ACEIR's contributions to the Inequality, Work, and Nature Conference

19 Dec 2023 | By Charmaine Smith
Photo of the conference auditorium and participants
19 Dec 2023 | By Charmaine Smith

“The most famous economists abroad don’t get the opportunity to engage with policymakers as researchers do in South Africa; we have a great culture of partnerships in this country”, remarked ACEIR’s director, Prof. Murray Leibbrandt, in the closing session of the Inequality, Work, and Nature Conference.

The first day of the conference showcased research on the strategic dilemmas that appear when designing long-term development trajectories that are both ecologically and socially sustainable. Close to 50 research papers were presented during three parallel sessions, including seven papers on ACEIR’s research.

Parallel session on profiling multidimensional vulnerability to climate change impacts

This session dealt with how socio-economic and climate change policies have affected livelihood trajectories of different groups in society and featured presentations by two ACEIR colleagues.

Key takeaways from “Profiling multidimensional vulnerability to climate change impacts in South Africa and Ghana”, presented by ACEIR’s Dr Muna Shifa* (University of Cape Town): 

  • Large proportions of the populations in both countries remain vulnerable to the impacts of climate change due to food insecurity and a lack of safe drinking water and sanitation.
  • There are significant disparities in the extent of vulnerability by location and population group. In particular, rural residents, those with lower incomes or wealth, and among the disadvantaged population.
  • There is evidence that some areas with a relatively high level of multidimensionally vulnerable population are also more likely to experience climate-related hazards.

*Muna presented the Ghana research findings on behalf of Prof. Nkechi S. Owoo, ACEIR Ghana (University of Ghana).

Key takeaways from the paper on “Climate change vulnerability in Kenya: A spatial and socio-economic analysis of household sensitivity” presented by ACEIR’s Prof. Damiano K. Manda (University of Nairobi):

  • Kenyan households that are most vulnerable to climate change shocks are in rural areas and concentrated in certain counties, are poor, and headed by females and individuals with no or lower levels of education.
  • Poor nutrition, household living conditions, and to some extent demographic factors contribute more to overall climate change vulnerability.
  • There is evidence that some areas with a relatively high level of multidimensionally vulnerable population are also more likely to experience climate-related hazards.


Parallel session on environment and inequality

This session focused on the interactions between inequalities, environmental degradation, and environmental protection measures. ACEIR’s Dr Fabio Andrés Diaz Pabón (University of Cape Town) presented on “Climate change-related shocks, resilience, and welfare outcomes: Evidence from Ghana, Kenya, and South Africa”. Key takeaways from the presentation are:

  • The results of the three case studies show that climate change shocks may affect household welfare. 
  • However, the fact that the significance, extent, and direction of the impacts of climate change shocks diverge as a function of the locations, the nature of the shock (drought or flood) or their duration (short term vs long term) show a need for careful consideration and exposition of the contexts, conditions, and factors leading to such outcomes.
  • The composition of assets and their use in response to climate shocks illustrate the complexities in the way assets are utilised as buffering mechanisms.
  • This calls for a deeper understanding of the role of other kinds of assets such as cultural, social, and natural capital in explaining the responses to climate change shocks.


Parallel session on spatial inequalities and ecological transitions

At this session, research that reflects the various dimensions of spatial inequalities that policymakers need to focus on in the design and implementation of environmental transitions were presented. One of ACEIR’s PhD candidates, Arindam Jana (University of Cape Town), presented a paper on “Another aspect of spatial inequalities: Differential climate outcomes within cities”. Key takeaways are:

  • There is a strong spatial correlation between historical spatial restrictions and the resultant current built forms, and the observable or lived experiences of climate variability.
  • Globally, research shows that tree cover and the quality of built form are the strongest determinants of reductions in surface temperatures.
  • In Cape Town, significantly higher surface temperatures are observed in former Black, Coloured, and Indian group areas than in erstwhile White areas.
  • Informal settlements also appear in higher surface temperature areas.
  • Just transitions cannot be enabled without spatial justice.


Parallel session on climate mitigation and inequality 

This session dealt with the issue of climate mitigation and inequality and the resulted implications for national climate mitigation policies. It was chaired by the convenor of ACEIR’s South Africa node, Prof. Vimal Ranchhod (University of Cape Town).

ACEIR South Africa’s Faaiqa Hartley (University of Cape Town) presented on “Economy-wide and redistribution impacts of mitigation in South Africa”. Key takeaways:

  • More ambitious climate mitigation can force a faster decarbonisation of the economy, but this requires more investment. 
  • Climate financing can offset mitigation costs. If mitigation is funded through existing budgets, economic activity and employment creation will slow down.
  • No action or insufficient action also has potential costs which, depending on the level of international measures, could be more costly than mitigation.
  • There will be a need for complementary supportive measures to protect vulnerable households as modelling shows that mitigation will increase poverty – but decrease inequality marginally due to lower incomes in the higher income groups.
  • The pace and design of mitigation have implications for both the economic and distributional impact.

Faaiqa also presented on behalf of ACEIR Ghana researcher Dr Monica Lambon-Quayefio (University of Ghana) on “Climate change vulnerability in Ghana: A spatial and disaggregation analysis of household sensitivity”. Key takeaways:

  • Mitigation requires strong uptake of wind and solar, which requires additional power sector investment.
  • When financed from within, gross domestic product, employment and poverty are negatively affected.
  • Potential positive impacts of mitigation, such as improved health, development of new sectors and technologies, or the potential impact of no action (such as loss in trade opportunities and foreign markets) were not accounted for.


Conference side events

The conference week was also packed with side events that were hosted by different research and development partners. Two of these fringe events were based on ACEIR’s research in collaboration with other institutions.

Inequality diagnostics for the future 

Following the first series of inequality diagnostics produced in partnership with the Agence Française de Développement and others, this side event explored opportunities for a new generation of diagnostics that consider two most pressing challenges: climate change and the transformation of labour markets. Some takeaways from discussions are:

  • New data collection through national surveys will be needed for an expanded focus on inequalities in the context of climate adaptation and transition to more carbon-neutral economies.
  • Statistics South Africa plans to produce an updated inequality trends report that includes climate inequalities. Set for 2025/26, Stats SA is now looking at new data points to include in future national surveys.
  • A focus on labour market inequality (including informal jobs) is at the heart of understanding the losses and gains that must be weighed up in planning for a just transition to net-zero CO2 emissions.
  • Acknowledgement of the value of training for researchers who work on the diagnostics, and of the availability of a methodology handbook to guide other country diagnostics.


Transforming social inequalities through inclusive climate action – evidence from Ghana, Kenya, and South Africa

This side event discussed how social inequalities shape climate action and the implementation of the Paris Agreement in sub-Saharan Africa. It was organised by the TSITICA project, a joint initiative of ACEIR and the ARUA Centre of Excellence on Climate and Development (ARUA-CD). Key takeaways:

  • The TSITICA research showed that there is a bias towards only climate mitigation projects in Ghana, Kenya, and South Africa.
  • Very few climate change interventions in these three countries were found to also address poverty and/or inequality.

This side event was not recorded.

View the full conference playlist, including the policy discussions on the second day.