AFRICA: Thinking big on climate change modelling
Better climate data will help to prepare for more intense and frequent droughts
ADDIS ABABA, 13 October 2010 (IRIN) - If African countries had had the capacity to do climate change projections, their data could have been fed into the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) assessments for the continent, said Richard Odingo, former vice-chair of the IPCC at one of the discussions ahead of the Seventh African Development Forum
The IPCC is still recovering from its controversial warning about the impact of climate change on food production in Africa, cited in its synthesis report. The warning turned out to have been based on a non-peer reviewed academic paper for three North African countries
The warning said that since most agriculture in Africa is rain-fed, climate change, which is affecting vital rainfall patterns and pushing up temperatures, could halve crop yields in some countries by 2020.
“Africa should think big and do their own climate change modelling to forecast projections,” said Odingo, as climatologists and meteorologists brainstormed on measuring climate change at the Forum being organized by the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).
Better climate data will help countries prepare for soaring temperatures and natural events such as droughts, floods and storms set to become more intense and frequent as the impact of climate change unfolds. "There are gaps in our information collection," he said.
Climate modelling initiatives launched in Africa in collaboration with universities in the West were not "good enough", Odingo told IRIN.
To assess the impact of climate change, climatological data spanning at least 60 years is required. But countries in Africa have often had to shut down weather stations because of a lack of funds or political strife.
Amadou Gaye, head of the Laboratory of Atmospheric and Ocean Physics at Dakar’s University Cheikh Anta Diop agreed. Gaye, who was one of the authors of the IPCC’s last assessment, said it would be easier for Africa to do projections on a large scale than prepare country-specific models. “We could start with that.”
Some experts at the meeting said they lacked money to build capacity to collect and analyse climate data.
Sound climate data was the starting point in developing a climate change model, said Mxolisi Shongwe, Swaziland’s national climate change coordinator. “And the quality of data varied across the continent.”
But there were other stumbling blocks. “And when you have data, often departments within government are unwilling to share the information,” he told IRIN.
Any modelling also needs to be validated by an authoritative body to make improvements. “But again few government agencies involved in data collection open themselves up for scrutiny.” Shongwe added that South Africa was an exception in the continent. “All the government sectors [in South Africa] not only share their data but also open themselves up for scrutiny by the academics [climate change experts] at the University of Cape Town.”
Gaye added that the continent perhaps needed to look towards the Climate Information for Development Needs: An Action Plan for Africa' (ClimDev Africa), a programme aimed at improving weather data analysis, which was started in 2005.
Recognizing the need to bring Africa on board, the action plan was put together for the continent with the help of the Global Climate Observing System, which in turn is a combined initiative of several UN agencies and the International Council for Science (ICSU). The other sponsors of the Africa plan were UNECA and the African Union Commission
The programme is officially being launched at the Seventh African Development Forum on 13 October. “It is a massive programme. We have had to develop strategy and terms of reference for the staff and then do the recruitment itself,” said Josué Dioné of UNECA, explaining the delayed launch. Dioné, who heads the Food Security and Sustainable Development section at UNECA, was one of the prime movers for ClimDev. “It is not that we are not working - we have already put US$30 million into the regional climate forecasting centres in Africa.”
CimDev also helped Africa develop its position at the UN climate change talks.
In a programme spread over 10 years, ClimDev Africa will support efforts to establish or upgrade weather observing systems to fill data gaps, expand capacity for analysing and interpreting data, and strengthen existing African climate institutions.
The programme also includes a climate policy centre, which will help governments draw up strategies to mitigate and adapt to the impact of climate change.
The Forum, which is focusing on dealing with climate change for sustainable development, will end on 15 October.