Southern voices, global challenges

5 Jul 2016 - 13:30
Climate Change Mitigation UCT MOOC

By Kyle Rother

Research communication is crucial to ensuring that global South and developing nation perspectives are adequately represented in discussions of the impact of climate change, as these often are the areas which will be soonest and most severely affected by even small changes in global climate. The situation is further complicated, especially in discussions of mitigation efforts, as developing economies will also usually be most severely impacted by disproportionate mitigation requirements. Climate change mitigation expert Professor Harald Winkler, director of the Energy Research Centre (ERC) explains: “Climate change and development both involve many complex problems - each are 'wicked' problems, meaning they defy easy solutions. Tackling both development and climate change together is a 'super-wicked' problem - a problem that involves many tradeoffs between different objectives. But also more deeply, it involves dealing with competing interests and people pursuing different interests.”

A recent study on research discoverability and scholarly communication practices by Associate Professor Laura Czerniewicz, director of the Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching, and her colleagues Sarah Goodier and Robert Morrell, has shown that research communication is crucial to achieving adequate representation of global South voices in climate change discussions, as research generated in the area tends to be overwhelmed by research from the global North, largely the USA and UK.[1] As one researcher interviewed for the study puts it: “You need to shift Northern perceptions and perspectives which are narrow and which are set within a developed country context. In the USA if you are trying to focus on emissions this has a huge impact on profitability of industry etc. ... that is their lens, it is not about poverty ... this diverts attention from poverty issues both within and across the South, for poor people in the South are more at risk and vulnerable because of inadequate infrastructure, lack of insurance, and being less diversified economically. Climate change exacerbates poverty through increased disaster risks and may undermine people’s livelihoods as there are limited shock absorbers.”

The Mitigation Action Plans and Scenarios (MAPS) Programme is an initiative of the ERC, together with SouthSouthNorth, a Cape Town-based climate change NGO, and a partnership of country teams in the Global South, from Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Peru, India, and South Africa. It is a collaborative research and advocacy initiative amongst developing countries to establish the evidence base for long-term transition to robust economies that are both carbon efficient and climate resilient, by contributing to ambitious climate change mitigation that aligns economic development with poverty alleviation. The MAPS approach is to provide development pathway scenarios by encouraging knowledge producers such as climate change researchers, and knowledge consumers such as government and industry, to work together in co-producing the knowledge which informs climate change policy. As director of SouthSouthNorth, Stefan Raubenheimer puts it: “In MAPS, we start at the beginning of the cycle of change which we thought, in a very rational way, is about knowledge. If you think about it, most of us change when we learn something. If we understand something a little bit better, we are more likely to do something differently … Well, we saw this in MAPS - that we should look both at the production of knowledge and the consumption of knowledge.”

As another participant in the research discoverability study explains: “Northern researchers simply do not get, in a lived way, what it means to live in a society with deep poverty and inequality. When tough limits like 2 degrees Celsius are to be achieved, making poverty history becomes an add-on if you live in the US, Europe or Japan. For us it is something that will not go away, and our decision-makers will not take climate change fully seriously until we can make the case that we can reduce both poverty and emissions.”

The free online course Climate Change Mitigation in Developing Countries is a major output of the MAPS Programme, and aims to address exactly the problems of mitigating climate change while maintaining sustainable development and equity for developing economies. It was developed by Prof Winkler and his colleagues from MAPS, and has been running on Coursera since November 2015, with over 5500 enrolled learners to-date. The course explores the challenges faced by developing country governments wanting to grow their economies in a climate friendly way, and addresses the complexity inherent in lifting societies out of poverty while also mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. Covering topics such as facilitation process techniques, energy modeling, scenario building, innovation and policy making, it gives an insight into the complex process of how countries from the South pursue development goals while addressing climate mitigation.

Aside from being created with a developing nation's perspective, the course also has almost 60% participation from the global South - 29% of participants are in Asia, 19% in Africa, 9% in South America, and 2% in Oceania. And it seems learners are appreciating the insights provided in the course, as one learner remarked that the course had been “an eye opener to issues of climate change in developing countries” while another remarked that the course has made them realise “the fact that climate change and development are both really complex challenges and knowing that alone has given me a different mindset on how to manage resources”. The course is open for enrollment and a new run of the course starts every eight weeks. Sign up here.


[1] Czerniewicz L, Goodier S & Morrell R (2016) Southern knowledge online? Climate change research discoverability and communication practices, Information, Communication & Society, DOI: 10.1080/1369118X.2016.1168473