Africa's Climate: Helping decision-makers make sense of climate information

Published: 14th March 2017 11:54Last Updated: 14th March 2017 11:54
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Introduction

African decision-makers need reliable, accessible, and trustworthy information about the continent’s climate, and how this climate might change in future, if they are to plan appropriately to meet the region’s development challenges.

The Future Climate for Africa report, Africa’s climate: Helping decision-makers make sense of climate information, is designed as a guide for scientists, policy-makers, and practitioners on the continent.

The research in this report*, written by leading experts in their fields, presents an overview of climate trends across central, eastern, western, and southern Africa, and is distilled into a series of factsheets that are tailored for specific sub-regions and countries. Some of these capture the current state of knowledge, while others explore the ‘burning scientific questions’ that still need to be answered.

Development professionals will be able to use the report as a touchstone in their everyday work, and as a starting point for considering climate risk. The contents of this report will also be useful for students and researchers seeking an introduction to African climate science, and to intermediaries such as climate knowledge brokers, who can tailor the volume’s peer- reviewed analysis to their broader awareness-raising, education and training efforts.

The report consists of 15 factsheets that are grouped into three sections:

  • Regional Overviews focus on regionally relevant questions for east, west, central and southern Africa.
  • Burning Questions focus on the key issues relating to the ability of the current science to accurately provide climate change projections and communicate future climate change in Africa.
  • Country Factsheets provide information on the climate and the possible impacts for Rwanda, Uganda, Senegal, and Zambia. They also consider how climate information is used in Tanzania and Malawi, and how accessible the information is to the communities that need it.

While readers may find the full set of contributions in this collected volume, each factsheet is also designed to be read and used separately in each of the targeted countries and regions (readers may download individual factsheets on our website, www.futureclimateafrica.org). 

*Download the full report from the right-hand column. The "Need to know" key messages for each region and the burning questions are provided below.


From page 85 of the report. © Jervis Sundays | Kenya Red Cross Society 

Key Messages

Regional Overviews

Central Africa

Central Africa’s climate system influences the climate across the globe. Therefore, the decision-making that happens here – in terms of climate change, land use cover, and management of forests and water – has global and regional implications.

As discussed in the report:

  • The region is severely understudied, because of a lack of scientific observation data, such as that from weather stations;
  • a thorough study of climate dynamics and regional climate drivers will improve understanding of the regional system; and
  • refining and improving modelling processes will fill important knowledge gaps and give decision-makers useful climate information.

East Africa

Rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns are and will have significant impacts across east African society. The equatorial and southern parts of eastern Africa have experienced a significant increase in temperature since the early 1980s, while seasonal average temperatures have risen in many parts of the region over the past 50 years. Rainfall in the region is extremely variable across time and space, and is influenced by several physical processes, including the El Niño Southern Oscillation. 

There is a lack of evidence about observed trends in extreme temperature, extreme rainfall, and drought in east Africa. Decision-makers need accessible information on likely climate change if they are to plan appropriately for this uncertain future.

The factsheet provided in the full text considers how the climate is likely to change in east Africa, and the likely implications for:

  • Water availability
  • Sanitation
  • Livelihoods, including agriculture and freshwater fisheries
  • Hydropower
  • The potential for wind energy.

Southern Africa

Southern African countries need reliable, robust climate information to be able
to buffer their economies and communities against the impacts of climate change. Scientists working on climate modelling for the region are concerned with:

  • understanding the complex physical forces that drive the ‘natural’ variability of the climate across the region
  • refining and improving the climate models, in order to give more reliable forecasts for how the climate might shift in the future
  • calibrating how reliable the current climate simulations are. 

Much of the climate information that feeds through to African decision-makers comes from a process of gathering observed atmospheric conditions, such as temperature, rainfall and wind speed, and merging it with sophisticated climate models. The objective is to build reliable projections of what the region’s future climate might look like, so that decision-makers can plan accordingly. This factsheet describes:

  • Some of the ‘observational’ tools that scientists use when they study climate;
  • How they merge that information with an analysis process; and
  • How the results may agree with, or contradict each other, and what this means for scientists and decision-makers. 

West Africa

In west Africa, people’s lives and livelihoods are significantly impacted by season to season, and year to year variability in climate. Climate change will worsen these impacts.

  • Decision-makers need reliable climate projections in order to plan effectively for warmer temperatures, altered rainfall patterns, and changing frequency of droughts and heatwaves.
  • Scientists have greater confidence in projections of future temperature change from existing climate models, than for future rainfall change.
  • Scientists are working on both improving understanding of existing models, and on improving the next generation of climate models, to produce more reliable projections.
  • Scientists are also working to better understand the role of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions and sea surface temperatures in driving the west African climate, especially rainfall. 


