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SAEON’s pre-COP17 schools’ awareness initiative


Learners from the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands learnt about the impacts of climate change on biodiversity.


Learners sporting their new SAEON T-shirts.


Dr Tony Swemmer, Manager of the SAEON Ndlovu Node, shows the learners how to collect data from a weather station (Picture: Joe Sibiya)


Prof Rob O`Donoghue of Rhodes University demonstrates alternative ways of saving electricity to Grahamstown learners.


Cape Town learners participate in activities aimed at demonstrating how the COP17 negotiations will play out in Durban (Picture: Busiswa Matyholo)


Poster produced by one of the workshop groups in Kimberley illustrating the impact of climate change on rivers, plants and animals (Picture: Yolandi Els).


Sibongile Mokoena of SAEON encourages participants in the pre-COP17 Learners’ Summit on Climate Change to pursue careers in science.

- Sibongile Mokoena, Siphokazi Nonyukela, Nathan Pavlovic, Thomas Mtontsi and Yolandi Els

South Africa’s youth are likely to experience the impacts of climate change in their lifetimes.

The 17th Conference of Parties (COP17) under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) currently being held in Durban will be influential in how nations work together in the future to address the negative aspects of climate change on people’s livelihoods and on civil infrastructure and economic development.

Against this background, SAEON organised pre-COP17 schools’ awareness events to raise awareness among learners about environmental change; and the causes and impact of environmental change in South African and global environments. The significance of COP17 was also highlighted during these events, which were held at Phalaborwa, Kimberley, Pietermaritzburg, Grahamstown and in Cape Town where the six SAEON Nodes are located.

Presentations by a wide range of scientists from various organisations were followed by interactive workshops to drive home the message of climate change, the impact of human activities on the environment and possible interventions to reduce this impact.


The first of the events was held in Grahamstown on 2 November. SAEON’s Elwandle Node and Rhodes University’s Environmental Learning and Research Centre organised a climate change display at the university for learners to gain an understanding of the issues surrounding climate change.

More than 150 learners visited the exhibition, which consisted of a variety of displays ranging from solar panels, crafts and beadwork to waste and transport sustainability programmes and the Inqaba Yegolide youth cleaning initiative. The South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB) presented a poster on global warming and climate change. Nozi Hambaze, Education Officer of SAEON’s Elwandle Node encouraged learners to recycle and to plant trees.

The learners found the presentations educational and interesting. “I have learnt how to save water and money,” said grade 7 learner Thariro Sithole. Sithembiso Johnson, a grade 9 learner said she learnt about solar power and how global warming affects the environment. Educator Brenda Phatsha was impressed by the Inqubo Yegolide programme, mainly because it will create jobs for the unemployed youth of Grahamstown.

Cape Town

SAEON’s Egagasini and Fynbos Nodes collaborated with ACCESS (Applied Centre for Earth Systems Science) to create awareness among learners of the significance of COP17. The programme was held at Ocean View Secondary School and Sophumelela High School in the Cape Flats.

Learners from grades 10 and 11 were engaged in activities aimed at demonstrating how the COP17 negotiations will play out in Durban. The learners were divided into three groups with one group representing a developed country, another representing a developing country and the last representing an underdeveloped country. Ambassadors of the groups represented their respective countries in negotiations so that their inhabitants were able to survive, but without compromising the state of the planet.

This was followed by a drumming session and the composition of a song in which all the learners participated and which proved to be a fun way of getting the climate change message across. It also gave rise to the song: ‘Mzantsi is special and we should know about climate change. The song speaks of South Africa, which is uniquely surrounded by three oceans. We should therefore lead/drive climate change understanding, but more importantly, we should all make it our responsibility to stay informed of climate change and its impacts.

Later in the afternoon Thomas Mtontsi, Education Officer of the SAEON Egagasini Node, Sibongile Mokoena, SAEON’s Education Outreach Coordinator and Edgar Neluvhalani, Manager of Human Capital Development and Education at ACCESS went to share this awareness with the Cape Flats community at Radio Zibonele 98.2 FM, a Cape Town Community radio station with a listenership of 189 000.


More than 50 learners from the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands attended the Pre-COP17 Learners’ Summit on Climate Change at Midmar Dam near Howick, where they learnt more about climate change in fun and creative ways.

The event had a dual purpose: encouraging learners to investigate climate change and to understand how the decisions we make as individuals and a nation influence climate change, and informing them about the upcoming UN climate change conference in Durban.

