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This project supported the Presidential Climate Commission (PCC) of South Africa develop a Climate Resilient Development Pathways (CRDP) conceptual framework and methodology to facilitate coordinated action transitioning South African society in a just and inclusive manner to be climate resilient and net-zero by the 2050s. The purpose of the work was to establish the basis and set the direction for future knowledge (co)production and planning work in relation to the adaptation and climate resilience aspects of navigating a ‘Just Transition’. To ground the conceptual work, we explored the potential application and value-add of a pathways approach in the contexts of eThekwini in KZN and Saldanha Bay on the West Coast. We developed (1) a set of guidelines on why and how to operationalize a CRD pathways approach, (2) a set of recommendations for building the climate information and services ecosystem needed to support a CRD pathways approach, (3) a framework for assessing and strengthening capacities for utilizing the approach, and (4) a set of four high-level proposals for taking the CRD pathways work forward.

Project timeline

Project co-design: October 2021 – February 2022

Project implementation: March 2022 – August 2022

Finalising outputs: August – October 2022

Background to the project

The Presidential Climate Commission (PCC) is a multi-stakeholder body established by the President of the Republic of South Africa to advise the government on the country’s climate change response and pathways to a low-carbon climate-resilient economy and society. The PCC is mandated to facilitate a common understanding of a ‘Just Transition’ and how it can be achieved.

The Just Transition has typically been understood in relation to worker vulnerability to economic shifts from rapid decarbonisation, but it is important to emphasize that social justice is equally important in climate adaptation. Lack of access to productive land, water, energy and safe housing means that poor communities have lower adaptive capacities and are particularly vulnerable. Also, those most vulnerable often have least access to, voice in and influence over decision-making that affects them, such as decisions associated with land uses, water and energy allocations, building standards, and technology and infrastructure investment choices. Approaches to design and navigate development pathways that are climate-resilient and low-carbon need to be inclusive and empowering if they are to be successful in shaping a new future for all.

The research, knowledge and engagements underpinning the development of emissions pathways for South Africa and associated mitigation targets and measures are relatively well developed. There is a need to consolidate and build similar evidence on climate adaptation pathways to adequately integrate both aspects of South Africa’s climate change responses into the country’s long-term development trajectory.



The work entailed

  1. Reviewing conceptual developments in CRDPs thinking and relate these to the South African context.
  2. Convening four international expert engagements with those developing climate resilient development (CRD) pathways theory and practice to sense check and deepen the review findings.
  3. Exploring two test cases in South Africa - eThekwini metro and Saldanha Bay development zone - to contextualise the concepts and scope out what implementing a CRD pathways approach could entail and how it might add value to related ongoing processes.
  4. Designing a participatory methodology to undertake CRDPs planning processes, using the two test cases to explore context-specific practicalities.
  5. Developing a framework for climate services that aligns with the ongoing information needs of CRDPs.
  6. Designing an approach to assess capacity and identify capacity strengthening priorities in relation to climate adaptation pathways planning across regional, national and local levels.
  7. Preparing a set of high-level proposals that have the potential to advance CRD pathways practice in South Africa, with a particular focus on enhancing equity.
  8. Convening a public PCC Dialogue to present the key findings and outputs from the work, gather a set of reflections from various stakeholders, and discuss the value of a CRD pathways approach in furthering South Africa’s climate and development policy agenda and, most importantly, supporting the implementation and iterative enhancement of climate and development policies and plans.

What impact does the project have?

The Just Transition Framework highlights the imperative to:

  • shift South Africa’s emissions trajectory;
  • prepare to better and more equitably manage droughts, floods, and other extreme weather events;
  • reduce unemployment;
  • reduce stress on food systems and water resources;
  • build the capacity of the state to serve and empower vulnerable and marginalised groups, especially those most impacted by the climate and the shift away from fossil fuels.

What is needed is a structured process for weighing up, prioritising, sequencing and coordinating the actions required to realise relevant mitigation and adaptation interventions within diverse contexts and developmental realities across South Africa. Operationalising a CRD pathways approach offers a means for the many, diverse public, private and civic actors implicated in bringing about a Just Transition across South African society to collectively understand the drivers and implications of the current development trajectory (at relevant spatial and temporal scales), iteratively monitor and assess climate-related risks, evaluate and negotiate intervention options that reduce and redistribute risks, and act in a coordinated way to redirect the development trajectory towards creating a more sustainable, cleaner, and inclusive economy and healthier society.

It will take a huge set of changes to transition South African society from a highly unequal and risky society now, to one that is equitable and sustainable by the 2050s. The goal of taking a CRD pathways approach is to cohere the prioritisation and implementation of a set of strategies and actions over the next 30 years that fundamentally change the structure and character of South African society for the better. This requires acting in the near-term with a long-term (multi-decadal and inter-generational) perspective.

The impacts of adopting a CRD pathways approach are not only achieved through co-producing a set of climate change adaptive and mitigative development pathways based on collectively prioritising and sequencing options and interventions in various contexts and scales across South Africa. More importantly, impact is achieved over the longer-term by developing and exercising a practice of deliberative and adaptive planning and implementation that is alive to uncertainties, contingencies, feedbacks and emerging conditions. The practice involves fostering safe, deliberative spaces in which aspirations, values, fears, risk perceptions, power dynamics and vested interests can be surfaced, explored, challenged and negotiated. It also involves nurturing new or altered relationships between residents, practitioners, business operators, researchers and policymakers. This is no easy task in current South Africa, where dysfunction, mistrust, marginalisation, fragmentation, frustration, violence and ongoing exploitation of people and nature is rife. But that is even more reason to try harder.

Key insights

What are CRD Pathways?

Development trajectories, emerging from past decisions, investments and interventions, stretching out into multiple possible futures, made up of sequences (or portfolios) of interventions to create work opportunities, build and maintain infrastructure and conserve ecosystems that reduce inequality, climate impacts and greenhouse gas emissions proactively as conditions change. CRD pathways are place-based and context-specific with interactions across scales. CRD pathways involve long-term thinking for near-term, joined-up decision-making and action. They are a subset of, and consistent with, sustainable development pathways.

What are the core assumptions underlying a CRD pathways approach?

  • Committed to transparent evidence-based democratic decision-making
  • Imperative to protect and enhance lives, livelihoods, buildings, infrastructure & ecosystems
  • Need a decision strategy to deal with deep uncertainties & interdependencies & inequalities
  • Worth making (political and economic) decisions now with a view to 2100
  • Want to avoid regret of doing too little too late, or too much too early (i.e. wasteful expenditure) based on stringent safety standards
  • Can build the capacities required to cohere & hold together a complex, long-term societal process to modify policies & measures as conditions change
  • Real commitment to implement changes, not just rhetoric
  • Willing to invest in deep collaboration & mutual learning

What are practical examples of interventions within a CRD pathway?

It depends a lot on context, but drawing on the eThekwini and Saldanha Bay cases, some examples include:

  • Investing in green hydrogen infrastructure to power manufacturing of iron & steel for export and building SA infrastructure.
  • Supporting SMEs in aquaculture (e.g., mussels and oysters) with subsidies and enforcement of marine protection rules, especially with large industrial actors.
  • Expanding municipal and private on-site water reuse facilities, cleaning water to a quality fit for purpose.
  • Enforcing land-use restrictions and creating ecosystem-based employment and livelihood opportunities in biodiversity adaptation corridors, aquifer protection zones and high flood-risk zones, such as clearing solid waste and invasive plants along rivers, revegetating riverbanks and sand dunes.

What is needed to operationalise a CRD pathways approach?

  1. Requires putting climate change mitigation and adaptation options onto development trajectories to consider changing risk profiles, synergies, trade-offs and equity implications.
  2. Start by identifying multiple existing development pathways in play that are competing for prominence and investment.
  3. Recognise that there have been and continue to be major trade-offs between industrialisation, large-scale infrastructure investment (e.g. port expansion) and ecosystem functioning.
  4. Need to surface and hold hard conversations about what to save and what to let go of; what is worth protecting at any/all cost and accepting and grieving what we are losing.
  5. Less about working backwards from a fixed end goal but rather acting with foresight and adaptability to move towards more desirable futures, ready to navigate uncertainties.
  6. Need to interface CRD pathways approach with existing/new planning modalities, for example the District Development Model.
  7. Having too much, too little and too polluted water, and the lack of sufficient (let alone clean) energy are critical thresholds we have already exceeded, requiring urgent transformative strategies in South Africa.
  8. Many, diverse disciplinary expertise are required to monitor and detect signals of change and risk-related thresholds that prompt investing in additional/alternative interventions and changing course between pathways.
  9. Civil society organisations across South Africa are active but are increasingly frustrated with lack of traction in and influence over development decision-making captured by private, corporate interests and unresponsive state entities. This has to change for a credible CRD pathways approach to work.

