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Enhanced finance, data and Inclusion can help breach Africa’s climate change adaptation gaps

August 8, 2022

In 2021, West Africa experienced some of its highest annual temperatures yet. According to the World Bank, temperatures in the arid Sahel region are rising 1.5 times faster than the global average, intensifying already severe droughts, desertification and erosion. 

West Africa is also experiencing more frequent floods, severe heatwaves and fewer but more intense rainfall events. These occurrences negatively impact agricultural production, urban housing and infrastructure and ― as is increasingly recognized― they directly affect human health.  

These were some of the facts presented during a webinar organized by IDRC in March 2022 to discuss the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group II, Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability report (AR6). While the webinar’s keynote address and the panel focused on West Africa, the findings and recommendations for a more effective adaptation apply to most parts of Africa.  

Released in February 2022, AR6 provides the strongest-ever assessment of evidence on how climate change is affecting the African continent. African scholars led in producing this new evidence, with funding from IDRC and the UK’s Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office.  

As Dr. Edmond Totin from the Université Nationale d’Agriculture du Bénin, one of the lead authors of the Africa chapter of AR6 points out, the impacts of climate change in West Africa have lasting socioeconomic, political and environmental consequences. The vulnerable and the poor are disproportionately affected, particularly those forced to settle in risk-prone areas and informal settlements with inadequate infrastructure. Pressures from pests, weeds and diseases are also expected to increase, with detrimental effects on crops and livestock. 

According to AR6, many factors hinder West Africa and the continent’s efforts to adapt, including inadequate funding, a data shortage and lack of including local knowledge, particularly that of women who bear the brunt of climate change.  

Inadequate financing 

At the webinar, Dr. Christopher Trisos, director of the Climate Change Risk Lab at the University of Cape Town in South Africa and a lead author of AR6, spoke about the many ways that financing for African adaptation efforts falls short. As detailed in the IPCC report, he says that current financing allocated to adaptation in Africa is less than even the lowest adaptation cost estimates the research team assessed.  

For instance, from 1990 to 2019, research on Africa received just 3.8% of climate-related research funding globally: 78% of this funding went to EU and North American institutions while African institutions received only 14.5%. As the IPCC report states, “The combination of Northern-led identification of both knowledge and skills gaps can result in projects where African partners are positioned primarily as recipients engaged to support research and/or have their ‘capacity built’ rather than also leading research projects on an equal basis.” 

Trisos also highlighted the uneven distribution of climate change research funding within the continent: between 1990 and 2020, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zambia took the lion’s share. Research on North African countries was the most underfunded compared to the climate vulnerability of the region.  

A data shortage

This imbalance contributes to a lack of accurate, comprehensive data about climate, agriculture and population. The UN’s World Meteorological Organization’s State of the Climate in Africa 2019 report shows that Africa has the least developed land-based observation network of all continents, and it is deteriorating. The lack of data makes it harder to protect people against the impacts of climate change. It also contributes to a lack of understanding about its causes and implications.  

A recent study funded by IDRC and the UK’s Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office found that climate change literacy in Africa ranged from 23 to 66% of the population across 33 countries, with women’s literacy rates being, on average, 12.8% lower than men’s. This low literacy hampers women’s and men’s ability to access and understand climate change and disaster information and services. 

At the political level, the lack of data and documentation hinders the formulation of concrete adaptation choices and strategies. “We need to produce data, translate data into information and translate information into effective programs and policies,” says Ambassador Seyni Nafo, High Representative of the President of the Republic of Mali for Climate and Spokesperson of the Africa Climate Negotiators Group. 

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Women on the outside

As Zénabou Segda, director of the Women’s Environmental Program in Burkina Faso, further pointed out during the webinar, it’s particularly difficult to find gender-specific data about adaptation and about how much financing is going to women. This is despite the fact that women are more affected by climate hazards because of power differences and gender dynamics. Women also make up the majority of the world's poor and are more dependent on threatened natural resources. 

But if women are victims of climate change, they can also be active and effective agents and promoters of adaptation and mitigation. Segda has been fighting to break down the barriers to women’s participation. “Women,” she says, “have the deepest connection to the earth. They work the fields, look for water, find firewood.” As custodians of ancestral and traditional knowledge, “they play a crucial role in adaptation efforts by finding concrete ways to adapt, particularly at the community level,” she says.  

Yet, women’s needs are often discounted and their leadership is not promoted in key decisions around mitigation, adaptation and disaster risk reduction. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, in 2020 women held only 15% of top jobs as ministers of environmental sectors around the world. However, a 2019 study found that increasing women’s representation in national parliaments led to the adoption of more stringent climate change policies. 

This lack of meaningful representation and participation in decision-making bodies may translate into climate action that doesn’t consider the specific needs of women and men from different social groups. 

IDRC working for change

These are situations IDRC is working to change through initiatives such as the Climate Leadership Program for Women that is strengthening the research, innovation and policy capacities of 18 early- to mid-career women researchers, innovators and policy advisors in Francophone West Africa.  

The Canada-UK Climate Adaptation and Resilience research program (CLARE), launched in late 2021, aims to use research to build resilience, address knowledge gaps, and boost the climate crisis response across the Global South. CLARE recognizes that efforts to respond to the climate crisis are constrained by the under-representation of Southern voices in research and knowledge ecosystems. One project funded through CLARE is working to increase climate adaptation learning and understanding among female-led enterprises in Africa’s semi-arid regions.  

IDRC is also funding research to find practical, local solutions that integrate local and scientific knowledge. For instance, in West Africa, researchers are testing cleaner technologies that reduce households' carbon footprint and finding ways to better inform sustainable agricultural transitions. 

Such bottom-up approaches need to be part of African governments’ overall climate change policy. By providing a more comprehensive understanding of climate change impacts and response options, these efforts will enable African policymakers to make more targeted, ambitious and effective decisions. 

Research highlights

  • Climate change is one of the greatest challenges for West Africa. Access to finance and accurate and comprehensive data will be critical for enabling governments in this region to adapt to the growing impacts of climate change and ensure a more resilient development below 1.5°C. 

  • Women are more affected by climate hazards because of power differences and gender dynamics. However, if they are victims of climate change, they can also be active and effective agents and promoters of adaptation and mitigation. 

  • IDRC is supporting the work of African institutions and researchers to amplify the uptake and integration of local and scientific knowledge in global assessment reports such as the IPCC report.