Climate Risk in Africa: Adaptation and Resilience

Submitted by Katharine Vincent | published 30th Jan 2021 | last updated 1st Mar 2021
FCFA project team meeting

Members of the Future Climate for Africa project teams meet to share findings on generating decision-relevant climate information


Adaptations and strategies to build resilience are needed to manage current impacts and will be increasingly vital as the world continues to warm. But making adaptation decisions can be complex, requiring careful consideration of multiple factors and perspectives, and balancing different priorities over different timescales. Society is embarking on a learning process that will continue for decades. 

This open access book highlights the complexities around making adaptation decisions and building resilience in the face of climate risk. It is based on experiences in sub-Saharan Africa through the Future Climate For Africa (FCFA) applied research programme. It begins by dealing with underlying principles and structures designed to facilitate effective engagement about climate risk, including the robustness of information and the construction of knowledge through co-production. Chapters then move on to explore examples of using climate information to inform adaptation and resilience through early warning, river basin development, urban planning and rural livelihoods based in a variety of contexts. These insights inform new ways to promote action in policy and praxis through the blending of knowledge from multiple disciplines, including climate science that provides understanding of future climate risk and the social science of response through adaptation.

The book will be of interest to advanced undergraduate students and postgraduate students, researchers, policy makers and practitioners in geography, environment, international development and related disciplines.

Click here to download "Climate Risk in Africa"

*An overview of the publication is provided below. See the full text for much more detail.


The edited volume comprises the following chapters:

Key Issues and Progress in Understanding Climate Risk in Africa

 In this chapter, we first briefly review the planning landscape for adaptation and building resilience and then consider how applications are changing the nature of climate information and the context of its use. This is followed by a review of the current status of climate information, particularly future projections for Africa and the enduring challenge that uncertainty represents to their active use. We then ask how we can improve the use of climate information for resilience building and adaptation and present an overview of the coming chapters. The demand for information and guidance on adaptation is continuing to grow, and is highlighting the need for new types and formats of data, and more innovative interactions with users to increase usability and application. 

Climate Information: Towards Transparent Distillation

Constructing climate information to inform climate change risk-related decision-making is challenging and requires a rigorous interrogation and understanding of multiple lines of evidence and an assessment of the values, limits and uncertainties involved. Critically, there is no definitive approach agreed on by all climate scientists. Rather, a range of approaches and assumptions are used, with implications for robustness, reliability and uncertainty. Often these choices and assumptions are informed by the values and objectives of climate science rather than the decision context. We propose an approach, information distillation, that makes explicit and open for deliberation many of the implicit decisions and value judgements that occur throughout the process of constructing information. We argue that this approach must engage substantively with the decision context and open up choices and assumptions in a transparent manner to deliberation across climate scientists and context experts. Two case studies are described demonstrating the effectiveness of these approaches and illustrating several important principles for transparent information distillation.

Co-production: Learning from Contexts

Given that climate change is a complex, systemic risk, addressing it requires new knowledge. One way of generating such new knowledge is through co-production, or collaborative development by a range of stakeholders with diverse backgrounds embedded in trans-disciplinary processes. This chapter reflects on emerging experiences of co-producing decision-relevant climate information to enable climate-resilient planning and adaptation to climate change in Africa. It outlines principles that have emerged and evolved through experiential learning from a wide range of co-production processes in Africa. It also uses case study experience from various contexts to highlight some of the more contextual challenges to co-production such as trust, power and knowledge systems and institutional factors (mandates, roles and incentives) and illustrates ways that trans-disciplinary co-production has addressed these challenges to mainstream a response to the climate challenge.

Decision-Making Heuristics for Managing Climate-Related Risks: Introducing Equity to the FREE Framework

Managing climate-related risks is clouded in differing levels of uncertainty that are magnified when trying to understand their potential impacts on socio-ecological systems. The ‘cascade of uncertainty’ is particularly apparent in Africa where socio-ecological data are sparse, and the development and validation of impact models are at varying stages. In this context, using heuristics may serve as an effective way for policy makers to incorporate climate change knowledge into decision-making. Previous scholarship has identified the principles of Flexibility, Robustness and Economic low/no regrets in decision-making under uncertainty. In this chapter, we first make the case for adding Equity to these heuristics, where equity involves ensuring that reducing the climate change risk for one cohort of society does not result in its increase for another. Second, we describe how these principles have been applied under two DFID/NERC funded projects: ForPAc and AMMA-2050 through the use of Participatory Impact Pathways Analysis tools.

