds to engage in and create dialogue around identified pressing issues. In these transdisciplinary contexts, mutually beneficial research will be undertaken to better understand public decision making at the city-regional scale with a specific focus on what scientific climate information is needed and how this information can most effectively be brought to bear within these local decisions.

For engagement in this research, cities are classified into three groups.  In Tier 1 cities, researchers are embedded, with the intention of working closely with stakeholders, and will hold city learning labs. The knowledge produced during these learning processes will be transferred to Tier 2 cities. Self-funded cities have varying levels of research engagement.

The FRACTAL project operates in three Tier 1 cities (Lusaka in Zambia, Maputo in Mozambique and Windhoek in Namibia), three Tier 2 cities (Blantyre in Malawi, Gaborone in Botswana and Harare in Zimbabwe) and two self-funded cities (Cape Town and Durban in South Africa).

It is a four-year research project, initiated in June 2015, coordinated by Climate Systems Analysis Group (CSAG) at the University of Cape Town, and implemented by a consortium of partners around the world. These partners include inter alia the African Centre for Cities (ACC), African Climate & Development Initiative (ACDI), Aurecon, Coordination Capacity Development Knowledge Exchange (CCKE) within the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN), City of Cape Town: Environmental Policy & Strategy, Chinhoyi University of Technology (Zimbabwe), Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), eThekwini: Environment Planning and Climate Protection Department, European Commission (EC) Joint Research Centre, Met Office Hadley Centre, Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), Global Change SysTem for Analysis, Research and Training (START), Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBKN), Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Red Cross Crescent Climate Centre (RCRC), Swedish Meteorological & Hydrological Institute, University of Botswana, University of Eduardo Mondlane, University of Malawi (the Polytech), University of Namibia, University of Oxford and University of Oxford.

FRACTAL will continue to share updates, news and outputs. For more information on the project, or to understand how you could contribute, please email Project Coordinator Alice McClure: