Climate Change Research Agenda for Africa

By Santosh Kumar Mishra

Increasing temperatures, rising sea levels and erratic rainfall could disrupt the infrastructure supporting vital services including energy, transport and health. By threatening food, water and energy access as well as vital livelihood systems, climate change could severely undermine efforts. If Africa were to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), robust demand-led climate could plug gaps in understanding changing climate patterns and to refine existing climate products and services. Climate research serves to build resilience to climate change and keeping the continent on track as it charts its path towards sustainable development.

Food security, economic growth and agriculture are central to Africa’s development agenda. Yet climate change, most notably erratic rainfall patterns impacts agricultural productivity and knowledge gaps around long-term rainfall predictions are a major barrier for the agricultural sector to respond to these changes. The Regional Climate Outlook Forums (RCOFs) have included sessions where users of seasonal climate information or forecasts give feedback on its use. An improvement in the seasonal forecasting tools, including models to generate more robust predictions is the desired outcome.

Sustainable development for Africa hinges on the capacity to adapt to climate change. Developing effective adaptation policies requires a cross-disciplinary approach incorporating analysis and synthesis of both climate and non-climate factors. Through an integrated approach it is possible to characterize how land use and land cover changes could, for example, enhance surface runoff, and thus amplify impacts of flash flooding even for normal rainfall amounts.

Data on climate variables such as temperature, rainfall, wind and ocean conditions combined with attributes of land use change, crop yields and surface water flows generate a holistic picture of climate variability. Integrating layers of climate and non-climate information in this way is critical for adaptation planning strategies.

The Africa Initiative (AI) is a multi-year, donor-supported program, with three components: a research program, an exchange program and an online knowledge hub, the Africa Portal. A joint undertaking by CIGI, in cooperation with the South African Institute of International Affairs, the AI aims to contribute to the deepening of Africa’s capacity and knowledge in five thematic areas: conflict resolution, energy, food security, health and migration. By incorporating field-based research, strategic partnerships and online collaboration, the AI is undertaking a truly interdisciplinary and multi-institutional approach to Africa’s governance challenges. 

In summary, linking climate science with action is indeed an urgent priority for Africa. Climate information and services need to be improved over time; incorporating applied climate research is one of the key ways to achieve this. 

Santosh Kumar Mishra is technical assistant at the S. N. D. T. Women's University, Mumbai, India