Global Change Grand Challenge: Department of Science and Technology briefing

Science and Technology

09 March 2016
Chairperson: Dr M Goqwana (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Science and Technology (DST) briefed the committee on the Global Change Grand Challenge (GCGC), a South Africa programme headed up by the DST, which was heavily dependent on knowledge generation, science policy interface and technology innovation programmes, that sought to link science and technology with social, economic development and environmental management. In the first presentation, focusing on knowledge management, it was explained that  DST wanted to measure the extent to which South Africa could improve scientific understanding of global change, how South Africa’s development and deployment of innovative technologies would support responses to negative environmental changes, and to what extent decision makers would use improved scientific understanding and technology to achieve sustainable development goals in Africa. A ten-year innovation plan had been developed in 2008, and the work of GCGC fed into the work of the DST. A high-level Global Change Research Plan had been developed, with input from science and business communities, and it sought to improve scientific understanding of global environmental change, and was being implemented through National Research Foundation funding to DST research programmes. The programmes were listed and described. There were five areas being measured, and the targets and achievements were set out, noting also that R65 million research funds annually had been obtained. The DST had short term goals, in this project, to reposition the ACCESS programme, do a mid-term review, report on outcomes and strengthen the contribution to Operation Phakisa Ocean Economy. In the medium term, the Department sought to create other instruments to support implementation of the programmes, work on establishing a “community of practice” in global change monitoring and observation, and expand R&V science centres and other regional initiatives.

The second presentation on the environmental innovation branch focused on the creation of a Waste Research, Development and Innovation roadmap, in recognition that water and waste were vital areas, not least because this sector had a potential worth of R25 billion, of which R17 billion was not yet being realised. DST had encouraged institutions of higher learning to introduce degree programmes in waste management, which was now done by the University of KwaZulu Natal and University of North West. The focus of the DST in this area was to correct management of waste, create opportunities in a secondary resource economy and assist with environmental, social and economic opportunities for South Africa. The human capital developments were described, and in relation to waste research and development, it was noted that 22 grant applications were received and ten projects were awarded, to start in 2016. In waste innovation one project would start in 2016. The future activities would include strengthening investment in local waste research, development and innovation, increasing activity through industry and government partnerships, supporting local government and increasing collaboration regionally and internationally. Launches of forums in bioplastics and biorefinery were anticipated. The DST had managed projects on greenhouse gas mitigation, with twelve technology options presented, and DST was also a designated entity for the UN Climate Technology Centre Network, which aimed to transfer technologies from developed countries. The South African Risk and Vulnerability Atlas was a portal allowing easier access to data on other platforms, would assist in planning and adaptation strategies. A State of Green Technologies Report had been produced to identify gaps in the availability of technologies and make recommendations to promote green technology.

Members commented on the importance of seeking input from scientists when making policy decisions, and recognising that there were shared global concerns needing concerted and unified efforts. They commented on the apparent lack of interaction between scientists and communities, and asked if government as a whole was aware of the good work that the DST was doing. The importance of health was stressed, and the Members also noted that information should be conveyed to all communities. They asked to what extent the Risk and Vulnerability Atlas could assist in the current drought problem, whether there was interaction with other departments and groups, questioned the source of funding, the other African partners, and who was promoting the Global Challenge in the tertiary institutions, noted the need to consider shale gas implications, and asked if weather patterns currently were results of climate change. 

Meeting report

Chairperson's opening remarks
The Chairperson noted that a letter of apology had been addressed to the Committee by the Deputy Director General: Research Development and Support, from the Department of Science and Technology (DST or the Department), in regard to this person's ability to attend a particular meeting. Although they were prepared to accept the apology, they were not happy at the wording and tone of the letter and hoped that this situation would not be repeated.

Global Change Grand Challenge: Department of Science and Technology briefing:
Knowledge Component

Mr Leluma Matooane, Director: Earth Science Systems, Department of Science and Technology, presented the portion of the briefing dealing with the Knowledge Generation Component of the Global Change Grand Challenge (GCGC). He noted that he would focus on the science component of the Grand Challenge, its goals and aims and where it was at the moment and aimed to be.

He outlined the structure and form of the GCGC, saying that it is a South African programme that must support science and technology as well as key objectives in the social, economic development and environmental management streams. The primary performance measures that the DST wished to address when designing the GCGC would include science, technology and relevance. DST wanted to measure the extent to which South Africa could improve scientific understanding of global change, and how South Africa’s development and deployment of innovative technologies would support responses to negative environmental changes, as well as the extent to which decision makers will use improved scientific understanding and technology to achieve sustainable development goals in Africa.

