Earth Chair

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Project Portfolios

Stewardship and Sovereignties

Sustainability, environmental justice, just transition, the circular economy – these are just some of the conceptual frames decision-makers across all walks of life are using to advocate for socio-economic and technical change.

The programme of the Chair in Earth Justice and Stewardship uses these frames, but under the overarching banner of stewardship and sovereignty.

Stewardship requires an individual and collective ethics of care, trust and accountability. Different sovereignties are based on systems, institutions and processes for the recognition and exercise of power. Understanding the subtly of different forms of sovereignty may contribute to more robust and long-lived systems of stewardship.

The Chair’s work in this portfolio is currently centred on a study of agricultural, energy, and climate transitions and the fate of the Verlorenvlei, a RAMSAR-listed site and one of the most important – and disappearing – wetlands in South Africa.


South Africa’s scarce water resources and water infrastructure will only be protected for present and future generations if there are systems for securing the needs of nature and basic human rights, and systems for fair, equitable and accountable allocation of water available for use.

The Chair’s projects in this portfolio include the Water Justice Tracker, a database of water and sanitation related conflicts in South Africa; the Bob Scholes Knowledge Synthesis Working Group on Water and Sanitation, which aims to develop policy options for sanitation technologies in the context of a range of socio-economic and ecological variables; and a Water Research Commission-funded project on consolidating and catalysing water law expertise.


Africa has abundant energy sources but the majority of Africans live in energy poverty. The Chair’s projects in the energy portfolio are enlivened by the vision of access to energy for all in Africa. Projects in this portfolio are centred on studying the future development of the oil, gas and renewable energy sectors in Africa, and the use of Africa’s resources for the just energy transition in the global North.


Africans have an opportunity to follow nature-supporting rather than nature-eroding developmental pathways. This will also entail tackling the systems that have allowed for the immoral and inequitable dispossession of Africa’s resources even as the continent has amassed enormous debt. The Chair’s current work in this portfolio centres on the drivers of deforestation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and associate membership of the Future Ecosystems for Africa Project (FEFA) based at Wits.

photo Maryke Jonsson

Gecko photo Maryke Jonsson

Proteas photo David Clode Unsplash