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Stellenbosch University gets its own climate studies school

Stellenbosch University has launched the first-of-its-kind climate studies school in South Africa, which aims to be a world-class institution for climate and related studies.

“What makes this school unique is that it has the status of a faculty — it’s not an institute or a centre — and it cuts across all our faculties” because climate studies are multidisciplinary, said Eugene Cloete, the university’s deputy vice-chancellor for research, innovation and postgraduate studies.

“Climate studies is not just about one thing: modelling. We are looking at the technology side, which involves renewable energy studies for instance, the oceans, and how do we optimise water utilisation, and then of course, we also look at climate change itself.”

“Our law faculty is involved because a lot of what happens around the world regarding climate change has to be legislated. The faculty of economic and management sciences is in a good position to quantify these processes,” Cloete added.

So far, 100 masters and PhD students have registered with the school, which will combine the climate-related knowledge systems of the university’s faculties, the public sector’s climate policies and initiatives and the private sector’s climate redress and innovation capacities.

This, Cloete said, is all in support of building a climate-resilient society and a low-carbon economy.

The school will conduct research, coordinate curricula development and facilitate postgraduate training, advice and consultancy as well as technology transfer in the multiple fields of climate studies. It will collaborate with other universities, institutions and organisations locally and abroad on climate studies and their application.

This work will involve the Global Alliance of Universities on Climate, which includes the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of California, Berkeley, and other leading universities. Stellenbosch University is the only African member at present.

The move towards a green economy, Cloete said, will create new careers in engineering, manufacturing, agriculture and renewable energy, as well as research into the fundamental drivers of climate change. 

To mitigate climate change, South Africa and the rest of Africa need people with the ability to deal with climate change, from a policy-making level in the government to the implementation of practical solutions, he said. 

“First, you have to have political will to implement these solutions — that’s why our law faculty is so important — but you also have to be able to change behaviour.”

Although global climate talks could seem futile, “eventually it’s the way to get everyone on the same page”, Cloete added. 

“If we look at where we were 10 years ago to where we are now, then of course, it’s a totally different understanding of the challenges that we are going to face.”

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Sheree Bega
Sheree Bega is an environment reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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