Mr Matooane said that a ten-year innovation plan was developed in 2008. Three key areas were identified within the GCGC Implementation Framework, being:
- Knowledge Generation (his own focus area), which involves the improvement of scientific understanding of global change
- Science-Policy Interface, which aims to bridge the gap between science and policy development
- Technology Innovation Programme, which is focused on building resilience or capacity of key economic sectors and society to adapt to global change.

The work of the GCGC ties in with the work that the DST does, by contributing to the Department’s strategic objectives of developing the innovation capacity of the National Science Innovation (NSI) and contributing to socio-economic development.  Moreover, after conceptualising the GCGC, high science priorities were considered and a Global Change Research Plan (GCRP) was developed, in an inclusive and democratic manner, with the involvement of the science and business communities. The GCRP’s purpose is to improve the scientific understanding of global environmental change. It is currently being implemented through various DST-funded research programmes. The funding for this project comes through the National Research Foundation (NRF).

Mr Matooane listed and detailed a number of programmes that the Department has created. These included:
- ACCESS- a virtual network of collaborating partners which includes universities and research entities in earth system science
- SAEON- a network of partners that involve research entities and organisations that focus on earth observational science, to bring more certainty about environmental change, and to enable the formulation of adaptive and mitigating management policies and practices. SAEON has a centre that provides a research and educational environment to seek knowledge amongst earth and life sciences, engineering, resource economics and the human sciences
- SOCCO -  a Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR)-led multi institutional South African initiative, that aims to understand the link between climate and the carbon cycle
- FBIB- a new integrated programme consolidating previous biodiversity projects and initiatives, as well as the R&V Science Centres. These centres are the product of a complementary programme focussing on building capabilities of rural-based universities, in the areas of environmental risk assessment and other related services.
- GCSSRP- a research programme focusing in social-ecological domains of the global change research.

The overall performance of the DST, as portrayed on a balanced scorecard, displayed five areas that are used to measure the impact of the GCGC. The five areas and respective performance in each area are:
- Knowledge and innovation outputs and assets. DST is currently producing 100 scientific publications yearly, and two knowledge products have been created through various research efforts.
- Human capital development and transformation. 250 postgraduate students are produced yearly and granted financial support.
- Promoting South Africa as a preferred research destination. Regional and international partners have been attracted, and the Southern African Science Service Centre for Climate Change and Adaptive Land Management (SASSCAL) has partnered with Germany and four other African countries.
- Impact and relevance. The process of evaluating the GC has only recently been initiated, thus the impact cannot be measured yet.
- Investment. Here he noted that R65 million is being funded for research yearly

The immediate priorities of the Department included the following:
- Repositioning ACCESS as a Strategic Programme Manager performing function
- Developing an earth systems science Research and Development (R&D) flagship programme that draws on ACCESS network
- The mid-term review of GCGC - which is currently underway
- The on-going contribution and reporting against Outcome 10 Medium Term Strategic Framework (MTSF) performance indicators for DST
- Strengthening interface,  and DST’s contribution to Operation Phakisa’s Ocean Economy.

There were also other medium to long-tern priorities. These would include the creation of additional instruments to support the implementation of the GCRP and global change research programmes. The DST intended to continuously strengthen GC governance and management structures. It was working on establishing a community of practice in global change monitoring and observation. It would intend to expand the R&V Science Centres in the North West, Kwazulu-Natal, Northern Cape and Mpumalanga provinces. It was also continuously working to strengthen the interface with regional science initiatives such as SASSCAL and SADC work programmes.

Environmental Innovation
Dr Henry Roman, Director: Environmental Services and Technologies, DST, said that his area focused on environmental innovation. Here the DST made use of a Waste Research, Development and Innovation Roadmap. Water and waste were identified by the Environmental Services and Technologies (EST) as the area to focus attention on.

Dr Roman summarised the Water Research, Development and Innovation (RDI) Roadmap that he had previously presented to Members. He then proceeded to brief Members on the Waste RDI Roadmap.

A waste sector survey had concluded that the South African waste sector is worth R25 billion, of which R17 billion is currently not being realised. One of the main efforts for DST was to target and realise this “lost money” opportunity.  The Waste Roadmap addressed the fact that there had been no training for waste management professionals in South Africa, and created modules for professional training. The DST's call for creation of degree programmes in waste management had been responded to by the University of Kwazulu-Natal and the University of North West.

The needs within the waste sector were to correct the management of waste, create opportunities to move secondary resources into a local secondary resource economy, in order to create environmental, social and economic opportunities for South Africa. The Waste RDI Roadmap is implemented in line with the DST’s mandate of using science and technology to improve the economy of the country, create employment and improve the quality of life of all citizens. The approaches to undertake the needs within the waste sector are underpinned by the three pillars of Human Capital Development, Waste Research & Development, and Waste Innovation (technological and non-technological).

Dr Roman spoke to human capital development and noted that in the first year of the Waste RDI’s Roadmap implementation, postgraduate degrees in Environmental Science, with specialisation in Waste Management, were awarded to ten students. A new Waste Management degree was approved by the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Nine postgraduate scholarships were awarded.

