Thinking origins

The method followed in this project is grounded in three closely related thinking traditions:

  • Complex systems thinking
  • Multi-criteria analysis
  • Scenario planning

Taken together, these approaches allow for the inclusion of stakeholder perspectives; systematic consideration of multiple dimensions of the decarbonisation challenge; and active engagement with uncertainty, complexity, and long-term systemic challenges.

Complex systems thinking foregrounds 1) the relationships between units rather than units themselves (moving away from a siloed / sectoral approach), 2) that uncertainty is a central feature of the evolution of complex systems, rather than an afterthought, and 3) that exploring different perspectives on a problem affords valuable insights and opportunities

Multi criteria analysis offers various approaches to problem structuring and analysis. Such approaches have been developed with the purpose of taking systemic approaches to options analysis that are more holistic, creative, replicable and defensible, and have buy-in from a wide range of stakeholders.

In the scenario planning tradition, narrative scenarios are developed often to complement the analysis and outputs of a quantitative modelling framework. Scenario planning allows for simultaneous consideration of quantitative and qualitative elements towards identifying enabling conditions, options and decision points which are relevant and robust to different futures.

Using these thought-traditions, understanding the challenge of decarbonizing Secunda, Sasolburg and their value chains can characterized in the following way:

Secunda, Sasolburg and their value chains can be thought of as complex systems, which means that their evolution is non-linear and path dependent. Decisions made by actors at points in time and in the value chains will lock in or lock out future pathways. There will be tipping points in markets, societies, politics and the environment which will place certain pathways beyond reach.  Understanding such interconnections is critical.

Different constituents have different perspectives on the decarbonisation challenge, while different conversations happen within different constituencies, using different languages and concepts – all of which are relevant to meeting the challenge.

Furthermore, there is value in considering knowledge from different societal dimensions, such as political, environmental, social, technological, economic and legal.  An integrated and transparent framework for considering different perspectives and knowledges with equal weighting provides the opportunity to engage the problem in a more holistic and comprehensive way, as compared to that offered by traditional techno-economic models.

The future, in particular one as rapidly evolving as is that being driven by the urgency of decarbonisation, is highly uncertain.  Uncertainty considerations, and building resilience in the face of uncertainty, must be central to systemic decarbonisation analysis.