16 January 2018
African Climate and Development Initiative, University of Cape Town, South Africa

South Africa Workshop: Assessing the impact of road development on natural capital

Scaling impacts of major road and infrastructure development on African biodiversity and natural capital from local to continental level – crucial research gaps identified. 

© Sedmak | Dreamstime.com

© Sedmak | Dreamstime.com

A one-day workshop at the University of Cape Town brought together experts from a wide range of disciplines and scientific institutions in South Africa, the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria, and the James Cook University in Australia. Participants engaged in discussions around an on-going project involving large-scale road and infrastructure development in Africa, and the assessment of its impacts across spatio-temporal scales on natural capital and biodiversity. The overall aim of the workshop was to get a South African expert perspective on research and crucial research gaps associated with the project.

Planned infrastructure development, including over 25 million kilometers of new roads, of which 90% will be built in developing regions between now and 2050, are expected to have major implications for conservation and development policy on a pan-African scale. At the same time, there is little empirical understanding of ecosystem and land-use changes induced by road development across Africa. Specifically, the dynamic ecological impacts of roads on flora, fauna, and the functioning of the various ecosystems, from tropical and savanna forests, to savanna grasslands and semi-arid areas, are not sufficiently known. The impacts on the critical services that these ecosystems provide for the African population are also yet to be determined.

The importance of secondary road development and further land-use changes was acknowledged during the proceedings and participants recognized the current lack of knowledge concerning the processes and patterns of these changes in diverse African environmental, socio-economic and institutional settings. Past research mostly focused on proximate impacts, rather than on the wider consequences for land-use and resource extraction patterns as induced by road development over time. To this end, the potential for further research, collaboration between institutes, and international funding opportunities were also discussed.

The South African experts in attendance represented various institutions including Stellenbosch University, the South African National Biodiversity Institute, the South African Environmental Observation Network, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, and the University of Cape Town.

This workshop and the associated on-going research are supported by the Austria-South Africa Joint Programme for Scientific and Technological Cooperation under the Austrian Exchange Service (OeAD) and the South African National Research Foundation (NRF).

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Last edited: 06 February 2018


Matthias Jonas

Senior Research Scholar Exploratory Modeling of Human-natural Systems Research Group - Advancing Systems Analysis Program

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Wei Liu

Guest Research Scholar Equity and Justice Research Group - Population and Just Societies Program

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International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
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