Creating Useful and Usable Weather and Climate Information: Insights from Participatory Scenario Planning in Malawi

For climate information to be used at the grassroots level, it needs to be understood, collectively interpreted and effectively communicated. Participatory Scenario Planning (PSP) is one method of co-producing useful and usable sectoral and livelihood advisories for decision-makers, based on locally downscaled weather (typically seasonal forecasts). The chapter outlines an initial investigation into the history and application of Participatory Scenario Planning in Malawi, finding that it can generate useful and usable information that is deemed credible, legitimate and salient by its intended users. Its usability is reinforced through the demonstration effect which leads to even sceptical farmers adopting it after they have witnessed proof of its effectiveness from early adopters. In Malawi, the sustainability of Participatory Scenario Planning is threatened due to limited integration in planning frameworks and reliance on projects, hence need for a mechanism to ensure its regular occurrence and embeddedness in formal governance structures.

High Stakes Decisions Under Uncertainty: Dams, Development and Climate Change in the Rufiji River Basin

The need to stress test designs and decisions about major infrastructure under climate change conditions is increasingly being recognised. This chapter explores new ways to understand and—if possible—reduce the uncertainty in climate information to enable its use in assessing decisions that have consequences across the water, energy, food and environment sectors. It outlines an approach, applied in the Rufiji River Basin in Tanzania, that addresses uncertainty in climate model projections by weighting them according to different skill metrics; how well the models simulate important climate features. The impact of different weighting approaches on two river basin performance indicators (hydropower generation and environmental flows) is assessed, providing an indication of the reliability of infrastructure investments, including a major proposed dam under different climate model projections. The chapter ends with a reflection on the operational context for applying such approaches and some of the steps taken to address challenges and to engage stakeholders.

Integrating Climate Risks into Strategic Urban Planning in Lusaka, Zambia

This chapter explores opportunities provided by strategic urban planning to mainstream climate risk considerations into the development decisions of city governments. It does so by describing the ways in which the climate-related information co-produced within the Future Resilience of African Cities and Lands (FRACTAL) project was integrated into the preparation of the Lusaka City Council Strategic Plan 2017–21. The chapter concludes by presenting four lessons emerging from the efforts at integrating climate information into the strategic planning process in Lusaka, Zambia:

  1. Trust and relationships are key to sharing data and information needed to build a compelling case for managing climate risks;
  2. Enable a variety of stakeholders to engage with climate information;
  3. There needs to be an enabling legal, policy and financing framework;
  4. Prepare to meet resistance; skilled intermediaries and city exchange visits help.

Supporting Climate-Resilient Planning at National and District Levels: A Pathway to Multi-stakeholder Decision-Making in Uganda

If rural adaptation is to be effective, then it cannot take the form of prescriptive actions determined by outsiders and subsequently imposed upon rural communities. Our focus in this chapter is to reflect on the effectiveness of rural adaptation in the context of food security and agriculture in Uganda and provide insight into a way forward using learning from the HyCRISTAL project rural pilot. We critically explore the boundaries of ‘adaptation’ and ‘resilience’ as policy responses to climate change in poor rural communities through the interdisciplinary use of quantitative and qualitative methodologies, including innovative visual methods and action research. We identify some of the limits to building adaptive communities and explore potential solutions for enabling informed decision-making for rural adaptation that are linked to investment in sustainable development. We highlight the importance of multi-stakeholder approaches and the generation of a ‘knowledge ecosystem’ that combines physical and social science methods and data to generate context-specific information to inform decision-making.

Conversations About Climate Risk, Adaptation and Resilience in Africa

This book contributes to previous and ongoing action to initiate and inform conversations about climate risk and the need for adaptation and resilience building. In this chapter, we reflect on these conversations and what they mean for the growing adaptation agenda. We consider who needs to be involved in conversations about adaptation, how such conversations can be structured and the need to assess their outcomes. We profile important considerations relevant for tailoring climate information to make adaptation decisions and discuss the outcomes of different types of conversations. We conclude by noting the significance of recent major climate events and the rapidly evolving risk landscape in sub-Saharan Africa, and arguing that the need for these conversations is ever more evident. The experiences outlined in this book provide a starting point for conversations about adaptation that aim to inform future action.