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Future Resilience for African CiTies And Lands (FRACTAL) seeks to understand climate processes driving the southern African regional climate system’s natural variability and response to global change.

Active project


View over Mozambique

Mozambique, approach into Maputo. Photo: Hansueli Krapf / Wikimedia Commons.

FRACTAL is a multi-sited regional research project that seeks to understand the climate processes driving the southern African regional climate system’s natural variability and response to global change in recorded history and climate model simulations. The intention is to distill defensible, scale-relevant climate information, informed by and tailored to urban decision-making and risk management within their regional dependencies. The project is unique in that it uses pilot studies to enhance our understanding of co-exploration processes with urban partners to integrate climate messages within real-world decisions, and strengthen development pathways to resilience.

Situating FRACTAL

Development pathways in southern Africa are faced by the serious challenge of rapid urban growth that creates a fluid landscape for decision-makers. This challenge is fundamentally bound to questions of resilience in the face of intensifying climate stresses on complex multi-stressor environments, which in turn affects resource and infrastructure governance and management. However, the dynamics of current and future climate variability and change in city-regions are poorly understood, particularly at the regional sub-national scale. Additionally, there is evidence that the available climate data is poorly translated to readable information, and is not well used to inform policy and decision-making in cities.

City regions are facing critical questions of how climate change impacts decision-making across governance, economics, business, energy, and national security planning, amongst other areas. These decisions carry long-term implications, and are intertwined with complex local, regional and trans-boundary dependencies. In light of this, the project seeks to bring together sound scientific data with creative processes at the interface of public policy and scientific evidence, in order to foster the creation of new and urgently needed institutional responses to improve resilience at the city regional scale. At the heart of the project is the practice of co-exploration, which refers to the long-term engagement of multiple stakeholders and disciplinary experts (e.g. climate scientists, engineers, economists, government officials, social scientists, political representatives and community members) across the full period of the decision-making process.

The FRACTAL project focuses its primary attention on three Tier 1 cities within their associated regional contexts: Windhoek, Maputo and Lusaka; and to a lesser degree on three Tier 2 cities: Blantyre, Gaborone and Harare; to help explore a range of contexts. These are key cities in the sub-continent, and represent a strong climate gradient from arid to wet sub-tropical, a significant contrast of society and culture, and a range of risk exposures and governance issues with local and regional dependencies.  In addition, the project leverages the added value of research with two self-funded city partners – Cape Town and eThekwini (Durban) – in South Africa.

Project design

FRACTAL is a 4 year project coordinated by the Climate Systems Analysis Group at the University of Cape Town. The aim of the FRACTAL project is to advance scientific knowledge about regional climate responses to human activities (such as burning fossil fuels, changing land surface cover, etc.) and to work with decision makers to integrate this scientific knowledge into climate-sensitive decisions at the city-regional scale (particularly decisions relating to water, energy and food with a lifetime of 5 to 40 years).

FRACTAL is designed to work across disciplines within the scientific community and foster strong collaboration between researchers, city government officials and other key decision makers in southern Africa. Two key mechanisms for this collaboration and co-exploration are the embedding of researchers within local government and the facilitation of city learning labs. The FRACTAL project operates in: Windhoek, Maputo, Lusaka, Cape Town, Durban, Blantyre, Gaborone and Harare.

Partnerships and funding

FRACTAL is funded by the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) and Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) through the Future Climate for Africa (FCFA) program.

FRACTAL research consortium members: University of Cape town (Climate System Analysis Group, CSAG; the African Climate and Development Initiative, ACDI; and the African Centre for Cities, ACC), Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI Oxford), Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, ICLEI Local Government for Sustainability, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), START, Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute (SMHI), Met. Office Hadley Centre, Aurecon, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and the European Commission (EC) Joint Research Centre.

FRACTAL city partners: University of Zambia, Lusaka City Council, University of Namibia, City of Windhoek, Eduardo Mondlane University, Maputo Municipal Council, City of Cape Town, University of KwaZulu Natal, eThekwini Municipality, Chinhoyi University of Technology, University of Botswana, Malawi Polytechnic.

Project team

Sukaina Bharwani

Senior Research Fellow and weADAPT Director

SEI Oxford

Ruth Butterfield
Ruth Butterfield

Centre Director and Senior Research Fellow

SEI Oxford

Profile picture of Richard Taylor
Richard Taylor

Senior Research Fellow

SEI Oxford

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