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30 August 2021
Exploring an African Perspective on Climate Change

Climate change is having a devastating impact on the African continent. A recent report coordinated by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) found that it is contributing to a surge in food insecurity, and threatening the health and safety of populations and socio-economic development. It has never been more critical to explore climate change - but from an African perspective. This concept was at the heart of the 34th ACCESS Habitable Planet Workshop designed to introduce university students to the emerging discipline of Earth System Sciences.

While facilitators did not provide a definitive answer for an African perspective on climate change, they empowered participants with the knowledge required to start discussions around the concept. As future African science leaders, participants were made aware that climate change involves society-wide ethical questions that science alone cannot solve. Ethical questions require people from different cultures, nations, backgrounds and beliefs to make compromises around what actions should be taken on a continent where alleviation remains the highest priority. Many Western perspectives prevail in the media, but the African perspective has been missing. Participants were encouraged to open a discourse around what the African perspective should be.

The 36 students who attended the workshop, which took place this month, explored, among other things, atmosphere-ocean circulations, the El Niño phenomenon as well as continent drifts and how these are influencing the earth’s habitable circumstances. The course also focused on human-environment relationships, both in the distant past and present, to investigate the impact future climate change may have.

The workshop also included key lecture talks from experts in various earth science disciplines, including Dr Natasha Ross, Dr Mandla Dlamini and Dr Adriaan Engelbrecht from the University of the Western Cape (UWC), Dr Moagabo Ragoasha from the University of Cape Town (UCT) as well as Dr Nasreen Peer from Stellenbosch University (SU).

Students explored Table Mountain, the West Coast Fossil Park (Langebaanweg), the !khwa ttu San Heritage & Education Centre (near Yzerfontein), Stony Point Nature Reserve and the Harold Porter National Botanical Gardens (both Betty's Bay).

The field trips were aimed at illustrating how truly exceptional Southern Africa really is. Additionally, they supported the principles outlined in lectures and instilled awe and enthusiasm among the students. Facilitators were determined to demonstrate that science is exciting and that Southern Africa is an extraordinary region on a special planet, at a special time.

Tshiamo Moleele (UWC/chairperson), Sihle Mlonyeni (CPUT/secretary), and Precious Mahlalela (UCT/treasurer) were part of the organising team, under the guidance of UWC liaison Yafah Williams, Peter Schaupp (Vula Youth Development) and ACCESS Education & Training Manager, Dr Carl Palmer.

Special thanks to the UWC Earth Science Department's HOD, Professor Dirk Frei, for welcoming the students, and the UWC Risk and Compliance Office for the COVID-19 personal protection equipment.