Aligning Research to Inform Climate Policies, Plans and Practice in Africa

26 Jul, 2021 Article 13

By Dr. Geoffrey Sabiiti

With contributions from the ICPAC Climate Change Technical Working Group


© AAS Open Research

Planning for climate change smart actions and solutions requires a great deal of information. Despite minimal benefits expected from climate change in Africa, the challenges have become widespread and cross-cutting. Much of the challenges fall disproportionately on the poor countries majority of which are in Africa. According to studies (Kompas et al., 2018 and Thurlow et al., 2012), climate change related hazards account for economic losses of about 4% of gross domestic product (GDP) in some Africa countries annually. Such events (floods and droughts) and their impacts are on the rise and are projected to increase, especially if global surface temperature change goes above 1.5°C with reference to pre-industrial levels (Kompas et al., 2018). Several policies and plans including the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) and other strategies have been developed to address climate change issues.

For many countries, climate change related policies aimed at addressing 1.5–2.0°C change impacts following the Paris Agreement and consequently the NDCs are not backed by ground evidence. Moreover we need to plan for impacts resulting from more than 2°C global average temperature changes at national and subnational scales (Archie et al., 2018; Hallegatte et al., 2011). A significant gap in quantifying the impacts of climate change(Sabiiti et al., 2018) at national and local scales across most Africa regions still remains. One saying goes “if you can measure it, then you can manage it”. New research information(Finney et al., 2019) and realities keep emerging and so should the climate policy landscape in Africa.

Innovation, invention, knowledge creation and creativity are all founded on research. Unfortunately, many times the new information is especially generated by scientists from the global north with less input by Africa based institutions and scientists who would have provided most of the national and local context. Financing research has to be made a priority in Africa through appropriate budget allocation towards research. The uniqueness of climate change indicators/drivers, socio-economic characteristics and interventions is such that “there is no one size fits all”.

To effectively address climate change, evidence-based information, planning and programming is critical. In Africa, most policies are developed with support from consultants, some of whom are from the private sector, while others are from outside the countries for which the policies are intended for. There is a potential danger that local knowledge and research are not always embedded to inform formulation of these policies and that knowledge gained and tools used and developed are not retained in Africa. Policy makers and researchers need to dialogue continuously but this is rarely the case. Limited political will and funding for policy implementation makes this continuous dialogue a pipe dream. The gaps in climate change information are equally huge. It then remains doubtful if the presence and implementation of such policies can unlock potentials for socio-economic transformation across Africa.

This article identifies key research related areas to be addressed to aid and improve climate policies formulation and climate change actions;

Scale-relevant data and information generation

Incomplete knowledge of climate change, current vulnerability, uncertainties about projected future vulnerabilities always lead to a mismatch between targeted interventions and required solutions. African countries need to invest in weather prediction to increase resilience. Although better early warning information is still needed, there still exists a gap in dissemination and utilization of what is already available. To achieve better results, this effort has to be jointly led by African institutions and scholars with majority of funding from national governments and the private sector. This might seem like a hard problem, but rapid progress is possible.

Participatory approach and stakeholder engagement

This will aid and increase the uptake of new technologies and tools in order to strengthen climate actions across vulnerable communities. The views of the vulnerable people have to be clearly identified in terms of how they want solutions delivered to them. The local traditional knowledge and learning is a powerful ingredient to achieve some of the goals in community level projects and interventions. Involvement of stakeholders at all levels of decision making promotes collective ownership of initiatives, hence high chances of success.

Capacity and technology transfer

Human and institutional capacity on data collection and analysis, research, climate change reporting and advocacy has to be strengthened across the continent. There is also a need to integrate climate change across curriculum at school, college and University levels. Africa needs cutting-edge technology to accelerate development and should not be a dumping ground for obsolete technologies that do not sustainably solve problems in the continent.

Infrastructure Development

This is critical for accelerating data collection, transmission analysis and information transmission in addition to housing, transport, trade and business. The internet is still a major challenge in most countries in Africa. The infrastructure development plans/policies have to be in line with other societal development agenda. For example, newly constructed road networks and power grid extension need to be followed by micro-finance, credit and promotion of climate-smart agriculture, trade and investments. Synergistic approaches between climate change, agricultural transformation and biodiversity conservation can result in multiplier benefits (Naumann et al., 2011). In addition, successful adaptation, resilience and mitigation infrastructure will require research and assessments to ascertain the socio-economic impacts and benefits for upscaling.

Scalable solutions and up-scaling of successful pilots

Nature based solutions may be the appropriate trigger for increasing resilience and accelerating achievement of mitigation targets (Bustamante et al., 2019; Archie et al., 2018). Investments in climate action such as renewable energy technologies need to also utilize locally available raw material in order to promote markets and business across the African continent. Where some solutions already exist, their sustainability is questionable. Well documented best practices can inform suitability of the solutions in new places and communities.

Private sector engagement and participation

Private sector has a huge potential to promote investment and bridge gaps related to technology, employment, production, business and innovations. This has to be promoted across the continent for scaling up solutions to climate change. This is particularly true for the agriculture sector that employs the majority of Africa’s workforce. Policies need to provide an enabling environment to maximize private sector involvement. Financing mechanisms such as the Green Climate Fund (GCF), need to increase their private sector portfolio. The emphasis should be on low-carbon pathways that address mitigation, biodiversity conservation, adaptation and resilience.


Inadequate finance limits several aspects (1–5). Governments need to mobilize climate change related finance both domestically and from international sources. National governments need to significantly financially support research through Universities and other research centres in the countries. Private sector has to also bridge the funding gap but government policies need to support private sector involvement. The long awaited $ 100 billion promised from developed countries to support developing countries address climate change mitigation and adaptation may not adequately cover the financial deficits required and is delayed. Moreover, climate change financial constraints related to COVID-19 pandemic can only be addressed through a robust and climate smart post COVID-19 recovery plan across countries.


Most African countries have a wealth of potential resources (physical and human) to accelerate climate-smart growth and development. There is a need for urgency if Africa will transform its potential into practical solutions. Rapid learning, knowledge and skills are needed to promote research and policy actions to fast-track mitigation, adaptation and biodiversity agenda in many Africa states. Targeted effort towards understanding climate change issues with focus on Africa, national and local context is critical. Africa should rise and be at the forefront of conducting and utilizing research knowledge for policy formulation and implementation to deliver sustainable climate solutions the continent needs.


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