The Stellenbosch University’s recent announcement of the establishment of the School of Climate Studies (SCS) received a firm endorsement from the minister of higher education, science and innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande, who described it as a “potentially promising step”.
The university said the initiative aims to intensify the battle against climate change through establishing research partnerships with other entities both nationally and internationally. The official launch of the school will take place in June 2021.
The subject of climate change is currently preoccupying the minds of global leaders as experts warned of dire consequences if no concrete measures are taken to address the increasing levels of greenhouse gas emissions.
Recently, the USA president, Joe Biden returned his country to the Paris Agreement and also hosted a “historic summit” with world leaders representing 40 countries.
Nzimande hailed the announcement saying focusing on climate change would hopefully enable the “academics and students to build a well-rounded body of scientific knowledge and skills”.
He said this will not only enable them to have a better understanding of the problems but also sustainable responses to a new horizon of challenges facing humanity.
He said the world is currently facing four crises related to the Covid-19 pandemic. These include, said Nzimande, deepening economic crises; the crisis of families, household and communities to make ends meet and climate change.
“More recently, the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic has acted as an accelerant on the widening gulf between rich and poor. These four crises have come to signal a modern-day version of the Four Horsemen of Apocalypse,” said Nzimande.
He noted that economic destruction of the earth’s biosphere and ecological systems in turn has created a crisis in human sustainability, with its most devastating effects felt by the working people and poor across the globe.
He said that there is a causal connection between the centuries-old extractive and destructive forms of economic development and its most voracious contemporary expression, neo-liberal capitalism.
Nzimande said the opening of the school on climate studies will motivate other universities and TVET colleges to establish similar initiatives. These initiatives should focus on, he added, various aspects of the multi-sectoral and multi-dimensional challenges and opportunities presented by climate change and its inter-connectedness with other social and natural phenomena.
Government hopes the SCS, said Nzimande, will promote collaboration with other higher education institutions, especially Historically Disadvantaged Institutions (HDIs), in promoting new scholarship to face new problems confronting current and future generations. He stressed the importance of collaboration saying “no single institution could possibly achieve this task on its own”.
Nzimande said merging higher education with science and innovation has presented his department with an ideal opportunity to “enrich our understanding of the systemic issues rethinking and re-engineering to mitigate and adapt to the vagaries of climate uncertainty”.
Said Nzimande: “According to International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and most of the scientific community, human (anthropogenic) activity has had definite causal effects on global warming and climate change, resulting in increasing temperatures, rising sea levels and a range of other impacts.”
This, he said, threatens every aspect of human endeavour ranging from water supply, infrastructure to public health, coastal habitats and food security, to mention a few.
“But we all know that the effects of climate change will be worse in poor and developing countries like South Africa, regardless of its contribution to greenhouse gas emissions,” said Nzimande, adding that “it is our duty, for the sake of future generations, to slow down the rate of global climate warming”.
He called on all South African universities and TVET colleges to urgently plan their differentiated and collective contributions. Nzimande said this will help us to not only better understand climate change dynamics, but also to work towards changing the world for a better and more equal humanity.