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FEATURE: Using climate services for more climate-resilient planning and policy-making in Malawi


It is important to know the projected nature of climate change and how it will affect different sectors and planning if decisions and policies are to be robust in the face of climate change. Katharine Vincent, Tracy Cull and Diana Chanika (Kulima Integrated Development Solutions); Andy Dougill, Lindsay Stringer and Jami Dixon (University of Leeds) and David Mkwambisi discuss.

Malawi’s long and medium-term planning at national level are enshrined in two documents: the Vision 2020, which outlines the development trajectory for the country; and the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (currently in its second stage, from 2011-16, MGDSII), which aims to operationalise this long-term vision.  Ministries devise their own plans and strategies in order to achieve the goals and targets outlined in the MGDSII.  Representatives from the following ministries and departments were consulted as part of this pilot case study: Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security; Ministry of Economic Planning and Development; Ministry of Irrigation and Water Development; Ministry of Persons with Disabilities and the Elderly; Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services; Department of Disaster Management Affairs[1].

Malawi was one of the pilot case studies for the Future Climate for Africa programme, chosen to investigate the current nature of planning and policy-making and the extent to which climate services are currently engaged; as well as to identify weather and climate information needs to more effectively inform medium- and long-term planning decisions.

Climate change, natural resources and environmental management is highlighted as one of 9 key priority areas in MGDSII, and Malawi has a recent Climate Change Policy which highlights the importance of climate-resilient planning.  Our research, which used interviews and a workshop to better understand who climate services are currently engaged, showed that ministries are not yet using longer-term climate projections or climate scenarios in their current decision-making, even though regionally-downscaled climate projections and the synthesis provided by the latest high-profile Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report are available.

Barriers that prevent use of weather and climate information in medium and long-term planning were found to be a perceived lack of information on a sub-national scale or its explanation on a by-sector basis, and also incompatibility in the timing of climate services provision with policy planning cycles.

That said, there is recognition of a potentially important role for climate services to play in the future. The Ministry of Economic Planning and Development is currently coordinating the successor to Vision 2020, and to do so will model the potential economic impact of investment in various sectors so that Cabinet can set priorities based on the most efficient returns.  Currently the modelling exercises consider elements such as population growth, but not climate projections.  This is important, because including climate projections could alter the priority sectors which, in turn, would ultimately determine the nature of planning within ministries over shorter time frames.  Ensuring timely availability is essential to enable the use of climate services.

Potential uses for short term information (1-5 years), for example at the seasonal and annual scale, also exists.  Information on extreme events – especially floods and droughts but also strong winds and hail – and the potential location of these extremes, is one critical element which planners felt would be useful.

Given the short-term (5 year) nature of current planning within ministries, multi-year (up to five years in advance) forecasts for a variety of parameters (e.g. temperature; intensity, amount and distribution of rainfall; drought) were also identified as being useful products for climate service providers to develop. Additionally, all of the departments and ministries recognised that such information would also be useful if available for a 6-20 year timescale.

In addition to identifying needs for climate services than can inform the development of future information, efforts to remove the barriers to use of currently-available information also need to be addressed.  Not all ministries have a clear understanding about what climate change is and the risks it poses to various sectors. Others recognised limitations in accessing and understanding highly technical weather and climate information and the way it is presented.

Effective communication of existing information, through targeted, tailored and timely transmission is a therefore a prerequisite to planning decisions that are robust in the face of climate change. Ultimately the generation of new, decision-specific information will further enable active use of climate services in medium-term decision-making in Malawi.

[1] note these were the names at the time of the research: since the national election in May many ministries have changed

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