£20m research programme will deepen understanding of Africa's changing climate

28 October 2015

A UK government-funded initiative will put £20m behind leading-edge research to better understand Africa's changing climate and the use of climate change information in decision making across the continent.

Africa's climate is one of the least-researched and poorly understood in the world, but looks set to change significantly in the decades ahead. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that temperatures could warm up to 6°C on the continent this century, and vast areas could experience more intense drought or rainfall than known before.

Governments and the private sector currently plough £45bn into infrastructure investments in Africa each year. However, there are major questions over whether these investments will be resilient to the climate of the future.

Future Climate for Africa (FCFA) is supporting five major research projects to develop better climate information for Africa and to test how the new information could be used in decision making. FCFA is a joint programme of the UK's Department for International Development (DFID) and NERC.

Dr Tim Wheeler, DFID's deputy chief scientific adviser, said:

"We know that climate change will alter significantly the risks faced by African societies over the coming decades. That's why DFID is delighted to work with the UK Natural Environment Research Council to address this challenge through jointly funding the Future Climate for Africa (FCFA) programme. FCFA will not only improve the climate information available to African decision makers, but it also aims to work with both scientists and stakeholders across the continent to ensure that information is better tailored to users' needs and to strengthen the skills of users in the interpretation and use of climate information. The programme will also make a significant contribution to training African climate scientists. That way, African researchers can support decision makers as they invest in infrastructure and development programmes in Africa in the future."

Stefan Raubenheimer, director of FCFA's Co-ordination, Capacity Development & Knowledge Exchange unit, said:

"African societies are already affected by climate change, including sustained droughts, deadly floods and rising sea levels, which entrench poverty and undermine economic growth. The Future Climate for Africa programme will provide high-quality climate information to help governments and businesses make more climate-resilient investments. The programme will safeguard economic development and contribute to the fight against poverty in the long term.

FCFA will empower tens of thousands of scientists and policymakers through knowledge and decision making support tools available on open platforms, with potential benefit for millions of people whose lives will ultimately be affected."

For example, health, education and social support systems, finance for households and businesses and local planning decisions all have the potential to be 'climate-proofed' so they function well in future climate conditions. FCFA focuses on the uses of climate information relevant to the medium term (over the next 5-40 years) as this is the lifespan of many development projects being designed today.

Duncan Wingham, NERC's chief executive, said:

"Supporting science that helps society manage the effects of environmental change is one of NERC's key strategic objectives. We are delighted to be investing in Future Climate for Africa, which will provide African governments, business and other stakeholders with the information they need to make decisions that increase resilience and reduce climate risk."

FCFA has awarded major grants to the following research projects:

  • AMMA-2050 (African Monsoon Multidisciplinary Analysis 2050)
    AMMA-2050 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.

  • FRACTAL (Future Resilience for African Cities and Lands)
    FRACTAL will improve scientific knowledge of future climate trends in Southern Africa, deepen urban policymakers' understanding of how climate change will affect water and energy services, and support them to explore climate-resilient development choices.

  • HyCRISTAL (Integrating Hydro-Climate Science into Policy Decisions for Climate-Resilient Infrastructure and Livelihoods in East Africa)
    HyCRISTAL 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.

  • IMPALA (Improving Model Processes for African Climate)
    IMPALA research will improve understanding of African climate processes and the mechanisms of future change - leading to a step change in global climate model prediction capability for Africa.

  • UMFULA (Uncertainty reduction in Models for Understanding Development Applications)
    UMFULA will provide new insights and more reliable information about climate processes and extremes in Central and Southern Africa. UMFULA will partner with agencies and universities in Tanzania and Malawi to link the information to development decisions with long-term consequences.

FCFA's Co-ordination, Capacity Development & Knowledge Exchange Unit is based with the Climate & Development Knowledge Network in Cape Town, South Africa. This team will lead outreach on the research programme's results, making sure that its findings are communicated widely across the region.


Further information

FCFA Co-ordination, Capacity Development & Knowledge Exchange - South Africa:

Claire Mathieson

Jean-Pierre Roux

The AMMA-2050 consortium is led by Dr Chris Taylor of NERC's Centre for Ecology & Hydrology. For more information, or to arrange an interview, contact:

Dr Barnaby Smith
Media relations manager
Centre for Ecology & Hydrology
07920 295384

The FRACTAL consortium is led by Dr Bruce Hewitson of the University of Cape Town, South Africa. For more information, contact Claire Mathieson (above).

The HyCRISTAL consortium is led by Dr John Marsham of the University of Leeds. For more information, or to arrange an interview, contact:

Rebecca Slack
HyCRISTAL co-ordinator
University of Leeds

The IMPALA consortium is led by Dr Cath Senior of the Met Office. For more information, or to arrange an interview, contact:

Met Office press office
01392 886655

The UMFULA consortium is led by Dr Declan Conway of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change & the Environment. For more information, or to arrange an interview, contact:

Dr Declan Conway


Notes

1. The IPCC's Fifth Assessment Report presents strong evidence that warming over land across Africa has increased over the last 50-100 years. This warming trend is very likely to continue. Surface temperatures have already increased by 0·5-2°C over the past hundred years. However, over large areas of Africa there is not enough historical data to show observed trends.

There is evidence that temperature changes have played a role in the increased incidence of malaria in parts of eastern Africa, and have already driven changes in the practices of South African farmers. Production of wheat and maize in parts of Africa has been impacted by climate change, as has the productivity of fisheries of the Great Lakes and Lake Kariba and fruit-bearing trees in the Sahel. (IPCC (2014). Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Chapter 22, Africa.)

Many African societies are especially vulnerable to climate extremes and weather-related disasters. High poverty rates mean that people have few assets to protect themselves or bounce back from disasters; and existing infrastructure and development programmes are not set up to withstand the variable climate.

Africa's future climate could look quite different from today's. Under a worst case scenario, average temperatures could rise by up to 6°C over the course of the century, depending on how effectively global society slashes the greenhouse gas emissions which are primarily responsible for global warming. Under the lowest emissions scenario assessed by the IPCC, average temperature rises across Africa are projected to be less than 2°C over the course of the 21st century.

The projected increases in average temperatures mask the more dramatic changes that Africans may expect to see in extreme events: scientists anticipate that heavy rainfall, heat waves and drought will become more frequent over the decades ahead. For example, there will be a likely increase in the frequency of hot days across the Sahara and parts of west, east and southern Africa. Eastern and south-eastern Africa will likely experience more heavy rainfall, with more extreme wet days by the mid-21st century and greater potential for intense flooding (IPCC (2014). Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Chapter 22, Africa. For more information, see the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) - external link - or the Climate & Development Knowledge Network AR5 toolkit - external link).

A pilot phase of FCFA in 2013-14 investigated the degree to which existing climate information is used in policy and investment decisions. Not only are there gaps in climate information, but researchers found that climate information is poorly presented and understood. Governments and businesses struggle to apply the information in their decision making processes. The FCFA programme will tackle these challenges by strengthening climate information and making it more relevant and usable for decision makers. The results of the pilot phase can be viewed on the Future Climate for Africa website - external link - or take a virtual tour through the results on the Climate & Development Knowledge Network, Future Climate for Africa - external link.