Closing remarks by the Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, at the Human Sciences Research Council’s Seminar "Social science in a changing climate: Meaningful knowledge that works", COP 17, the Royal Hotel, Durban
29 Nov 2011
Dr Olive Shisana, CEO of the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)
The guest speakers: Dr Heide Hackmann, Dr Asuncion Lera St Clair, Ms Elizabeth Longworth, and Dr Peter Jacobs
Ladies and gentlemen:
It’s a great pleasure to be here this morning.
South Africa’s climate-change policy landscape
South Africa is embracing and implementing multi-pronged and multi-stakeholder responses to its climate-change challenges.
On 12 October 2011, Cabinet approved a National Climate Change Response White Paper, which recognises the human and social dimensions of the country’s transition to a climate-resilient and low-carbon society.
The White Paper spells out the country’s key global policy commitments. It aims to achieve a fair, inclusive and effective global agreement that is in line with goals to end poverty and promote sustainable development. South Africa is a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol, which is the United Nations-driven response to curb global temperature increases.
South Africa’s "Climate Change Response" policy aims to reduce South Africa’s greenhouse gases through complementary adaptation and mitigation strategies. It includes a timetable to review greenhouse gas emission reductions and the implementation of sustainable development policies every five years.
Even closer to the human and social aspects of this pressing concern is a suite of other policies that reflect our national commitment to shift the country to a low-carbon socio-economic development path.
Both the New Growth Path and Industrial Policy Action Plans, for example, outline various "green economy" initiatives.
The Industrial Policy Action Plan contains a commitment to foster the "greening of industrial development". It specifically recognises the potential benefits to be reaped from promoting "green" and energy-saving industrial development, and is closely aligned to government’s "Renewable Energy White Paper".
In addition to exploring options for greater water efficiency in industrial applications, the policy also considers wind, biomass and waste management, and ways to efficiently harness solar energy. There has, for instance, been growing demand for solar water heaters, which is considered to be a very labour-intensive industry alongside its environmental spinoffs.
Treasury’s "Carbon Tax" discussion paper specifically calculates the social costs and benefits from activist state policies to curb emissions from polluting firms.
The longer-range plans emerging from the National Planning Commission indicate similar steps in this direction.
Collectively, these policy documents illustrate the invaluable contributions of social scientists.
All scientists have a vital role to play in helping us address many complex climate issues.
This universal challenge for human existence is an opportunity around which natural scientists and social scientists can purposefully and actively pool their capabilities and collaborate on the achievement of a common goal.
More specifically, the social and human sciences are crucial to deepen our knowledge of the causes and consequences of climate change, and also to develop feasible and effective responses.
Climate change impacts
Recent empirical evidence shows that the effects of climate change have already been observed, and scientific findings indicate that precautionary and prompt action is necessary. There is now a strong consensus that climate change presents an urgent challenge to the well-being of all countries, particularly the poorest people living in them.
Developing countries in Africa will experience the most severe effects of climate change, with serious implications for development and achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. This is despite the fact that they are the least responsible for carbon emissions.
Social sciences can contribute to understanding how multiple stressors, including climate change, interact on a variety of scales, and how they generate vulnerability.
This is essential to help identify development and poverty-alleviation policies and interventions focused on building the resilience and decreasing the vulnerability of the poorest communities, nations, regions, and so on, to the impacts of climate change.
Rapid industrial growth, which has undoubtedly helped to sharply reduce poverty and inequality in highly industrialised countries, is associated with the dramatic rise in greenhouse gas emissions over the last 150 years.
What does this experience imply for developing countries wanting to industrialise today?
The key lesson is that developing countries must pursue climate-friendly industrialisation for better human wellbeing outcomes.
Green industrialisation, which is being promoted by the Industrial Development Corporation and the Southern African Development Bank, for instance, articulates this new approach to building industries on the basis of environmentally friendly technologies.
But climate-friendly industrial development also requires suitable policies to influence appropriate institutional and behavioural changes. With the aid of social and human sciences, we can adapt our institutions and behaviour to construct low-carbon industrial pathways.
Responding to climate change and related impacts
Even if efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are successful, it is no longer possible to avoid some degree of global warming and climate change. Mitigation efforts to reduce the sources of greenhouse gases will take time. Furthermore, effective mitigation requires collaboration and commitment from many countries.
Adaptation is therefore critical and of concern in developing countries, particularly in Africa where vulnerability is high because ability to adapt is low. Adaptation helps reduce the impacts of climate change in the short to medium term, and is motivated by local priorities or regional risks, without requiring multi-country commitments.
The Commission on Climate Change and Development in 2009 reported that much of climate change discussions have been concentrated at global perspectives, such as rising sea-levels, temperature increases, negotiations and policies, global costs of adaptation and large-scale modelling.
However, although they may be extensive and severe, the impacts of climate change will be felt locally by individuals, families, villages and neighbourhoods.
For instance, climate change can cause malnutrition owing to reduced yields, can cause outbreak of diseases, and induce migration within and across countries, among many other consequences.
Social scientists can contribute to policy making and implementation in reducing climate-change-induced malnutrition, coordinating relief and disaster management, conflict management, controlling the outbreak of diseases, and preparing sustainable resettlement plans for the displaced.
Moreover, as the effects of climate change are not equally felt by all groups of society, knowing who is more vulnerable could contribute more to knowing about the negative impacts of climate change.
In addition, most adaptation will happen at the local level, in ways that are usually unnoticed, uncoordinated and unaided by national governments or international organisations.
Therefore, the social sciences can provide evidence-based effective climate policies that integrate diverse adaptation and mitigation actions to reduce the adverse effects of climate change on human and natural systems.
Clearly, the challenge of climate change is twofold: to make a transition to a lower carbon global economy, and to adapt to the impacts of future climate changes.
To meet these challenges, society needs professionals and policy-makers who understand the complex issues of climate change mitigation and adaptation.
Consequently, the social sciences have a critical role to play by collaborating to provide "meaningful knowledge that works" in helping communities, nations and regions to respond to current and projected changes in climate.
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Issued by: Department of Science and Technology
29 Nov 2011
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