Wits, the University of Cape Town and the University of Fort Hare have collaborated to provide funding for PhD and masters students to encourage more researchers of colour to work in the field of climate research in South Africa

The University of the Witwatersrand, UFH and UCT have worked together to make bursaries available for PhD and masters students in the fields of climate science and climate change. 

Candidates who achieve exceptional academic performance, are in need of financial assistance or are living with a disability will be awarded the funding. Applications close on March 12, 2021. 

The Climate System Analysis Group from UCT, the Risk and Vulnerability Science Centre at UFH and the Department of Psychology at Wits will be leading research, which is set to begin no later than July 2021 at one of the three universities. 

The research sites will be among farming communities in Western Cape Province and the Raymond Mhlaba Local Municipality in Eastern Cape, where researchers will hope to use seasonal forecast products to inform agricultural decision-making. 

Professor Andrew Thatcher from the Wits Department of Psychology told Wits Vuvuzela the aim of the research is to help farmers plan crop changes and water usage for decades to come.

Thatcher said, “In climate forecasting, we will essentially be looking at: What are the temperatures going to look like? What is the rainfall going to look like? Do I need to change my farming techniques? Do I need to shift to more drought-resistant crops?” 

The importance of the research is that South Africa will generally become drier, pushing cold fronts south and therefore resulting in less winter rainfall in certain areas, Thatcher said, estimating that temperatures will rise by four degrees celsius in coming years. A peak that might occur as a result of this increase is a rise in temperatures to 40 degrees celsius, a level that could kill unwatered crops, he said. 

The challenge was “to get people to work in this area, help sensitise people to be interested in these types of things and become knowledgeable about these types of things.

‘’From a job-creation point of view, this is a potential growth area. We need people with skills in this area to be doing a whole range of different things around sustainability,” Thatcher said.

Socio-environmental justice activist and member of the African Climate Alliance, Gabriel Klaasen, told Wits Vuvuzela it is important that young black, indigenous and other people of colour engage in climate issues because it concerns their lived reality. 

“Young people have always played a crucial role in the way our world has progressed and changed over time. I believe it is the acknowledgement of their past and their present that makes them think for a better future,’’ said Klaasen. ‘’This is the kind of mindset that this very cold and clean-cut arena of climate justice work needs.” 

Klaasen said environmental education should be mandatory in schools, so that students have an in-depth understanding of climate change, and learning should not be limited to geography and life sciences: “Two programmes I can note are Project 90 by 2030’s YouLead Initiative and African Climate Alliance’s Back 2 Basics – environmental workshops and webinars.’’

FEATURED IMAGE: Postgraduate students can now apply to fund their climate related research. Photo: Leah Wilson