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FEATURE: Enhancing African capacity on climate and development knowledge


Yacob Mulugetta, Professor of Energy and Development Policy at University College London, reports from a CDKN supported workshop on enhancing African capacity for climate-related research. 

Now that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is already in full flow preparing its Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), it is high time to take a hard look into developing country participation in climate assessment and the IPCC process. To prepare for that critical evaluation and to develop a call for action, the UCL Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy (STEaPP) and ClimateContact Consultancy, with the support of CDKN, convened a network-connecting workshop on 12 and 13 October 2016 at the October Gallery in London. This workshop focused on Africa in particular. I will summarise here the key messages that came out of this workshop.

The organisation of this workshop was triggered by the realisation that knowledge support of decision-makers in developing countries for dealing with climate change involves an ecosystem of institutions, at international, national and local levels. At an earlier workshop, in 2014, we concluded that the IPCC insufficiently reflects developing country perspectives and does not generate user-focused scientific assessments that can facilitate climate action.  Clearly there is a role for the IPCC to play in bringing in region-specific knowledge, which needs to be facilitated through enhanced capability at local and national levels able to perform targeted climate-change assessments that are based on contextualised understandings of development, resilience and risk.

The issue is particularly acute in Africa, as was confirmed in the October Workshop. Africa lags behind in developing the scientific platform and much needed human capacity for climate-related research. Knowledge institutions across Africa need to significantly ramp up their self-generative capacity since their contribution to new knowledge production in climate change does not match the scale of the challenge. Governments and development partners have long neglected the task of cultivating local and national institutions to produce contextually relevant knowledge. This is a serious concern since countries in Africa are likely to experience severe climatic changes and are most sensitive to its detrimental impacts.

Our October Workshop brought together knowledge networks from Africa and beyond. We agreed to form an informal “October Group”, composed of networks engaged in the generation of climate-change related knowledge in Africa. This includes researchers working across the physical sciences, social sciences and humanities, economics and finance, development and other fields. Importantly, all of these disciplines have something to contribute, either on the physical science basis of climate change (assessed by IPCC Working Goup I); climate change impacts, adaptation and vulnerability (assessed by IPCC Working Group II); or mitigation of climate change (assessed by IPCC Working Group III).

We agreed to develop a multi-year programme for enhancing African climate–development knowledge capacity, with multiple partners within Africa. The programme will focus on a series of trainings in writing scientific papers and communicating to stakeholders; the development of e-learning modules; a register of interested researchers; a mentor programme; and administrative and technical support of the programme. Where opportune the programme will be specifically targeted at the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment, for instance by creating annotated bibliographies of grey literature (ideally including non-English sources), preparing peer-reviewed books and special issues of journals focusing on Africa, and peer-reviewed proceeedings of meetings, which all can be used as reference materials for the IPCC AR6. We also agreed, for the more immediate term (until December 2016), that UCL would nominate African candidates put forward by our networks to act as participants in IPCC AR6 scoping meetings and as authors of reports.

Another result of the October Workshop was a welcoming by participants of a proposed training for researchers interested in author nomination for the IPCC AR6, for which the only available time window is September 2017. Dr Leo Meyer (ClimateContact Consultancy), with support from several members of the October Group, will continue to pursue efforts to arrange such a training and develop an e-learning course for potential Expert Reviewers of IPCC draft reports.

To conclude, all these proposed activities will take place with the realisation that mobilising knowledge, which is fundamental to bringing about action on climate change, is particularly difficult in the African context. The research and policy communities in Africa often occupy different knowledge domains, and do not interact in order for evidence generated in national and local knowledge institutions to be used to inform policy. On the flip side, policy-makers may not reach out to domestic institutions for scientific and technical advice, which has partly to do with a lack of confidence in local institutions as well as their increased reliance for scientific knowledge on international actors. All the motivational and institutional barriers to mobilising knowledge on climate action will need to be addressed by the new programme that is under development.

Picture: Meaduva via Flickr 

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