School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Exploring the Unintended Negative Consequences of Climate Change Action

Exploring the Unintended Negative Consequences of Climate Change Action

Professor Larry Swatuk of the University of Waterloo in Canada recently visited the Centre for Water Resources (CWRR) at UKZN after launching the book: Water in Southern Africa.

In the book published by the UKZN Press, Swatuk recommends learning to see water and the region differently in order to meet present challenges and better prepare for an uncertain, climate-changing future. He also advocates for looking at green (rainfall) water solutions for human water needs as opposed to simply focusing on blue (ground) water solutions. The book deals with sustainable water management through good and science-informed governance.

Swatuk has extensive experience in environmental as well as natural resource governance and management in southern Africa. He has lived and worked in the region for 14 years, primarily in Botswana where he was a lecturer at the University of Botswana and an Associate Professor of Resource Governance at the Okavango Research Institute. He is currently Professor in the School of Environment, Enterprise and Development (SEED) at the University of Waterloo and Director of the Master of Development Practice (MDP) Programme.

During his visit to UKZN, Swatuk delivered a seminar for the CWRR on the topic of Countering the unintended negative effects of climate action in southern Africa and delivered classes to Hydrology Honours students.

The seminar covered another new publication, titled: Water, Climate Change and the Boomerang Effect, which is concerned with the unintended consequences of climate change adaptation and mitigation in the water sector. The book addresses popular fears regarding the negative consequences of climate-oriented actions and presents empirical case studies.

He explained the book as dealing with the emergence of largely unanticipated and unintended negative consequences of climate change adaptation and mitigation policies and programmes that feed back to the state and gave an overview of case studies including the Three Gorges Dam, Guarani Aquifer, the Ilisu Dam and others. He highlighted how quick climate actions that governments pursue involve big infrastructure, and expanded on investigation of the motivation behind state action that leads to negative consequences that could have been easily foreseen. The aim of his work is to develop a decision support tool at the science-policy interface, informed by local measures to enable balanced climate action.

Swatuk’s visit also involved the exploration of possible partners and study sites in this research. This could involve scope for student involvement and exchange visits and would be heavily focused on capacity building. Swatuk’s experience in water security programmes run in Canada and at the University of the Western Cape would contribute to upskilling students and researchers.

He also visited the uMngeni School of Water Governance Research at the Institute of Natural Resources (INR) for a discussion about project concepts, with considerable focus dedicated to state interests. There was a discussion about the state having people’s interests at heart and where that was evidently not the case, and where corporate interests influence decision-making. Attendees also discussed various biophysical environments and governance approaches across the globe, and the need for local actors to play a role in state dialogue on climate change adaptation.

Words and photograph: Christine Cuénod