From page 92 of the report. © Mtcurado | iStock 

Burning Questions

Improving Climate Modelling for Africa

The climate models used to project Africa’s likely future climate only have a modest ability to capture the physical processes driving the climate on the continent. But work is now being done to improve them in order to produce information that can better assist African decision-makers. Researchers are endeavouring to:

  • better understand the physical drivers of climate on the continent, especially how local processes interact with more distant influences
  • gain better observations of the processes driving African climate variability and change
  • improve modelling techniques including refining model grids to represent individual cloud systems
  • target regional evaluation of how these physical processes work in the models by applying an ‘Africa lens’ to the problem.

Central and Southern Africa: Burning Climate Science Questions

Societies and economies in central and southern Africa are extremely vulnerable to climate change and extreme weather events. Policy-makers need credible climate information if they are to plan for and address regional development challenges. New research into the climate of this area will investigate:

  • Why the region is so vulnerable to climate change.
  • The gaps in our understanding of the current climate system and how it might change in response to human-induced warming.
  • How climate researchers are addressing some of these gaps, with the aim of improving climate change modelling.

East African Climate Variability and Change

Scientists focusing on climate change in east Africa are interrogating climate models to provide more reliable information for decision-makers. Their burning questions include:

  • How will aspects of climate that are relevant to decision-makers change? Will heavy rain and droughts increase? Will the region get wetter or drier in future?
  • How will climate change impact on above- and below-ground water flow, the water levels of Lake Victoria, and underground water storage?
  • What are the implications for rural livelihoods, including those dependent on rain-fed agriculture and fishing? And what are the policy and governance considerations within these sectors?
  • How can cities design the most resilient water, sanitation and hygiene systems, in light of future climate change predictions?

Southern Africa: Climate Science and Refining the Models

Climate scientists are refining their models so that they can give decision-makers in southern Africa credible, evidence-based projections for the region’s future climate.

The factsheet in the full report:

  • discusses the three main tiers of modelling (‘global’, ‘downscaled’, and ‘impacts’ models)
  • compares a global and a downscaled modelling project, to illustrate how well they work and where the gaps are
  • considers the implications for those who generate, and those who use, climate information.

From page 4. © Mitchell Maher | International Food Policy Institute 

FCFA Projects

FCFA's UMFULA (“river” in Zulu) project is a four year research project that aims to improve climate information for decision-making in central and southern Africa, with a particular focus on Tanzania and Malawi. It aims to support long-term – five to 40 year – planning decisions in central and southern Africa around resource use, infrastructure investment and cross-sectoral growth priorities, by identifying adaptation pathways that are robust and resilient in the face of climate change and other non-climate stressors. Read more about UMFULA here.

FCFA's FRACTAL project will contribute to improved understanding of climate processes that drive the African climate system’s natural variability and response to global change. By bringing together scientists and people who use climate information for decision- making, the project will enhance understanding of the role of such information. FRACTAL will distil relevant climate information that is informed by and tailored to urban decision-making and risk management. The team’s activities will understanding of how scientists from different disciplines can work effectively together. Read more about FRACTAL here.

FCFA's HyCRISTAL project will develop new understanding of climate change and its impacts in east Africa, working with the region’s decision-makers to manage water for a more climate-resilient future. Read more about HyCRISTAL here.

FCFA's AMMA-2050 project will improve understanding of how the west African monsoon will be affected by climate change in the coming decades – and help west African societies prepare and adapt. The AMMA-2050 team will investigate how physical processes interact to cause ‘high impact weather events’ such as storms and heawaves that affect lives and livelihoods. Not only will they look at how the total amount of rainfall is likely to change – but also at how rainfall is likely to be distributed throughout the wet season. For example, heavy rainfall concentrated in just a few hours places great stress on human settlements, infrastructure and agriculture. By applying expert judgement, they will identify adaptation options in water resources and agriculture. Read more about AMMA-2050 here.

FCFA's IMPALA project will focus on a single climate model, the Met Office Unified Model, to improve its simulation of African climate through a better understanding and representation of weather and climate processes. This will result in reduced uncertainty in future projections of the African climate and provide valuable information to climate scientists and modellers within Africa and worldwide, and empower decision-makers with information that can be used to reduce risks and help protect the livelihoods of the most vulnerable. The initiative aims to deliver a step change in global climate model capability that will reduce uncertainty and enable better informed evaluation of the robustness of future projections. Read more about IMPALA here.

Further resources