Climate research

Science-informed and evidence-based policy, planning and practices are essential in ensuring that adaptation measures minimize the negative impacts of climate variability and change on various human, natural, and socio-economic systems, and that development is sustainable, more resilient and less vulnerable to   negative impacts of climate change. This is a particularly urgent need in Africa, where climate variability and change have already huge impacts on food security, water availability, human health, social and economic infrastructures.

Prominent challenges for the African climate research community rest upon the critical lack of trained scientists, expertise in understanding and predicting the climate driving mechanisms across time and space scales, inadequacy of observational networks, and weak communication and computational capacity. From the users’ side, main obstacles include lack of appropriate climate information services, limited awareness about the existence of specific climate information, poor accessibility of data, and lack of capacity to use climate information, which African leaders and development partners have repeatedly committed to help narrow.

Drivers of the African climate variability and change are poorly understood and captured by state of the science prediction systems. These are complex combinations of remote influences or teleconnections (e.g. El Niño and La Niña in the tropical Pacific), regional characteristics (e.g. the inter-tropical convergence zone) and local physiographic details (e.g. coastal, lake, topography, vegetation, and aerosol effects). All these influences must be accounted for accurately using the best available science knowledge and methodology for effective climate prediction – in order to provide reliable climate information across weather and climate timescales, and on the regional to local scales – at which decisions are most needed.

Furthermore, addressing research gaps in the frontiers of the African climate is critical for advancing the international climate research agenda. African climate variability is of fundamental importance to understanding many global climate phenomena currently targeted by the international research community.  Examples include at sub-seasonal timescales the Madden-Julian Oscillation (MJO) – which influences daily-to-seasonal rainfall variability in Africa; at longer timescales, basin-scale sea surface temperature fluctuations – important drivers of African seasonal drought and flood; and at longer timescales, decadal ocean variability – a potential driver of the Sahel observed decadal fluctuation of rainfall.

It was in part to address these challenges that the Africa Climate Research for Development (CR4D) agenda was pioneered by the Africa Climate Conference 2013 (ACC-2013), which was organized  by the World Climate Research  Programme,  the African Climate Policy Centre of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, and the University of Dar es Salaam – which brought  together more than 300 participants, including  decision makers, representatives of research funding agencies,  scientists from various disciplines, and practitioners from Africa and around the globe.

The Africa Climate Research for Development (CR4D) Agenda is organized around four core pillars of climate research for development in Africa including: (i) improved observation system and delivery, (ii) scientific and institutional capacity development, (iii) mainstreaming climate services and integrated research, and (iv) co-designed multi-disciplinary climate research. Groups from the research community have developed African climate research proposals that are clustered under each pillar. These address research priorities that must be supported and implemented to advance current knowledge frontiers, bridging the gap between social and biophysical research, between research and application, towards the delivery of a coordinated climate research agenda for Africa that brings research outputs to address user needs.

Are we investing enough in addressing the users’ needs for climate information services and improved understanding of climate impact on the nexus energy-water-food/forestry, critical for Africa’s development and transformation?