In relation to Waste Research and Development, 22 grant applications were received in the first year, and ten projects were awarded, which were due to start being implemented in 2016. Additionally, in respect of Waste Innovation, five grant applications were received and one project was awarded, which was also due to start in 2016.

Dr Roman indicated that the future activities for the Waste Roadmap included the following:
- Strengthening the investment in local waste R&D and innovation
- Increasing national activity in waste RDI through industry and government partnerships
- Supporting local government in the evaluation and demonstration of waste technologies
- Ongoing calls for post-graduate scholarships
- Increasing Waste RDI collaboration between South Africa and Africa as well as other key international partners.

The launches of the South African Bioplastics Forum and the South African Biorefinery Research Platform were also anticipated for the future.

In relation to climate change and the green economy, the DST had managed a project on behalf of the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), the High Level Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Technology Implementation Plan. This had identified twelve technology options for the country to consider in order to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. Dr Roman's branch was the National Designated Entity (NDE) for the Climate Technology Centre Network (CTCN) under the United Nations. The efforts here aimed to transfer climate technologies from the developed world to the developing world. CTCN services included technical assistance, knowledge sharing and collaboration and networking.

Dr Roman explained that the South African Risk and Vulnerability Atlas (SARVA) is a portal that allows easy access, through advanced search functionalities, to data on other platforms from different research institutes. The data is essential in planning for current and projected global and climate impacts and assist decision makers in implementing adaptation strategies. The portal further equips decision-makers at national, provincial and local government levels, as well as NGOs and the private sector, with information regarding the impact and risks associated with global change.

The Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf), together with the DST, had collaborated in a State of Green Technologies Report in an attempt to review the green technologies available in South Africa, to identify gaps in the availability of the technologies and to make recommendations to promote the growth of green technologies in the country.

Dr A Lotriet (DA) asked that the DST should provide the Committee with a list of acronyms and abbreviations.

The Chairperson commented on the first presentation, highlighting that human behaviour continued to be destructive to the earth. It is the responsibility of scientists to work hard at making efficient use of non-renewable resources and creating innovations that will be beneficial in the long run. He added that these issues are global concerns, so that it is important to ensure that other countries across the world are also on board with the innovations and efforts of South Africa, since any failure on the part of other nations to commit to solutions will affect everyone. He further stated that health concerns are central, as all environmental crises that are faced will inevitably affect human health, although worrying little attention was being given to the health sector at this time. He commented on the apparent lack of interaction between scientists and communities, and asked if government as a whole was aware of the good work that the DST was doing.

Mr Matooane responded that the Department had included the issue of health in the research plan and that there is a programme within the private sector that focuses on health innovation.

The Chairperson urged that the information contained in these presentations should not be limited to the Committee Members only, but should reach everyone, and this highlighted the need to get scientists closer to communities, so that this information could be grasped and understood by the population at large, since everything was driven by science.

Dr Lotriet expressed her interest in the South African Risk and Vulnerability Atlas (SARVA) and wanted to know whether it is being used to assist the current drought problem, since it contains valuable information that could be helpful in planning for droughts. She asked when and how it will be made accessible to the broader public.

Ms L Maseko (ANC) asked whether the Department has been working on Global Change projects with Ambassador Diseko who currently chairs the South African Conference of Parties (COP); such interaction would be beneficial. She referred to the scorecard on overall performance, and asked who are the five African partners involved in the collaboration and where the funding of R65 million per annum was sourced. She asked what percentage of participation there was for the Operation Phakisa operation. She noted that one of the funding initiatives on the EUREKA-ACQUEAU EU platform was mentioned, but the other two were not mentioned and she enquired about their status.

Mr N Paulsen (ANC) drew attention to the Global Challenge being rolled out to tertiary institutions and wanted to know who promoted the challenge in the various departments in those institutions. He asked if collaboration agreements were established with the Department of Environmental Affairs and the Department of Higher Education. He asked Dr Roman how other collaborative projects can be established with other institutions. Shale gas was being considered as a future priority, but he felt that more focus should be placed on it now, considering its impact on the environment and water pollution.
The Chairperson wanted to know whether the government was taking scientists’ intelligence and guidance into consideration when making policies. He commented that scientific knowledge could add significant improvements to policy making.

