Sunday, February 15, 2015

Sub-Saharan African Countries Are Failing to Plan for Climate Change

A broken bridge over the Licungo river after flooding in Zambezia province, Mozambique. (Credit: Antonio Silva/EPA) Click to Enlarge.
Communities around the world are feeling the impacts of climate change already, but many of the most severe effects will be felt in the decades to come, particularly from mid-century onwards. Nowhere is this more apparent than in sub-Saharan Africa which will be one of the hardest hit regions of the world.

Right now, African countries are busy investing in infrastructure and development to help support current economic growth.  Many of these long-lived investments – such as ports, large dams, and social infrastructure, such as hospitals and schools – will most likely last well beyond 2050.  But by then, Africa’s climate may look quite different to what it does today.  Factoring climate change into long-term investments and planning decisions is essential for supporting climate-resilient development – but it’s not happening.

New research, coordinated by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN), shows that governments and businesses across sub-Saharan Africa are failing to consider long-term climate information in their investments and planning decisions.  This includes studies from Zambia, Malawi, Rwanda, Ghana and Mozambique.  The worst case scenario is that poor use of climate information could lock societies into patterns that make them highly vulnerable to droughts, floods, high temperatures or sea-level rise in the future.

Why do decision-makers have this blind spot?  First and most importantly, other challenges such as eradicating poverty and promoting access to primary and secondary education are extremely pressing, forcing decision-makers to think and act in short time frames.

Secondly, long-term climate information is often ill-suited to informing local economic, social and environmental contexts in sub-Saharan Africa.
There is also a communication mismatch between the producers and users of climate information.  The information delivered to decision-makers is often overly technical and easy to misinterpret.  Likewise, decision-makers’ needs are rarely fed back to climate scientists.

So what should be done to address this?

Perhaps the most obvious starting point is enhancing the quality and quantity of African climate observation networks and scientific capacity in sub-Saharan Africa.  Not only will this help to establish information about past and current climates, it will also help to ‘ground-truth’ climate science by generating local knowledge, perspectives and expertise. Also, these people will be able to act as intermediaries among scientists, policy-makers and practitioners and help with presenting climate information in a format that decision-makers can act upon.

Spending time and resources to understand the local political context, and engaging with local partners, can also help funders and knowledge brokers to communicate climate information more effectively.   Above all, funding for climate-related programmes in sub-Saharan Africa needs to shift away from short funding cycles, rigid structures and targets, and donor-driven agendas, and move towards longer-term partnerships between international and national partners.

Read more at Sub-Saharan African Countries Are Failing to Plan for Climate Change

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