Facilitated by the Midlands Meander Association Education Project (MMAEP) in partnership with SAEON’s Node for Grasslands, Wetlands and Forests and the Department of Science and Technology (DST), the event was themed “Investigating Climate Change: Science, Action and Solutions”.

The learners, who came from Giants Castle, Nottingham Road and Mpophomeni, began the day with an introduction by Nkanyiso Ndlela and Charlene Russell of the MMAEP as well as Sue van Rensburg of SAEON. After watching a brief video explaining the fundamental concepts of climate change, the learners joined in a set of plays, experiments and activities that examined the issues in depth.

Learners moreover calculated the carbon footprint of the use of electricity and transportation, and investigated the distance different foods had travelled to be in South Africa, including soup from New Zealand, biscuits from the UK and peas from France. Finally, the participants brainstormed ways of reducing their contribution to climate change.

At the close of the event, SAEON spokesperson Sibongile Mokoena spoke about the importance of scientific knowledge and monitoring of climate change.


Nearly 300 Grade 9, 10 and 11 learners from eight schools in Phalaborwa attended the pre-COP17 schools awareness event organised by SAEON’s Ndlovu Node on 25 November.

Kgoale Mphahlele, Deputy Director for Earth Systems Science at DST delivered the keynote address. Kgoale told learners about the opportunities to study towards a career in the sciences and said that it was up to the learners to make full use of those opportunities.

Dr Tony Swemmer, Manager of the SAEON Ndlovu Node, stressed the importance of COP17 by giving a perspective of how temperatures have been changing over the years and why the world is getting increasingly concerned about climate change. A graph illustrating the temperatures for Phalaborwa over the past 30 days captured everyone’s attention, as everyone could vividly remember those days when the temperatures soared to 40 degrees.

Learners then had the opportunity to engage in hands-on activities including using thermometers and a weather station to capture data. This was followed by a climate change quiz and information about careers in science.

The learners benefitted from the day’s programme and the interaction with scientists, which illustrated the role of science in making us understand weather, climate and the implications of climate change to society.


The SAEON Arid Lands Node took part in two separate pre-COP17 awareness events. The first was an exhibition at the Kimberley Railway Station on 3 November where the Climate Change Train stopped for a day. This train visited communities in 17 towns across South Africa, creating awareness of the critical international climate talks at COP17.

Hundreds of learners, educators, government and private officials attended the train’s programme in Kimberley, which involved exhibitions, various workshops and a ceremonial tree-planting by the Premier of the Northern Cape. The train was an initiative headed by IndaloYethu, an independent environmental agency of the Department of Environmental Affairs.

The second event, which took place on 25 November, was a very special awareness initiative for a number of reasons, chief among these being that it was the first Education Outreach initiative to be coordinated by the SAEON Arid Lands Node.

A group of 200 science learners and educators from nine secondary schools in and around Kimberley attended the day’s programme, which started with SAEON’s Managing Director, Johan Pauw, asking the learners whether they have ever met a real scientist before. Many of the learners answered ‘no’ and were excited about the opportunity to be addressed by scientists actively involved with research in the Northern Cape region.

These scientists discussed the current and expected impacts of Climate Change under the themes atmosphere (David Khakhane, Department of Environment and Nature Conservation (DENC)), hydrology (Sakhile Mndaweni, Department of Water Affairs), agriculture (Dr Loraine van den Berg, Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries) and biodiversity (Eric Hermann, DENC and Dr Hugo Bezuidenhout, South African National Parks). By using case studies and examples relevant to the Northern Cape, the scientists made learners aware that climate change impacts can be observed on a local level.

A workshop session followed the talks, giving the learners a chance to engage in dialogue with their peers as well as with the scientists about climate change impacts and the complex interactions between the various themes. They also discussed how and by whom these environmental impacts and changes are being observed and detected.

The workshop groups wowed the audience during the feedback session, with learners showing exceptional insight into why and how climate change affects our environment, and with some of the groups adding further emphasis to their presentations with singing and dancing! The groups further showcased their artistic skills by producing beautiful posters to illustrate climate change impacts according to each group’s assigned theme.

In addition to the talks and workshop, exhibitions from the DENC and Sol Plaatjie Municipality were on display. The Wildlife and Environment Society of Southern Africa (WESSA) introduced participants to their “Stepping Up to Sustainability” programme, displaying an array of ‘green’ technologies.

SAEON would like to thank:

- all partners involved in the events for their valuable contribution and sharing of knowledge;

- the sponsors – the Department of Science and Technology and the Applied Centre for Earth Systems Science (ACCESS);  and

- the Department of Education - without the Department's permission and support it would not have been possible to organise the events.

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