DSG Engagement Efforts in South Africa

October 18, 2023

By Hassaan Sipra & Shuchi Talati

Last month, the DSG team visited South Africa to meet with local academics and civil society organizations on the topic of solar geoengineering, governance, and engagement. DSG’s primary mission focuses on building the knowledge and understanding of solar geoengineering in the Global South, and seeks to empower local organizations to engage with the research and decision-making processes associated with this field. The U.S., E.U., and various UN agencies have recently provided insights into their positions on solar geoengineering this past year, and it is clear that momentum around discussing these technologies in the Global North is growing. However, as the Climate Overshoot Commission’s recent report pointed out, beyond a moratorium on deployment, robust and legitimate research and governance frameworks need to be established as deliberations continue, especially across the Global South.

Why South Africa?

Our strategy for engagement looks at multiple factors to determine which countries and civil society organizations to approach in its initial efforts to build capacity around solar geoengineering and governance. As compared to other countries, South Africa sits squarely in the middle of major climate risk and vulnerability indices, the CRI (#78) and the ND-GAIN (#95), as well as human and sustainable development indices, HDI (#109) and SDGI (#110), highlighting their balanced need for potentially engaging with solar geoengineering. The country ranks higher as compared to most Global South countries when it comes to civil society participation (#77) and deliberative democracy rankings (#48). Since DSG’s work focuses on augmenting the role of civil society in the debate around solar geoengineering, and seeks to follow democratic principles in developing Global South narratives on solar geoengineering, these indicators presented South Africa as a fairly nuanced choice for initial engagement.

Alongside these indicators, civil society engagement would be nearly impossible without first having some local expertise and research work to showcase the impacts of solar geoengineering versus climate change to galvanize perspective building and future policy making. With funding provided by The Degrees Initiative, three projects assessing solar geoengineering impacts on agriculture, biodiversity and livestock have built local expertise on solar geoengineering in South Africa, specifically at the University of Cape Town (UCT). In addition, the engagement of Dr. Christopher Trisos from the African Climate and Development Initiative at UCT for the UNEP report One Atmosphere was an indication to DSG that South Africa was a compelling destination for initial civil society engagement.

On the Ground Engagement

The DSG team met with 15 organizations and leaders on the ground in South Africa, between Cape Town and Johannesburg, including universities, think tanks, as well as advocacy, policy and research oriented organizations. While many of the organizations had low awareness of solar geoengineering entering into discussions, they quickly understood the growing momentum around its research and governance in the Global North and acknowledged the importance of reducing the North-South divide in terms of knowledge generation and decision-making processes. Many of the organizations also pointed to low bandwidth for such new topics, as they are already struggling with issues relating to the just energy transition, the erosion of environmental protections, infrastructure challenges, and economic downturns. This is exactly why the work DSG is doing is so important – by collating relevant information in the field of solar geoengineering, and providing it to a variety of stakeholders across the Global South, many of these organizations do not have to be tapped into solar geoengineering issues directly at present. Our goal and hope is to slowly transform their capacity to engage with these issues and to empower them to take meaningful action that is in line with their local and community needs. 

Broadly, DSG hopes to build more engagement potential in South Africa specifically around convening capacity building workshops that allow civil society participants to familiarize themselves with climate vulnerability across Africa and provides foundational information around solar geoengineering and its governance. We hope this will subsequently enable participants to discuss and debate issues around this topic and co-create research questions relevant to the African context. Many of the conversations the DSG team had in South Africa emphasized the need for determining local impacts of climate change and solar geoengineering before any decision-making can occur. Their questions largely revolved around local concerns, such as – how will this impact food security? How will this impact decarbonized energy systems? What will this ultimately mean for our communities? The significance of such questions and concerns is incredibly important in thinking about climate change and solar geoengineering decision-making, and the answers will look different in different places. 

Another set of questions that DSG was asked related to our objectives and financing, and we continue to be extremely transparent. In a field like solar geoengineering, where there is already so much uncertainty, it is important to be upfront about the fact that DSG is not an advocacy organization (i.e. not advocating for or against solar geoengineering deployment), nor is it taking funding from any sources that are not committed to a complete fossil fuel transition. Ensuring that these parameters are well understood helped increase the level of trust among the organizations DSG interfaced with. 

As the first major DSG global engagement effort in Africa, our conversations in South Africa are just the start of our work on the continent. Our hope is to continue to build a growing list of partners and interested participants about how the field is moving forward, and determine what future collaborations could look like – be that through workshops, newsletters, briefings, meetings or presentations. At present, we are yet not publicly sharing who we engaged with, but as we continue to build trust and relationships, we will do so as these organizations become ready to be more public facing in this field.