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Summary of FCFA’s research on climate change in South Africa

FCFA’s work in South Africa was self-funded by the cities of Cape Town, Durban, and Johannesburg as part of FRACTAL. FRACTAL aims to explore the decision-making process in southern African cities, to support how cities respond to the risks associated with the effects of climate change and the pressures of rapid social, economic and environmental change.  



This was adopted by FRACTAL to bridge the science-policy divide (most notably bringing climate science to decision makers). Early career researchers from local universities were appointed as Embedded Researchers to work within government spaces (e.g. municipalities) in Southern African cities. 

The Embedded Researcher approach in Durban and participation in city learning exchanges, resulted in FRACTAL contributing to biodiversity planning in the city factoring in the effects of climate change in South Africa.


These are stories of various climate futures that have ideally been co-produced using a diversity of knowledge sources and perspectives. The co-production of knowledge uses climate information with stories of plausible futures from a wide range of stakeholders to bring together climate information and local knowledge into Climate Risk Narratives that can broaden conversations across sectors.

Climate Risk Narratives were developed for Cape Town to update projects for the city, and FRACTAL lessons informed support to the City during the 2015-2018 Cape Town drought.


FRACTAL recognised the importance of tailoring the climate information to the users context. FRACTAL adopted a ‘humble science’ approach and are continuing to develop an accessible distillation framework that is grounded in transdisciplinary engagement. This framework has been iteratively developed and considers sources, stakeholders, audience, methodologies, decisions, transparency and whether there are uncertainties or contradictions in the climate information. It also encourages the framing of a climate related issue as a development or governance challenge. 


In Durban, FRACTAL was led by the University of KwaZulu-Natal and used the Embedded Researcher (ER) approach to focus particularly on the impacts of climate change in South Africa on biodiversity. The ER for Durban worked with the Environmental Planning & Climate Protection Department (EPCPD) from the City of eThekwini as well as academics from the University of KwaZulu Natal and FRACTAL. 

Integrating climate information into biodiversity planning proved to be challenging in Durban due to difficulties in identifying entry points and creating receptivity for officials to take up climate information. Gaps in climate information and data also resulted in challenges for the city. 

The ER undertook a literature review to understand the ways in which climate information is most commonly used to plan for and manage biodiversity conservation. The ER also compared the activities of EPCPD to recommended practices in global literature. 

The work of the ER culminated in a monitoring framework to establish and implement a co-produced, comprehensive, adaptive biodiversity monitoring framework/programme in the City of eThekwini, which takes into account long term (climate change) and short term (immediate environmental change) impacts, and draws from various specialists and partnerships.  

Through further engagements with the planning process in Durban, the ER was able to support partnerships forming between the Development Planning Department and the Durban Botanical Trust education officers, the Strategic Spatial Planning branch, the Land Use Management Branch, the climate protection branch, Cities Fit For Climate Change (GIZ) and the Municipal Institute for Learning to pilot leadership training on climate change and effects of climate change in South Africa

Furthermore, the ER process improved data sharing and management between stakeholders, which contributed to the creation of a new post for a data manager.



The Climate Systems Analysis Group (CSAG), the lead implementing institution in FRACTAL was actively involved in supporting the City of Cape Town during the unprecedented three-year Cape Town drought and subsequent water crisis between 2015-2018. 

Considering CSAG’s role in the consortium, many activities were informed by FRACTAL lessons. Furthermore, lessons learned from the Cape Town drought were shared in several other FRACTAL cities (e.g. Maputo, Lusaka, and Windhoek). CSAG contributed to researching climate change attribution, testing water supply models, developing Climate Risk Narratives and improving climate-related terminology to support the response of the City to the water crisis. 

This included the development of the ‘Big Six Monitor’ showing water levels in major supply dams in the recent past and immediate future. CSAG is interested in playing a role in developing a climate change think tank within the city to further develop their information distillation processes, better understand the impact of climate change in South Africa, and support the city’s response. 

At the beginning of FRACTAL, Climate Risk Narratives were produced for the City of Cape Town, as part of a move to update the climate projections for the city. These Climate Risk Narratives were developed by scientists who then engaged with the city. These engagements sparked useful discussions between scientists and decision-makers regarding the city’s future.



In Johannesburg, FRACTAL partners from the University of Witwatersrand worked with the City of Johannesburg with the intention of building relationships and gaining insight into the governance and development within the City. The FRACTAL contact point in Johannesburg has played a key role in developing the updated Climate Change Adaptation Plan for the City and has shared extremely valuable insights with the broader FRACTAL team. 

The Climate Change Adaptation Framework reports have been presented to government committees in the City. These were well received indicating the possibility for continued engagement between researchers and government officials on climate change issues.

  • Self-funding meant cities held autonomy regarding work in their city, but were involved in larger project meetings to share lessons with other FRACTAL cities. Lessons learned from Cape Town drought have been shared with other FRACTAL cities.
  • FRACTAL facilitated learning exchanges between eThekwini Municipality and Lusaka that led to the signing of the Durban Adaptation Charter between the two cities, to learn from eThekwini’s climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies.
  • A literature review compiled by the embedded researcher, as part of developing climate change and biodiversity information to inform the Durban Climate Change Strategy, is to be integrated into the National Biodiversity Assessment 2018, in a literature review on urban climate adaptation with regards to biodiversity conservation management.
  • Through engagements in the municipality, the embedded researcher has stimulated training on climate change for planners in eThekwini. The pilot for this training was recently tested and may be rolled out to planners and departments across the city.


For the latest FCFA climate change news visit the news stories page.