For further details see the CRDPs guidance report, output 1.

What climate information and services are needed to operationalise a CRD pathways approach?

CRD pathways processes to assess, prioritise and sequence risk-reducing developmental interventions require climate science to characterise current climate hazards and thresholds, based on data from long-term observational monitoring networks, as well as to model future scenarios to anticipate altered thresholds and emerging hazards. This requires investment in the collection, management and accessibility of observational data, research into operational weather and seasonal forecasting and climate change modelling, mechanisms through which climate information is archived, analysed, processed and exchanged, structured means through which climate information users and climate scientists interact, and the development of relational capacities to communicate, access, interpret and use climate information.

For further details on existing SA climate information platforms and recommendations for further strengthening them see the CRDPs climate information and services report, output 2.

What capacities need to be strengthened to operationalise a CRD pathways approach?

  • Awareness of decisions and actions that may be impacted by or impact on climate change
  • Technical expertise to assess climate-related risks and opportunities
  • Collaborate across knowledge, organisational and spatial boundaries
  • Foster meaningful inclusion and distributive justice
  • Foster a culture of learning
  • Leadership to foster innovation and navigate trade-offs
  • Cost options and mobilise resources
  • Sustain and maintain developmental risk management interventions
  • Detect change signals and trigger course adjustments (i.e. avoid lock ins)

For further details on the capacities, their distribution and opportunities for strengthening see the CRDPs capacity framework report, output 3.

What are opportunities for taking this work forward?

Working with multiple stakeholders to co-development of CRD pathways for:

  • eThekwini focussing on flood recovery & preparedness & trade-offs around land uses & employment (linking ongoing work).
  • Greater Saldanha Regional Industrial Complex focussing on trade-offs & synergies btw green steel, aquaculture, marine oil & gas servicing, & ecotourism considering trends of reducing water availability & increasing energy constraints / costs.
  • Other contexts where there is appetite and opportunities for collaboration.

This will involve consolidating monitoring networks for signal detection, costing interventions, weighing these costs up against the costs of inaction, and exploring blended financing opportunities to fund the interventions.

Assessing and strengthening CRD pathways capacity through:

  • Applying the Capacity Diagnosis & Development (CaDD) tool in selected set of priority organisations.
  • Develop CRD pathways training materials, including simulation games.

For further details see the CRDPs high-level proposals report, output 4. If any of these opportunities sound interesting and potentially linked to your work, please get in touch.

Project team

The project was undertaken by a team at the University of Cape Town, from the African Climate and Development Initiative and the Climate System Analysis Group. The team consisted of Dr Anna Taylor, Dr Nadine Methner, Prof Mark New, Dr Christopher Jack, Alice McClure, Penelope Price, Kalia Barkai, Yasirah Madhi, Anna Steynor, Assoc Prof Gina Ziervogel and Prof Bruce Hewitson.

Project outputs

Journal Articles

Taylor, A., Methner, N., Barkai, K.R., McClure, A., Jack, C., New, M. and Ziervogel, G. 2023. Operationalising climate-resilient development pathways in the Global SouthCurrent Opinion in Environmental Sustainability64, p.101328.

Project Reports

A guidance manual on the methodology for CRD pathways planning in the South African context.

A climate information and services recommendations report for supporting the CRDP approach.

A multi-level CRD pathways capacity assessment framework.

High-level proposals for investment priorities to implement the CRD pathways approach.


Dialogue on Climate Resilient Development Pathways with the PCC

Collaborators and funders

This work was co-developed with the PCC Secretariat, notably Crispian Olver, Dhesigen Naidoo and Dumisani Nxumalo. It was made possible through the financial support of the European Union’s Partnership Instrument and the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, and Nuclear Safety (BMU) in the context of the International Climate Initiative (IKI).