Transition and Decoupling
Research Group Leaders: Mark Swilling
The aim of this research theme is to understand how South Africa can participate in the global transition to sustainable development driven by socio-technical innovations that foster ecologically sustainable development that also achieves the national goals of job creation, poverty-eradication and reduced inequalities. This can only be achieved by ‘dematerializing’ the economy using strategies that decouple rates of economic growth from rates of resource use over time. This research theme will focus on what transformative change means for sustainability. Questions to be considered include: what are the necessary changes in interactions between socio-institutional and socio-ecological variables for sustainable transitions to happen in practice? How do transition processes unfold in different types of systems? How are ecological and technical factors interpreted within the socio-political regime where decision-making elites make decisions? These questions will be explored by using various methods in the four TDCs: how embedded energy systems can contribute to decoupling in the energy sector, how greater demands for water within the Western Cape catchments (including the Berg and Breede river catchments) can be achieved by restoring the rivers, how food can be supplied to growing urban markets in ways that restore agricultural and soil systems, and how urban infrastructure transitions can occur that result in more sustainable urban systems. Several existing projects will be drawn into this theme, including a major international research project for the UN’s International Resource Panel coordinated by Mark Swilling and a booked edited by Josephine Musango, Mark Swilling and Jeremy Wakeford entitled Greening the South African Economy: Scoping the Issues, Challenges and Opportunities (due for publication in 2016).