South Africa is already experiencing some of the harsh realities of climate change, and predictions tell us that the impacts are to intensify. On 1 August, 2019, as part of National Science Week (NSW) activities, distinguished scientists and scholars from various disciplines formed a diverse panel discussing how climate change is affecting us and how we can respond to and tackle the challenges that we are facing. The robust discussions were enriched by participation from audience members including policy makers and key role players in government, representatives from non-governmental organisations (NGOs), members of the media, educators and learners, who provided the critical voice of the youth.
The important message taken from these discussions is that of a multi-disciplinary cooperative and interconnected approach to tackling climate change, which was reiterated throughout the event, as the impact of climate change will be complex and multi-faceted. This impact is said to have further compound effects on issues such as health, the environment, food security, the economy, poverty and inequality.
Another critical element identified in response to climate change is communication. The country’s citizens should have relevant information, such as extreme weather warnings and tools for adapting to climate change, made accessible timeously. This intervention requires various role-players, including community media, working together to bring the messages across to the people. However, while engagement is essential, caution should be taken against a top-down approach. Communities are also holders of crucial climate change knowledge through their direct experiences.
While acknowledging that South Africa faces many challenges, climate change is a global issue also needing urgent attention. It is encouraging to see the efforts taken across all sectors, from government policies to private corporations. The country is able to lead in the global response to climate change, and each South African can play a part. There is a need to ensure the development of the right policies, and the practical implementation thereof, with the close monitoring of progress on policy objectives, achieved. Representing the expert opinion on the panel were Chief Scientists at the South African Weather Services (SAWS), Dr Mary-Jane Bopape and Dr Joel Botai, Distinguished Professor of Public Health and Medical Anthropology at the University of Witwatersrand, Professor Lenore Manderson, Senior lecturer in Agricultural Economics at the University of Pretoria, Dr Mmatlou Kabala, Data Science Team Lead at South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON), Dr Claire Davis-Reddy, and Chief Director of Climate Change Adaptation in the Department of Environmental Affairs , Dr Tlou Ramaru.
Jointly holding the roundtable discussion was the National Research Foundation (NRF) and its business unit, the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA), in partnership with the Department of Science and Technology (DST), SAWS and the Department of Environmental Affairs, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF).