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OPINION: Zambia, a country on the move


Blaise Dobson (SouthSouthNorth) reflects on games played and lessons learnt from a recent workshop held in Lusaka, Zambia as part of the Future Climate for Africa scoping phase.

Stepping onto the landing strip in Lusaka one cannot help but feel the energy of Zambia. Racing ahead off the back of copper and processing, Zambia’s economy is growing. “We’re on the move, the mines have been good to us”, says my taxi driver as we dodge our way through Lusaka’s bustling streets whilst acknowledging his country’s economic mainstay: copper. “It is has been good to you”, I respond, but stop and consider the wider picture.

Beyond Lusaka’s burgeoning fringes, approximately 80% of Zambia’s employment is generated through the agricultural sector. The sector contributes under a quarter of the national gross domestic profit (GDP) and consists of predominately rain-fed crops. Meanwhile, nearly all of Zambia’s installed electricity is supplied by hydroelectricity. “Water has been good to you too”, I note to the taxi drive. He agrees.

Water has been a critical resource for Zambia’s growth. However, climate models are telling us that rainfall patterns across Zambia will change in the coming years. The World Bank’s Pilot Programme for Climate Resilience estimates that, in the absence of adaptation, rainfall variability alone could keep an additional 300 000 people below the poverty line in Zambia over the next decade, and reduce annual GDP growth by 0.9%. This is one example of the impacts that climate change will have.

But how do we ensure Zambia has a robust and ‘decision relevant’ body of scientific evidence on medium term (2025 – 2055) climate change impacts to deliver effective long-term planning and climate-resilient development? What types of research, learning and capacity needs to be built in order for this scientific evidence to be  better designed, delivered and integrated into real decision making in Zambia today?

How are decisions really made? 

These have been the questions at the heart of a CDKN supported project to understand how to promote the uptake of climate science and services in order to support long-term adaptation and decision-making in Africa. The results of this scoping phase project will inform the five-year research and capacity building programme, Future Climate for Africa (FCFA).

The scoping research involves four decision-making case studies in sub-Saharan Africa to evaluate the needs of science users against the capabilities and limitations of current science. However, just as important as the scientific questions are “process questions”. Process questions consider how real-world adaptation decisions are made within countries and how best to provide timeous, relevant and appropriately packaged climate information to these decision-making actors to better inform their  decisions.

The four decision-making case studies kicked off in March this year, and will provide detailed analysis in Ghana, Rwanda, Malawi and Zambia. Each case study will hold a multi-stakeholder, multi-disciplinary workshop in one of the focus countries to stress-test their participatory approach to understanding the uptake of climate science and services to support long-term adaptation and decision-making. The first of these workshops to be undertaken was hosted by the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre, UK Met Office and Zambia Red Cross National Society in Lusaka on the 20th and 21st of May.

Having serious fun about Zambia’s future 

The workshop’s methodology builds on previous work undertaken by the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre where participatory games and other experiential learning activities have been designed to engage with climate-related problems and their solutions. The aim of the workshop was to identify types of climate information being requested by Zambian users and the types of questions being asked by Zambian decision-makers.

Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre’s Pablo Suarez and Bettina Koelle led the participants in fun, engaging and memorable games to unpack the development initiatives that Zambia is currently considering and especially the ones for which participants were in part responsible for decision-making.

Once distilled, the UK Met Office’s Richard Jones presented the latest outcomes of the IPCC process and the current state of play of global climate science with specific reference to the implications for climate information in the African context with Zambia in particular. Through participatory processes, the participants were asked to identify the climate vulnerabilities that their development initiatives may face in the future and what kinds of information would allow them to make provision for these when planning.

With all the information collected, the workshop team will compare the types of information being requested of climate science by decision-makers against their initial researched assumptions about the Zambian context. The outcomes of their research will be shared with the participants during a follow up workshop later in the year to further test the study’s conclusions.

Ensuring that we ask the right question

Albert Eistein said “if I had an hour to solve a problem I would spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” In many ways, this is the approach of the current FCFA scoping phase.

The games approach adopted by the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre short-circuits stakeholders’ ability to share experiences and make connections while having the potential to explain complex scientific knowledge in an accessible, fun and memorable way. After playing a chaotic card game that tested the limits of co-ordination, an agrometeorologist, formally of the Zambian Meteorological Office, reflected:

“For me, the key question is this: How do we get the information from the Meteorological Offices and the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change to the end user? How do we make the Zambian farmer understand what climate information is telling them and, just as importantly, how can we make the Zambian farmer better understood by the scientist?”

Leaving Lusaka, there was more to think about than when I arrived. Where answers were available, they needed to be collated, synthesised and communicated. Many questions raised currently have no answers. The scale and importance of this research grows when one considers the ambitious development agendas of the AU, COMESA, and SADC regional communities and the implications climate science has for long-lived developmental decisions up to mid-century. Three further workshops are planned for Ghana, Malawi and Rwanda, documenting the informational needs of decision-makers in different sectors and scales whilst at the same time testing different science-policy stakeholder engagement methodologies for co-producing emergent questions. The upcoming FCFA Programme will need to provide innovative ways to engage with influential decision makers to generate the right questions to inform Africa’s development.

We occasionally invite bloggers from around the world to provide their experiences and views. The views expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily those of CDKN.

Image: workshop participants engaged in the “wobbly board” game with jenga pieces.

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