Our Research

The School creates transdisciplinary capacity to combine the climate-related knowledge systems of Stellenbosch University’s faculties, the public sector’s climate policies and initiatives, the private sector’s climate redress and innovation capacities and the social impact mission of Stellenbosch University in both academic and applied ways – all in support of the transition to a climate-resilient society and a sustainable, low-carbon economy.

 The Natural Environment

Our work acknowledges the centrality of the natural environment to all aspects of climate studies, and the resilience inherent in ecosystems and their component species that have evolved over millennia of climatic change. We have active research projects that seek to deepen our understanding of the vulnerability and resilience of southern African ecosystems and species, in particular, and their role in supporting ecosystem based adaptation to climate change. This work considers ecosystem structure (e.g. changes in vegetation type on land, or degradation of estuarine or coastline marine ecosystems), ecosystem functioning (e.g. carbon dioxide removal and sequestration on land and in the ocean)  and species compositional change (biodiversity).

This broad topic considers the interactions between human livelihoods and environmental changes, and how these inform the drivers and consequences of gradual or sudden shifts in human security, including through individual and societal responses to change. One such critical area addresses potential triggers (tipping points) for human migration as a response to environmental change or degradation.

Planetary Health and Human Security

Social Justice and Development

Effective solutions to climate change challenges are increasingly thought to rely upon very significant shifts in the socio-economic status quo. Such significant shifts offer substantive opportunities for enhanced social justice and equality, if governance processes respond in ways that enable such solutions. This is a topic that is highly relevant for a region such as southern Africa that could follow development pathways that are more inclusive and equitable.

This synthetic topic provides a “big tent” subject area under which transdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approaches can be applied to explore the implications of current trends in systems and technology development, research and implementation, and potential future shifts or even discontinuities in these trends.

Systems and Technologies for the Future

Human Creativity and Social Innovation

The development of novel human social technologies has dramatically changed the landscape of risk and opportunity in the application of technological solutions to environmental challenges. There are untold numbers of new developments, many with potential unintended consequences, such as the energy demand of some blockchain technologies. The world of work is changing rapidly, given new models of sharing of resources and skills, virtual worlds, and remote working models, all with implications for urban design and energy efficiency gains as only one obvious result. The emerging application of Artificial Intelligence in a wide variety of fields will shift the landscape of information assessment and synthesis, with the likely re-assessment of traditional approaches and long-held ideas in environmental management.