IPCC produces strongest-ever assessment of African climate evidence
IPCC produces strongest-ever assessment of African climate evidence
Georgina Cundill Kemp, Senior Program Specialist at the International Development Research Centre, shares how the latest IPCC report presents the best evidence so far on Africa, and how modest but targeted support made this possible.
Africa is poised to be one of the regions most negatively impacted by climate change. A detailed assessment of climate change risks and adaptation options is urgently needed to guide decisions across the continent. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s Sixth Assessment Report AR6 Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, released this week, provides the strongest-ever assessment of evidence on how climate change is impacting the African continent.
“The Africa regional chapter presents the clearest and most comprehensive review of the continent ever contained in an IPCC report." - Dr Debra Roberts, IPCC Working Group II Co-Chair
Importantly, African scholars have led in producing this new evidence, made possible through modest but highly targeted funding support. This work has shown that it is time for donors to pay attention to the significant impact they can have through investing in processes like the IPCC.
“We’ve seen that focussed investment in scholars and scholarship from the most impacted regions offers significant scope to diversify perspectives and ensure that all regions have a similar starting point for evidence-based decisions about how to combat climate change.” - Dr Dominique Charron, Vice President of Programs, Canada's International Development Research Centre (IDRC)
Why is the African continent so often under-represented in the IPCC’s authorship and evidence base?
The IPCC is the UN body that assesses the science related to climate change. IPCC assessments underpin intergovernmental climate change negotiations under the UNFCCC and provide the scientific basis for governments and other actors at all levels to develop and implement climate-related policies. The reports, now in their 6th cycle, are developed through the voluntary contributions of scientists around the world.
The IPCC does not provide any financial support for authors, beyond travel support for developing country authors to attend face-to-face meetings. While scholars from high-income countries often receive support from their governments and universities to give their time to the assessment process, African scholars seldom have this luxury, and their contribution to the IPCC is severely compromised as a result. Indeed, in the 6th Assessment Report, only 11% of authors are from the African continent.
What was done differently this time?
Chapter scientists and research assistants play a critical role.They support lead authors with all aspects of the assessment, making the voluntary nature of that commitment more manageable. They also assist with publishing existing research synthesised from a range of sources in peer-reviewed journals. This can be crucial in some cases, since peer-reviewed evidence carries the greatest weight in IPCC reports. In Africa in particular, there is often excellent evidence that remains outside of peer-reviewed journals, and therefore cannot be cited in the Assessment Report without synthesis and publication efforts by IPCC authors.
In 2019, two African Coordinating Lead Authors for the IPCC’s 6th Assessment Report (Working Group II), Dr Chris Trisos and Dr Mark New from the African Climate and Development Initiative at the University of Cape Town, approached Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the UK’s Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) to request modest financial support to employ research assistants and chapter scientists for the chapters they were leading. The funds would be used primarily to synthesise and incorporate African evidence into both the 'Africa' chapter (chapter 9) and ‘Decision-Making Options for Managing Risk’ chapter (chapter 17).
IDRC and FCDO agreed, offering a grant that supported seven research assistants and four chapter scientists, from Ghana, South Africa and Zimbabwe, who were hired by the University of Cape Town.
The interns, chapter scientists and the Coordinating Lead Authors supported through this modest grant have created, as Dr Roberts noted, the strongest-ever Africa regional chapter, and indeed have strengthened the African evidence throughout the report, since other chapters could also draw on the newly synthesised knowledge.
The chapter scientists have generated high-profile synthesis papers in peer reviewed journals, enabling that evidence to be cited in the report. Some notable examples include work on climate change literacy in Africa, climate risk to African heritage, quantified climate finance flows and climate research investments for Africa, expanded climate change risk assessment methods, and helped map human action on climate change adaptation globally.
“The new level of synthetic assessment undertaken by the Africa team highlights a diverse range of climate change issues significant to Africa, and has also advanced the understanding of climate change risk across the entire report.” - Dr Debra Roberts, IPCC Working Group II Co-Chair
By providing a more comprehensive understanding of climate change impacts and response options, these two chapters will enable African policy-makers to make more targeted, ambitious and effective decisions.
Perhaps as important is the experience in science assessment that these young African scientists gained, positioning them to take on a lead role in future assessment cycles.
“As an early career scholar, contributing to the first ever multidimensional feasibility and effectiveness assessment of adaptation options applicable to the African region was such a huge opportunity. The experience, expert guidance, and scientific collaborations fostered through the learning process was completely transforming. IPCC AR6 shows ‘Excellence in Research’ which I want to remain committed to. With the rapidly evolving African research landscape as well as changing societal and environmental challenges, I keenly look forward to taking a lead role in the next assessment process (ie AR7).” - Dr. Portia Adade Williams, Research Scientist, CSIR-Science and Technology Policy Research Institute, Ghana.
Learn more about climate impacts and response opportunities on the African continent
Join IDRC for a webinar on 15 March entitled “Climate Emergency in West Africa: Impacts and Insights”. Keynote speakers, Dr Christopher Trisos and Dr Edmond Totin, and panellists, will discuss the findings and implications of the IPCC WGII report for West Africa. Register here.
Visit the 2022 African Studies Association of Africa (ASAA) conference website to register and join an IDRC roundtable entitled “What does the IPCC report mean for Eastern and Southern Africa?” on 12 April. The keynote speaker, Dr. Ibidun Adelekan, will be joined by three panellists for a conversation on the IPCC WGII report and beyond.