Accessibility links

OUTLOOK: Special Edition on African climate science

The impacts of climate change in Africa will be significant and long-term. Long-lived infrastructure and development planning are likely to be particularly affected. Factoring climate change into their design and implementation is, therefore, vital to development outcomes. Yet we know very little about how long-term climate information is used in African decision-making. While seasonal climate information is increasingly embedded in development and humanitarian actions across Africa, our knowledge of the barriers to and opportunities for to the uptake of long-term climate information is comparatively scant.

It is this knowledge gap that the Future Climate For Africa (FCFA) scoping phase seeks to fill. FCFA is a five-year international research programme jointly funded by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). The programme aims to advance scientific understanding of sub-Saharan African climate on decadal timescales and promote better communication, use and uptake of climate information into long-term climate-resilient development strategies.

FCFA starts from the premise that we need to improve our understanding of Africa’s climate system. However, more accurate and precise climate information is unlikely to lead to better decision-making on its own. How long-term climate information is communicated, used and taken up by decision-makers will be of equal, if not greater, importance. The wider factors of political economy, institutional settings and responses to other drivers of development and environmental change also need to be considered. Above all, promoting the uptake of climate information in long-term decision-making requires not only an appreciation of climate science, but an understanding of the economic, social and political processes that contribute towards it.

In informing the wider FCFA research programme, the 18-month scoping phase evaluates the needs of users of long-term climate information against the strengths and limitations of current climate science. In so doing, four case studies have been selected in sub-Saharan Africa; these explore real-world adaptation challenges in Malawi, Zambia, Rwanda and in two cities: Accra and Maputo.

In this Special Edition of Climate and Development Outlook, Lindsey Jones, JP Roux, Charlotte Scott and Tom Tanner reflect on some of the initial lessons FCFA has learned about communicating climate science and ensuring it’s used in decision-making for climate-resilient development.

This Outlook outlines recent activities by the case study teams, and presents lessons on:  i) opportunities and barriers to the uptake of long-term climate information, and ii) ways to improve stakeholder engagement processes around the use of climate science in adaptation decisions. It also presents recommendations on how scientists and policy-makers can work better together and on how to encourage better use of climate information.