SPACES: Researchers publish solutions for climate adaptation in southern Africa

In southern Africa, climate change is affecting harvests and fishing. The BMBF-funded SPACES project has published solutions on how people can better cope with drought, pollution and changing ocean currents.

Southern Africa's terrestrial and marine ecosystems are affected by numerous factors of global change, such as the overexploitation of soils. However, droughts, increasing flooding and changing ocean currents caused by climate change pose the greatest threats to terrestrial and marine ecosystems.

When the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) launched the first research phase of the SPACES funding measure in 2012 (Science Partnerships for the Adaptation to Complex Earth System Processes). Research on the effects of climate change on soils and oceans was very limited. There were also no scientifically sound solutions for how local population groups and the economy in southern Africa could adapt to climate change.

At the end of the second research phase (2018-2022) of SPACES funded by the BMBF, the African-German research network has now produced the complete work "Sustainability of Southern African Ecosystems under Global Change" in the "Ecological Studies" series published by the German Springer Verlag. This book of almost 1000-pages is a comprehensive review of the interdisciplinary findings and experiences that were researched in southern Africa from 2012 to 2023 by teams from Germany with partners in the respective regions of southern Africa. 

In total, over 200 researchers worked on nine joint projects. While the first funding phase of SPACES focused on research into the effects of climate change on southern Africa (Science Partnerships for the Assessment of Complex Earth System Processes), the second funding phase focused primarily on the development and assessment of suitable measures for climate adaptation (Science Partnerships for the Adaptation/Adjustment to Complex Earth System Processes).

The now published SPACES anthology is aimed at the scientific community - i.e. students, teachers and researchers working on terrestrial and marine ecology as well as environmental, nature and landscape planning in southern Africa. Furthermore, the book provides a summary of scientific findings and the resulting recommendations for climate change mitigation and adaptation, which form a solid basis for political decisions.

The work is available online via an open access system and as a printed edition by ordering from the publisher.

In the following, the researchers briefly summarize the findings of SPACES and the German-African cooperation within the framework of this comprehensive BMBF funding measure:


Dr. Maik Veste, CEBra - Center for Energy Technology Brandenburg e.V.

"Hedges or trees between fields are ideal for climate adaptation in southern Africa. Both mitigate wind and drought. With trees, the fruit and wood are also useful. But trees need a lot of water, so native bushes such as fynbos are the better solution in very dry regions."

Dr. Shoopala Uugulu, University of Namibia

„The scientific cooperation between researchers from Germany and Namibia in SPACES exemplified a symbiotic partnership rooted in shared objectives and mutual respect. What I take away from this cooperation is that it emphasised the importance of acknowledging and integrating diverse viewpoints, fostering an inclusive environment where different approaches converge to yield scientific insights and solutions on sustainable land use adaptations in savanna systems under climate change."

Dr. Jennifer Veitch, SAEON (South African Environmental Observation Network)

„The SPACES project has contributed to our understanding of how climate change is causing the oceans around Southern Africa to become warmer and less oxygenated and to experience more frequent extreme wave events. Coastal inhabitants who depend on the ocean for their income will need to adapt to declining and shifting marine resources and to more regular storm surges that can severely impact coastal infrastructure."

Dr. Tim Rixen,
Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Research (ZMT), Bremen

„In SPACES we realised that we have to face global challenges in their regional manifestations together, and this encouraged disciplinary and interdisciplinary cooperation. External threats and common goals weld us together."


In the SPACES I and II funding program, scientists from South African countries and Germany researched the impact of climate change and the use of soils and oceans. They developed ways of adapting to complex processes, such as the interactions between land and sea. The aim of the scientific cooperation projects was to provide new scientific findings and research-based recommendations to political decision-makers for the sustainable management of agriculture and the preservation of the various ecosystem services in this region. These are summarized in the project's final report. The BMBF funded SPACES I and II from 2012 to 2024 with a total of around 40 million euros.