Dr Yonah Seleti, Chief Director: Science Missions, DST, responded that the Department had established a fairly good foundation for science work to be done and that the Department is focusing on targeted technology approaches in water, waste and the atlas. DST had made significant progress in advancing information to different sectors of society,  but acknowledged that work still remained to be done to improve advocacy and communication, and to ensure that information is both accessible and well understood. Greater efforts are to be invested in translating scientific knowledge to the greater public and within households. He said that there had been good participation by the DST who had offered input on government strategies and there were representatives from the DST who promoted this coordination. South Africa had a good geographical advantage, and so the DST is conducting a flagship project to discover ways in which to turn the country into a world-class laboratory for understanding global and climate change. The possibility of having an Earth System Science flagship (which would be the equivalent of a Square Kilometre Array, but in global laboratory work), is currently being reviewed. If successful, it would be possible to manage global change so that the greater impact on ordinary people within South Africa could be better understood by all.

He added that the SADC member countries had all subscribed to a climate change strategic document and they all seek to find boundary divisions. He amplified on the membership of the five countries involved in the Southern African Science Service Centre for Climate Change and Adaptive Land Use (SASSCAL), saying that this was Botswana, Namibia, Angola, Zambia and South Africa. Germany had started out as a key partner and funder and the R65 million that is referenced was provided by Germany. Moreover, a commitment to have a second phase of SASSCAL has been secured for the year 2020 to continue the work being done. Lack of funding resulted in the inability to have country-by-country narratives on climate changes, but the strategy adopted to address this is the implementation of a mega project that considers each rising crisis and its solution across the Southern African region; this would allow countries to combine resources and collaborate on solutions.

Mr Matooane explained that the DST is actively participating in the COP framework convention on climate change processes because two of the agenda items are concerned with climate change research and technology transfer. The DST leads discussions and adds inputs when preparing country position papers on these points. DST indeed collaborates with a variety of Departments such as Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and Health. In regard to promotion of its work the Department works with the South African Sugar Technologists’ Association (SASTA) which advocates the work being done, and within DST itself, there is also a communication programme, and these platforms all promote and communicate the Department's work.

Dr Roman said that all that can be said about the Risk and Vulnerability Atlas (SARVA) at this point is that it is in the public domain, and the Department is working on tracking its users more effectively. It cannot be said yet whether the Atlas can be used to assist in drought response, although it is unlikely.  There are two main projects within the EUREKA platform, and the DST and the Water Research Commission have committed funds towards certain projects, although one setback to the progression of these projects is the inability of international partners to solicit funds from their governments. This applies to the two remaining stagnant projects within the EUREKA platform, where the European partners have been unable to acquire funds from their respective governments.

Dr Roman also noted that DST is working closely with the Department of Water and Sanitation. DST focuses on research development and innovation, and this then feeds into the efforts of the Department of Water and Sanitation; the DST does not attempt to get involved in water and sanitation work on the ground.

Mr Seleti explained that the Earth System science has involved work associated with oceans, where physics, chemistry and strength of currents are being considered. There are specific research areas that are based on earth system sciences and a number of initiatives from the DST are contributing to Operation Phakisa. Ongoing activities in most cases have to be adjusted, and where the work of the DST correlates with Operation Phakisa, they will be mainstreamed. 

The Chairperson wanted to know whether the sudden variations in rain patterns is due to the change in currents.

Mr Imraam Patel, Deputy Director General: Socio Economic Projects, DST, wanted to reinforce some points made earlier. He repeated that the DST did not have too many details on SARVA and that drought response solutions should not be entirely dependent on SARVA, as there were drought response methods in the hands of the Water Research Commission (WRC) and a number of other science councils who had organised themselves to effectively spread relevant information at the relevant levels. He explained that the current drought conditions were mainly a result of El Niño cycles, but they were also impacted upon negatively by the long term climate changes.

Mr Patel agreed with Members on the need to include science in policy and added that the Department is further looking into getting scientists' views sought in decision making processes, but this was not an easy task. Although science did have quite a strong presence at policy level, it was largely lacking when it came to implementation. He addressed the issue of knowledge brokers and explained that globally, it had been discovered that a key part of the strategy should be to build boundary organisations which are intermediaries between the two groups of policy makers and scientists, and emphasise that efforts are required from both the groups. This reflects a similar role to that of SARVA, who considers what policy makers want and also considers what scientists can provide, in order to be able to come up with developments that can be incorporated into policy and decision making. He conceded that there were weaknesses in the GCGC in regard to human, animal and plant health. In terms of human health, the University of Pretoria was currently conducting research on the increase in malaria incidence, and increases in other water borne diseases as a result of increase in temperatures. Although there was thus collaboration with the health sector, it was not directly encompassed in the GCGC.

The Chairperson thanked the DST for this information. He emphasised his view that science is the driver of the universe, although it seemed that many policy makers failed to appreciate this. He said that politicians should come forward and seek input from scientists in order that appropriate scientifically-based strategies can be adopted for the future global change. Of all the challenges, water and waste needed urgent strategy development. In an attempt to preserve the planet for future generations to come, South Africa must work with other countries, since they shared global challenges, and instead of attempting to shift blame, all should accept that science can be a key driver.

The meeting was adjourned.

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