Rapid urbanisation, population growth and increasingly scarce resources are high on the agendas of scientists, innovators, decision-makers and governments around the world.
The 5th National Global Change Conference, currently underway at the University of the Free State (UFS) in Bloemfontein, has brought these stakeholders together to discuss research related to addressing these and other challenges.
The four-day conference is organised by the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), in partnership with National Research Foundation (NRF) and the UFS.
The platform offers an opportunity for participants to share information and debate local research and development initiatives being implemented under the Global Change Grand Challenge.
Delivering a speech on behalf of the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, the Deputy Director-General of Socio-Economic Innovation Partnerships, Imraan Patel, said several factors inspired the department’s commitment to research and innovation in the area of global change.
These include the country’s scientific expertise, its size and variations, a wealth of biodiversity and economic structure.
“To take advantage of our unique features as a country will require that we not only enhance our science capabilities but also make bold but informed decisions about our scientific and technological investments,” said Patel.
He said while South Africa had some features that made it distinct as a country, this did not mean that it was not vulnerable to global challenges and the threats that face all of humanity.
UFS Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Francis Petersen, said the impacts of global change hit vulnerable communities the hardest.
He said he hoped that the conference would achieve its objective of providing a forum for stakeholders to advance their understanding and knowledge of research and technology for humanity.
Petersen strongly believes that the challenges were massive and would not be solved quickly, stressing that long-term initiatives and solutions would be needed.
“The UFS is situated in the central part of the country, which has large rural areas. The effects of climate change on these rural communities will include higher temperatures, extreme weather, droughts, floods, the depletion of water resources and biodiversity, soil erosion and decreased subsistence economies.
“So, human health and safety, food and water security, and socio-economic development will be impacted.”
Renowned scholar, Professor Tshilidzi Marwala, emphasised the importance of good leadership as the world embraced the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).
“Across the board, we require a new type of leader who understands this paradigm shift and who will devise appropriate strategies to make the South African economy competitive,” he said.
Marwala, who is the outgoing Vice-Chancellor of the University of Johannesburg, explained that leaders needed to embrace change and all facets of learning, in their complexity and diversity.
“We need to inculcate the culture of multidisciplinary education and adaptability in our university system. As we learn to diversify and make our education more adaptable, we also need to understand that there is something about doing things together.”
He called on society to work collectively for it to strive.
“This is a requirement for the 4IR because 4IR is the convergence of men and machines to become a single system. Whoever is going to design the machines will have to understand the person and understand the machine at the same time,” he said.
Source: South African Government News Agency