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Filling the gaps: Building off FCFA’s success to prioritise existing research gaps within Africa

Author

Roy Bouwer

Date

May 11, 2022

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As the final curtains come down on the Future Climate For Africa (FCFA) programme, the impacts and outcomes of the programme will live on for many years. FCFA was one of the largest single investments in African climate science to date, and delivered considerable advances in understanding what drives the climate across the continent and what the future of climate change might look like. While the progress made within the programme life span was considerable, there are still several research gaps which limit our ability to understand Africa’s climate. and how it may change. 

In a new brief outlining the value of continued investments in science science for Africa, we highlight the scientific achievements made within FCFA and why there is need for further investment in this regard. One of the key ingredients to the success of FCFA’s achievements was the collaborative nature of the programme. Working within large research consortia on a shared goal to improve the understanding of Africa’s climate allowed researchers to “hunt in packs”. This approach meant researchers could pool knowledge and resources, share learning and emerging results to rapidly build off each others’ progress. 

Researchers discussing each others' projects during a LaunchPad Workshop. Credit: CCKE

But beyond fostering collaboration between climate scientists, FCFA supported interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity between a range of experts, decision makers and stakeholders to produce relevant climate information.

“IMPALA differs from other projects I was involved with by the opportunity for all team members to shape the outputs of the project. This was particularly useful as it offers the opportunity to include my priorities in terms of model evaluation.”

Dr. Wilfried Pokam, University of Yaounde 1

A key element of FCFA’s approach was rooted in co-production. As illustrated in the above quote from Dr. Pokam, this enabled all those involved to co-design and co-create the research outputs of the programme. This was particularly important in ensuring that local expertise informed the research agenda.

“One of the particularities of AMMA-2050 for me was [the] multidisciplinary [approach] because [AMMA-2050] gathered climate scientists, specialists of agriculture, sociologists, etc. This was very new for me as I had previously only participated in projects that were made up of climate scientists.”

Dr. Moussa Diakhate, University Amadou Mahtar Mbow de Dakar

Including a range of experts and stakeholders were also vital in ensuring that the research being produced within the programme was tailored to addressing real world challenges. This helped equip climate scientists to understand the information needs of decision makers and communicate their findings.

Participants discussing poster presentations at the African Climate Risks Conference. Credit IISD/ENB - Kiara Worth

Priority research gaps for future research:

Despite the significant progress made within the climate science space, there are still significant research gaps inhibiting our understanding of Africa’s climate. It’s important for future research to catalyse off advances made from FCFA,  to further improve the understanding of Africa’s climate. Some key gaps still exist in understanding the water cycle, including the degree of future change, high impact events such as hail and fog, feedbacks between land surface temperatures and soil moisture; as well as understanding the impact of atmospheric aerosols. 

A key area of FCFA’s progress was improving understanding of model biases and errors of key climate processes in Africa. High resolution convection permitting models (such as CP4-Africa) should be prioritised to further examine model representation of large scale weather features across Africa. This will help provide further insights into how well models are capturing large scale processes (such as megastorm or cloud bands) which drive the climate over Africa.

“The future research priority should be in evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of the [METUM] model in reproducing mesoscale weather features. This requires the use of a high-resolution [convection permitting] model.”

Dr. Benjamin Lamptey, University of Leeds

The improved understanding of climate process across Africa, should also be prioritised in the development of new models, to deliver improved climate information for Africa. A key learning from FCFA, was that the climate information provided by climate scientists to decision-makers is often not aligned to the timescales and geographical scales which decision-makers work on. Future researchers should thus focus on using high resolution models to deliver locally specific climate information aligned to local planning timelines.

“… for better integration of climate change issues, it would be necessary to move towards providing decision-makers with climate information adapted to their review scales. In addition, there is also a gap in the accuracy of spatial distribution. As, the studies carried out in AMMA- 2050 were mostly based on global climate models with spatial resolutions that can exceed 150 km, it was very difficult to provide accurate climate information on issues such as flooding at the scale of African cities.”

Dr. Moussa Diakhate, University Amadou Mahtar Mbow de Dakar

While being able to deliver climate information on the local scale is important for informing decision making, knowledge gaps across the continent limit the ability of climate scientists to accurately do this. It is vital to continue to dedicate continued investments in climate research across Africa to improve scientists ability to deliver relevant information that can aid adaptation and development planning.