New regional research centre develops courses on climate change

The newly established Namibia-based Southern African Science Service Centre for Climate Change and Adaptive Land Use, SASSCAL, is working with higher education institutions across the region to develop new postgraduate courses in the field of climate change.

Peter Erb, one of two SASSCAL national programme directors, told University World News that the courses, to be offered at masters level, would boost efforts to build the capacity of Southern African countries to mitigate or adapt to the impacts of climate change.

SASSCAL works with institutions in Angola, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zambia.

It was initiated by the German government, and is one of two regional science service centres funded by Germany in Africa, the other one being in West Africa.

The programme seeks to become the regional driver of innovation and exchange aimed at enhancing adaptive land use and sustainable economic development in Southern Africa, in the face of global change.

It suffered a setback recently when Dr Anna Matross-Goreses, who was its other national director in Namibia, left to join an academic institution. Efforts are under way to replace her.

Climate change experts have identified Southern Africa as one of the regions bearing the brunt of climate change. They have predicted that parts of the region will become drier and hotter, with worrying consequences for crop production.

Erb said that since Namibia is one of the driest countries in Southern Africa, it is an appropriate host nation for the SASSCAL secretariat.

He said the centre’s work would be in three broad areas: building the capacity of people in the region to cope with climate change; providing research-based services and products in an attempt to fill knowledge gaps on how to better protect natural resources such as water, forestry and agriculture; and improving bio-diversity.

“Services will include advising governments on how better to deal with and adapt to climate change. The idea is to enable countries to better manage natural resources and to deal with extremely dry conditions or even floods,” Erb explained.

“Rains can become erratic, rainy seasons might shift and we need to understand how this can affect agriculture and people’s livelihoods,” he said, adding that the region also needed to deal with swelling human populations and dwindling finite resources.

“Minerals are not getting more, water is not getting more, oil is not getting more, coal is not getting more. Hence we need to get smarter in the way we utilise these resources, and how we manage our national populations,” Erb added.

SASSCAL has already identified some 150 research projects in participating countries and is now trying to align them to its aims and objectives. “These are issues that are not well understood but they focus on the effects of climate change, water and biodiversity.”

Erb said the centre would not compete with but would work with universities and polytechnics in participating countries “to see how we can strengthen their capacity to offer additional courses related to climate change.

“We want to complement and strengthen what is there.”

He said higher education institutions in the countries were excited about developing and offering courses related to climate change. “There is a lot of interest.”

The centre has already started identifying courses, but it was too early for details. However, Erb added, they will all have in common the aim of strengthening Southern African countries’ responses to climate change.