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Establishing a Road-Map for Integrated Assessment Modeling in Africa

Researchers and practitioners from the South African research and business communities hosted a two-day Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Lab in Stellenbosch, on 17 and 18 October 2018. The SDG Lab was co-funded by Future Earth, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, and the Global Change Institute at University of Witwatersrand (Wits). Participants came together to discuss current thinking around Integrated Assessment Modelling (IAM) and the role it could have in shaping sustainable planning regimes in Africa. IAM is a method of understanding the cause and effect nature of phenomena in the world through an integrated economic, social and ecological lens. It uses computer simulations to analyse a range of ‘experiments’ (scenarios and policy response options) in order to determine the trade-offs associated with various decision-making options.

The Lab was attended by 20 participants, with representation from the CSIR, Wits, the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), the University of Cape Town (UCT), the South African Earth Observation Network (SAEON) and the National Business Initiative (NBI). Participants represented a diversity of disciplinary backgrounds, from ecology, economics, climate sciences, hydrology, air quality, medical sciences, spatial planning, engineering and range of disciplines from the social sciences.

Scientists and practitioners from the South African research and business communities convened to develop a road-map for Integrated Assessment Modelling in Africa. (Photo credit: Lizande Kellerman, 17 October 2018).

The purpose of the lab was to gain a consolidated understanding of domestic modelling capability and consider the level of integration potential between the various disciplinary systems.

The Need

South Africa has a strong and diverse economy for a developing country, with a balance between the manufacturing, financial, services, agriculture, and mining sectors. In many respects, it is full of potential. But growth in the last decade has been frustrated by challenging global market conditions, policy uncertainty and lack of commitment and cohesion on national development priorities. New political leadership and the private sector currently face the challenge of re-igniting the domestic economy, but doing so in a way that pays sufficient attention to the natural resource base.

In this regard, South Africa’s natural capital is particularly sensitive to desertification, pollution, salinization and eutrophication of freshwater, biodiversity loss, overfishing, soil erosion, and compromised air quality.

The Plan

During the SDG Lab, participants started to develop a road-map to initiate research and put in place the tools to develop an IAM approach in South Africa in the short- (0-3 years) and medium-terms (4-10 years).

The short-term steps include launching a pilot IAM to demonstrate the power and utility of working with scenarios in a highly visualised and engaging setting. The purpose would be to develop a proof of concept highly functional, yet simple IAM tool within a well-defined case study area e.g. at the provincial or local government scale.

The medium-term research programme will aim to identify, acquire, develop and link the models needed to develop scenarios, using well-established and widely-accepted IAM frameworks, driven by the necessary databases, and in the context of effective information sharing mechanisms that can contribute to a well-functioning interface between sectors, technical assessments and policy action.

Future Earth contributed valuable seed-funding to convene key players who recognise the potential of and need for IAM as a tool for making informed and responsible decisions on sustainable development in Africa. To this end, CSIR, the Wits Global Change Institute, and its other partners are actively seeking further funding to continue the short and medium-term initiatives to advance IAM in Africa.


Luanita Snyman-van der Walt
+27 21 888 2490

Professor Barend Erasmus
Global Change Institute, University of the Witwatersrand
+277 11 717 6602

SDG Labs Africa

A current focus of Future Earth is on Africa, where several regional offices, centers and national organizations have recently been established. To strengthen these networks, we co-led a conference in South Africa in May 2018, Seedbeds of Transformation. It provided a space for people with diverse perspectives to explore transformations and identify pathways for achieving the sustainable development goals in Africa. The conference brought together researchers with government officials, media, NGOs, and innovators.

In connection to the conference, we launched an SDG Labs Africa challenge through a competitive call for initiatives to solve sustainability issues on the local level. The SDG Labs are based on the concept social innovation lab, where researchers work with local entrepreneurs, officials, and holders of traditional knowledge to solve sustainability challenges hands-on. The topics connect to sustainable oceans and coasts, urban sustainability, or digital technology, and the ideas should be applicable to other places and scales, to accelerate positive change. Each project received a modest sum of funding, provided by Future Earth and Sida/Swedbio.

During the autumn we will present the results from some of the labs in a series of blogs. This is the first blog in this series.