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FCFA promises climate information to tackle development needs




December 7, 2015


CDKN’s Mairi Dupar reports on a special side event at COP21 to launch the Future Climate for Africa programme. “When the ants start climbing the walls, the heavy rains are coming, ” said Dr Jacqueline McGlade at the Future Climate for Africa (FCFA) launch event at COP21 yesterday. It’s not the intervention you’d expect from UNEP’s Chief Scientist, but Dr McGlade had a point to make: indigenous knowledge on weather forecasting and climate adaptation, and innovative local forms of ‘citizen science’ have a role to play alongside scientific knowledge in helping societies cope with climate change impacts in the future. The event brought together scientists and development practitioners to discuss the aims and approaches of FCFA’s ambitious four-year research programme. FCFA is investing GBP20 million (USD30 million) in leading-edge research to better understand Africa’s changing climate and the use of climate change information in decision-making – making it ‘one of the most significant investments in African climate science ever’ according to FCFA Director Stef Raubenheimer. It will support five major research projects – detailed on the programme’s new website From a scientific point of view, Africa’s climate is one of the least-researched and poorly understood in the world. The impacts of climate change are already being felt in more frequent droughts, floods, sea level rise and high temperatures, which are taking a toll on food security and the availability of freshwater across the continent. The climate looks set to change even more in the decades ahead because further global warming is locked in to the system. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that temperatures could warm up to 6oC on the continent this century, and vast areas could experience more intense drought or rainfall than known before. FCFA will help to address this gap in scientific knowledge, but importantly, the programme will try to address Dr McGlade’s point, too, which is that local people have important observations of recent changes in the climate to contribute. This could help scientists gain a better grasp of the dynamics of Africa’s climate. What’s more, local people are the ones whose cooperation and involvement is ultimately needed if climate adaptation and resilience efforts are to be successful. In this context, ‘development decision-makers’ range all the way from heads of government to householders – and anyone who is making an investment decision with medium to long term consequences could be affected by climate change and needs good climate information. Bettina Koelle of the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre summed up how these different forms of knowledge will need to come together “we have to combine the different kinds of knowledge available,” she said. “We really need to think about relative processes that will bring together the knowledge holders to think about a more integrated solution.” She and Dr Richard Jones of the UK Met Office, who will be working on improved climate models to predict the African climate in the next 5-40 years, emphasised that if scientists, policy makers and communities engage better with each other, then the scientific results will be ground-truthed in local experience and will also be more relevant to decision-making. Ms Koelle added, “It’s about asking the right questions to the scientists. There are lots of questions that could be highly relevant for a decision-making context, but scientists do not ask.” FCFA will involve decision-makers at all levels, to help guide scientists’ endeavours. Looking ahead and framing the business case Jean-Pierre Roux, FCFA project manager, expanded on how the approaches to integrating climate information into development decisions have changed over recent years from “science first” to “decision first” approaches. Using the example of Rwanda’s tea industry from a report from the Global Climate Adaptation Programme, Mr Roux argued for the value of starting with existing developmental objectives when integrating climate information into decision making. In the Rwandan case study, the Government’s objective is a major expansion to double tea production. This objectives will lock in land use patterns for several decades. There are early interventions that stakeholders can undertake now to ensure that this ambition is not undermined by a changing climate. For instance, they can use geographic and climate information to look at the siting of new areas for tea so that they can produce optimally over the plants’ life expectancies. What’s more, Mr Roux added, planners emphasised that a ‘development first’ approach to climate adaptation considers options for financing potential recommendations at the outset. It’s no use modelling problems and potential solutions without considering if those solutions are finance-ready. “Often with science-first approaches, there are lots of recommendations which aren’t implementable,” he warned. It’s not only necessary to tailor your activities to a long-term horizon but to tailor them to where the money will be.” For more on FCFA and how it’ll bring science, policy and practice together to forge pragmatic solutions, visit FCFA is a joint programme of the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) and Natural Environment Research Council.