School of Life Sciences

Staff of the South African branch of the IPCC Working Group II Technical Support Unit, from left: Professor Rob Slotow, Dr Andrew Okem, Professor Debra Roberts, Dr Marlies Craig, Ms Philisiwe Manqele and Dr Michelle North.

A Closer Look at Climate Change

The School of Life Sciences at the University of KwaZulu-Natal is host to the South African branch of the Working Group II Technical Support Unit of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The IPCC, with 195 member governments, assesses scientific information related to climate change, in different sectors (e.g. water resources, ecosystems, food security, agriculture and forests, coastal systems, industry, human health, urban and rural areas, etc) and for different regions. The information is published as regular comprehensive Assessment Reports and more focused Special Reports, among others. They form the scientific basis upon which decisions can be made, and local and global action (e.g., Kyoto Protocol, Paris Agreement etc) can be based. The current assessment cycle is the sixth since 1990. With each cycle the understanding of global climate change with its complex web of interconnected cause-and-effects has grown, deepened, and widened.

The IPCC comprises three Working Groups, each assisted by a Technical Support Unit. Working Group I deals with the physical science base of climate change, including future climate scenarios. Working Group II focuses on the potential impacts of climate change on ecosystems, biodiversity and human societies: How vulnerable are they to climate change, and to what extent can they adapt? Can risks be reduced? What are the options for creating a sustainable future for all? Working Group III focuses on “mitigation”, i.e. reducing greenhouse gas emissions and removing those already emitted from the atmosphere.

Working Group II is Co-Chaired by Professor Debra Roberts (South Africa) and Professor Hans-Otto Portner (Germany). Roberts is the first South African practitioner-scientist working in local government to have been elected for a leading role in the IPCC. Her election reflects the increasing efforts to link scientific knowledge with practice. Having a local IPCC office will also help strengthen the African voice in IPCC processes and products.

The Working Group II Technical Support Unit, located predominantly at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremen, now also has a local branch, hosted by the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban. In February 2018, Dr Marlies Craig and Dr Andrew Okem joined the Durban IPCC office as Natural Science and Social Science Officers respectively, with Ms Philisiwe Manqele as the Administrative Officer.

The local office is funded by a joint initiative of Norway, Germany and New Zealand. The Bremen office is supported by the German government. The UKZN Research Office and the College of Agriculture Engineering and Science have provided further funding for two Post-Doctoral Fellows with a Natural Science and Social Science capacity.

The team looks forward to contributing to the Sixth Assessment Cycle and associated Special Reports, and to engaging African authors.

Words: Philiswe Manqele