- Published on Wednesday, 02 May 2012 10:21
- Written by Emma Hosking
On the evening of April 11th, Professor Mark New gave his inaugural lecture as Pro Vice-Chancellor.
The new Pro VC for Climate Change at UCT gave a clear and interesting lecture entitled “Squaring the Circle: Climate Change, Development and Sustainability.” New has recently been appointed as the Director of the African Climate and Development Initiative (ACDI), a position tasked with fostering cross-disciplinary research and synergies around the topic of climate change. A focus of this is on low-carbon and climate-resilient development in Africa.
New’s lecture strongly emphasised that humans and the environment are a coupled system, beginning with the statement that environmental indexes, beyond all reasonable doubt, are caused by anthropogenic carbon dioxide and that we are moving from a natural period into a man-made one – what he termed the “Anthropocene.” “Somewhere in the 70s,” he said, “we started using more than one planet in terms of ecological resources”, and this has a marked effect on human welfare too.
New is particularly interested in the thresholds of a safe and just world for humanity – ideally, countries need to pursue a low ecological footprint of under 2 global hectares per person and a high Human Development Index (HDI) to avoid encroaching the tipping points of these thresholds, which could lead to disaster.
New explained that South Africa’s current trajectory is far off the mark, almost no countries find themselves in this quadrant of sustainable development. If we are set on staying below our carbon budget for a +2 °C Earth, New argued, then developing countries would need to peak their carbon emissions in 2025, and thereafter decrease this by 4% per year. Developed economies can peak in 2015, and then produce no further emissions. This is a goal which, according to the Pro-VC, is virtually impossible due to “social and political inertia”.
Regarding Africa, New said that there are many uncertainties. For instance, the warming of the earth by 2 °C could mean a 3.5 °C warming in South Africa. The direction and magnitude of, for instance, rainfall change in the country is unknown.
Africa will also have additional stress, as it is projected to have the largest population growth of the continents in the coming century.
It is therefore imperative, New advocated, that our adaptation strategies need to be centred on robust plans that are resilient across a range of possible futures. In this stead, he put forward that, “We need a global middle class, as it is only a global middle class that has the potential to consume within the ecological limits.”
Commenting on students’ roles in adapting to and opposing climate change to VARSITY after the lecture, New said that for students the challenge is not just to reduce, reuse and recycle and to change individual ways, but to exercise their rights locally and globally. This means voting for a safe, just and sustainable world, emphasising the role that UCT students have in the future of not only South Africa, but also the Earth.