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What are the chances that the science informing how the world thinks about global tipping-points comes out of Africa?

A study reported by the BBC earlier this year found that of the 100 most cited climate research papers over the past five years, fewer than 1% of the authors were based in Africa, and of the total 1 300 scientists involved, 90% were affiliated with academic institutions from North America, Europe or Australia.

“It really is a case of scientific imperialism,” South African marine geologist Andrew Green, a professor at University of KwaZulu-Natal, is quoted as saying, criticizing the fact that in, for example, the field of geoscience, although 3,573 high-impact articles a year are published, fewer than 4% have an African topic, and of those, fewer than a third have an African researcher as an author. Professor Ntobeko Ntusi, chair of medicine in the faculty of health sciences at the University of Cape Town, has said that equitable collaborations are needed between African researchers and those from outside the continent, for there to be improved conduct in research.

Where then, can one hear African voices on the science that should be shaping a world barrelling towards multiple environmental tipping points?

The annual Oppenheimer Research Conference, which takes place this year from October 5-7, in Midrand, Johannesburg, is a premium platform to showcase the best science out of Africa, and the critical perspectives needed to inform impactful action in some of the regions worst hit by global warming and ravaged by environmental and ecosystem collapse. The organisers hope that this array of research will chart the path towards, and allow a realistic envisioning of, a sustainable future for Africa and the world.

The keynote address, after the introduction by Nicky Oppenheimer, will be by Minister of Forestry Fisheries and Environmental Affairs, Barbara Creecy. Opening day highlights include a presentation by world renowned paleoanthropologist Lee Berger, who will explore some of the greatest discoveries of the last two decades in the search for human origins, and Mavuso Msimang, noted conservationist, corruption buster and government turnaround specialist, who will argue for the economic value of nature and the business value for Africa in embracing wildlife economies. All these speeches will be livestreamed (details to follow)

Panel discussions will address some of the broader questions raised by researchers and policy makers alike.

The first, entitled “Post-growth or green-growth – alternative development pathways for Africa”, will engage with whether a premise of continuous economic growth will lead to sustainable solutions, or whether only by changing the way our global economy works will we be able to find solutions to the environmental problems facing us. The panel members are Jonathan Oppenheimer, Awande Buthelezi, Neva Makgetla and Vasna Ramasar facilitated by Laura Pereira.

The second, entitled “Conservation: Who owns the conversation?”, will explore the dynamics of who is driving the conservation narrative in Africa, given that much of the funding for conservation on the Continent comes from International NGOs and private philanthropists from the global North. The panel members are Nolwazi Mbongwa, Peter Fernhead, Bongani Bingwa and George Wamukoya facilitated by Polly Carr.

Rendani Nenguda and Dr Duncan Macfadyen2560
Dr Duncan McFadyen (Head of Research and Conservation) and Rendani Nenguda (Research Associate) have put together and engaging and diverse programme for the 11th Oppenheimer Research Conference which runs from 5-7 October, in Midrand, Johannesburg

Among the high-level presentations to look out for, Luthando Dziba, head Conservation Services at South African National Parks, will speak on “Nature’s unprecedented decline and pathways to just and sustainable futures”; “Social evolution and population dynamics in mammals” by well reconised scientists at Cambridge, Tim Clutton-Brock; “The Achilles Heel of Conservation” by upcoming Conservation Biologist, Merlyn Nkomo; “Will Kalahari pangolins cope with a warming world?” by leading pangolin expert Wendy Panaino; “Holistic evaluation of elephant management interventions in South Africa” by Rob Slotow, Manqoba Zungu and Enrico Di Minin; “Climate change and regional tipping points in southern Africa” by leading climate scientist, Francois Engelbrecht; “Accelerating uptake of regenerative agriculture by smallholder farmers in African Landscapes” by Antony Emenyu; “Modelling the resilience of ecosystem service provision in African landscapes” by Enimhien Akhabue; “The ambivalence of custodial conservation at living heritage sites: the case of Kruger Cave”, by Justin Bradfield and Matt Lotter; “A Tale of Two Caves: investigating palaeo-environmental conditions at Kromdraai and Sterkfontein’s Jacovec Cavern using fossil micromammals: led by Nompumelelo Maringa; “Drivers and facilitators of the illegal killing of elephants across 64 African sites” by Timothy Kuiper, and EJ Milner-Gulland; “The Protected Area Paradox and the “Refugee Species Concept” by Graham Kerley.

The Oppenheimer Research Conference (ORC) showcases cutting-edge, innovative scientific research and provides a platform to foster engagement and dialogue. By so doing, it contributes African voices into global conversations on environment and sustainability. Usually, one attends a conference focused on single specialisations such as ornithology, entomology, archaeology, however, it all happens here, creating an opportunity for scientists to mix with other scientists from various fields. The work presented here is cutting-edge, innovative scientific research, that provides a platform to foster engagement and collaboration.

The conference engages researchers in an interdisciplinary and multisectoral manner, and across scale, from the microscopic, landscape and global level.

It represents an opportunity to celebrate and explore diverse ways of knowing about Africa’s needs, challenges and contributions, and to discuss and reflect on how this knowledge is created and used. 

The ORC embraces a community of knowledge builders which includes Oppenheimer-funded researchers and partners, African and global researchers, NGOs, policymakers, land-use decision makers, business, the media and the broader public.

Through this showcase of excellence, ORC offers opportunities to learn and to build new networks to galvanise action based on solid research, creating impact and asking the right questions.

The key action areas in which research funded by Oppenheimer Generations Research and Conservation (OGRC) aims to map out solutions to mitigating environmental and conservation tipping points.

Exploring causes and mitigation of biodiversity, landscape ecology, climate change and wildlife economies.

Important questions asked include how can we halt biodiversity loss in Africa? How do we prioritise ecosystem interventions in Africa? What gets used, protected and rehabilitated? How will climate change affect Africa, on land and along its coastline? What should be done to mitigate or adapt to the massive upheavals already well underway? And, how do we grow inclusive economies in Africa that enable both the sustainable use and preservation of ecosystems for future generations?

Examples of programmes include the rewilding of habitats, breeding programmes, reintroduction of critically endangered species, as is being done by the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, in Madagascar. Groundbreaking research in this regard is being done by the Future Ecosystems for Africa programme, another OGRC partner. OGRC also partners with the African Group of Negotiators Expert Support (AGNES), working at creating an African position on dealing with climate change at various levels in society. The African Wildlife Economy Institute (AWEI), is leading important research and engagement to promote sustainable and inclusive wildlife economies on the continent. In the words of the Executive Chairman of Oppenheimer Generations, Jonathan Oppenheimer “There is a real need for research to result in long-lasting impact through understanding self-healing rates in rural and urban landscapes and creating a global understanding of the simultaneous equation between man and environment”.

The Oppenheimer Research Conference takes place in Johannesburg from October 5-7. The conference is fully booked, but the programme and details of livestreaming are available here:

For further information visit

Duncan MacFadyen
Rendani Nenguda
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