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Event calendar for the month: September 2017

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Science Network

Climate Change

About adjustment, risk management and flexibility

Climate change, climate consequences, climate adaptation – when research leads to practical implementation

Global climate change is one of the most pressing problems humans are confronted with. Researching its causes keeps scientists around the world busy as does the question of how to deal with its consequences.

Based on what we know today, as climate change progresses, there will be more extreme weather events everywhere in the world. Long-lasting periods of heat or heavy rain will increase in many regions of the world. This is one of the findings in the current special report "Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation" of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) from November 2011.

The other finding is that it will be impossible to stop climate change in the short term. In addition, the strategies for dealing with the consequences of climate change, for adapting to changing conditions and preparing measures to protect against the possible consequences have been insufficient around the world to date.

South Africa is one of the countries that is already suffering acutely today from climate change: weather extremes like droughts and floods have become noticeably more frequent over the last few years. Overall, Africa is the continent with the lowest emissions of pollutants but climate change threatens to hit it the hardest. The effects of climate change can be observed, in part, much earlier and much more intensively in southern Africa than other regions of the world because the correlations between climate change and environmental influences caused by human beings such as forest clearance and overfishing are particularly strong.

The questions of how the climate is likely to change, what consequences can be expected, for example, for land use and water management and which solution strategies are available are thus becoming ever more urgent.

Researching climate change, its causes and effects as well as the issue of climate adaptation and risk management are therefore some of the most important issues focused on by joint German-South African research. Subjects such as closed ecosystems, managing water resources, change in soils and the effects of intensive agricultural use are of particular relevance in this work. The more information that can be put to use from these areas and the more differing viewpoints that can be considered, the more successful scientists will be in helping to respond to climate change.

One thing is clear: the risks posed by future extreme weather events must be prevented first and foremost in those places where they occur at regional and local level. The prerequisites to achieve this, however, must be created at international level: through research, knowledge sharing and technology transfer.

One current research program that was initiated this year by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and is dedicated to the issue of climate adaptation is SPACES. This project studies, among other things, the climate-relevant aspects of soil erosion, drought, the interaction between climate-related and man-made effects as well as changes in ocean currents. The aim is to ultimately arrive at conclusions particularly from studying the interactions between geosphere (solid parts of the Earth), cryosphere (frozen water), hydrosphere (liquid water) and biosphere (flora and fauna), which can be used as a basis to make concrete recommendations to political decision-makers.

Implementation is carried out within the framework of cooperation projects by scientists from German universities and research institutions with the respective partner facilities in South Africa and Namibia. The SPACES programme is supported by a grant programme which is to be coordinated by the German Academic Exchange Service (Deutsche Akademische Austauschdienst - DAAD) in close cooperation with the scientists involved in the SPACES programme.

Important in this context is also the further exploration of the causes of climate change as part of joint marine and polar research. In this area, it is particularly the polar regions, called the Earth's climate chambers, that supply important information on climate changes. Mathematic models are still lacking which would make it possible to reliably interpret existing climate data. Acquiring more and better data is thus extremely important to understanding the climate.

Another example of successful cooperation in the response to the challenges presented by global climate change is the project Southern African Science Service Centre for Climate Change and Adaptive Land Management – SASSCAL for short. This project is a joint initiative of Angola, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Germany, the goal of which is to expand the research infrastructure in Africa over the long-term by setting up regional centres of expertise for climate change.

As part of the research initiative "CLIENT – International Partnerships for Sustainable Climate Protection and Environmental Technologies and Services", German universities, research institutes and companies are working together with partners in South Africa in the areas of climate protection, resource use and land and water management. The goal of the long-term partnerships is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, lower pollution in the air, water and soil and use energy, raw materials and land efficiently.

The grant project Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) aims to improve the setup and expansion of a sustainable water and drainage infrastructure in dry regions such as South Africa through joint research. Together with South African partners, German water technologies, for example, are adapted to the climate, environmental, economic and social conditions in South Africa and integrated planning instruments developed for sustainable use of water resources.

One thing common to all of these research projects is the goal of more accurately predicting future developments in the climate and being able to undertake measures to lower risk at an early stage. This aim can be reached by developing strategies for climate adaptation and by having a better understanding of the Earth's system in basic research and in applied research.