From global models to local decisions

Jon Padgam, Deputy Director of START, reflects on the challenges and opportunities for linking climate information on Africa with user needs

The changing nature of climate variability and increasing extremes pose a notable threat to sustainable development where there is a high risk of exposure to climate stress. Understanding vulnerability and potential impacts, and responding through adaptation decisions and policy, requires climate information that is defensible, scale relevant and tailored to user needs. Unfortunately, the present state of regional climate change prediction presents the user with a confusing array of data sources that are contradictory and delivered with minimal understanding of what is robust and defensible data, or on how to interpret and apply it to decision making. This state of affairs undermines the value of development actions seeking to reduce risk, while increasing the risk of maladaptation.

The growth of new multi-model and multi-method data sets, most notably through the World Climate Research Program’s CORDEX initiative, offers a new opportunity to address the challenge of regional scale information. The central aim of CORDEX-Africa, which is led by the University of Cape Town’s Climate Systems Analysis Group in partnership with START, is to promote data analysis from a regionally based user’s needs perspective by regional climate scientists in collaboration with users of climate data. This approach provides direction to the modeling community as to which climate parameters are useful for decision making in different contexts, and therefore have potential for uptake. It also affords a transformative opportunity for capacity building in developing nations, by training the early career scientists to partner with end-users of climate information for co-exploration of the data to the mutual benefit of both communities.

The climate data co-exploration approach was tested through a workshop held in Dar es Salaam in February 2013 that sought to develop a guidance framework for using climate model data to support adaptation planning in Africa. The main purpose of this workshop was to pilot the methodology together with interdisciplinary teams from Addis Ababa, Kampala, Dar es Salaam, Maputo and Lusaka. The participants for this event were technical experts in the areas of meteorology and climatology, agriculture, water resource management, disaster risk management and land-use planning, within government, university and non-government spheres. The climate-application focus of the workshop was on peri-urban areas of these five cities, which typify the intensive land-use change pressures from urban encroachment that African cities are facing. These pressures have implications for, among others, food production, water resources and flood risk management for cities.

The learning process for integrating climate data into decision making took place through the development of a vulnerability matrix that encompassed non-climatic and climatic stressors acting on important ‘exposure units’ in peri-urban areas, such as crop and livestock production, inland fisheries, informal trading, transport corridors and other critical infrastructure, and water supplies… Click here to keep reading

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