Climate change is predicted to hit Africa hard unless the continent puts in place adaptation plans. Reuters/Stephanie Mahe

Adaptation is key if Africa is to tackle climate change

The current and projected severe impacts of climate change in Africa make adaptation an urgent priority.

While reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a vital task, the benefits will only emerge over time.

Adaptation to the impacts of climate change is needed now as well as over the next few decades. But adaptation faces many challenges. These are mainly institutional, technical, political, social and economic. And for Africa, these remain particularly hard to control.

Before the Paris Conference, our team elicited and analysed the views of 336 stakeholders both inside and outside of Africa. These were made up of 60 key decision-makers and key informants from United Nations agencies, donors, non-governmental organization, national governments and academia. This included interviews with 276 farmers from different parts of Africa.

These views provide vital insights into the requirements for adaptation, especially in agriculture and water resources in Africa. The views have helped to suggest ways forward for Africa. Our findings found three key issues.

The three issues

Firstly, there is a serious lack of climate data to determine how the climate is changing regionally and locally. There is also a lack of data on the changing distribution of rainfall within agricultural seasons and on crop productivity. This data could help decision makers understand the impacts of climate change on rural communities, and how to support agricultural adaptation.

Climate scientists are concerned about the limited understanding of the future impacts of climate change. The major concern is the lack of agreement on the best practices and techniques for down-scaling climate projections.

Secondly, the policy focus on adaptation has been limited and fragmented. There is one question that’s frequently asked:

How do African countries implement adaptation projects when adaptation policy is often developed in isolation from national actions?

Adaptation planning and adaptation projects across African countries often overlook fundamental development issues like poverty, health, energy, food insecurity and population trends. These determine vulnerability to the impacts of climate change.

Instead there is a focus on risks directly linked to climate change. There is a serious failure to link adaptation planning to disaster risk reduction policies. Agricultural research and development has not been managed in such a way that it can feed into existing policies for adaptation processes.

Thirdly, finance for adaptation to climate change emerged as another huge problem. There are a number of funding platforms to support adaptation projects in Africa. These include, the Least Developed Countries Fund, the Special Climate Change Fund, the Adaptation Fund, and most recently the Green Climate Fund. But access to these funds remains controversial and continues to provoke heated debate.

On the one hand, United Nations representatives believe the inability to access these funds is largely due to poor governance in African countries. They attribute this to weak institutional capacity to draft proposals and negotiate funding at various levels of government.

On the other hand, the African Negotiator Group cited another problem. They believe cumbersome procedures and bureaucratic bottlenecks in some of the funds and their managing agencies make the funds inaccessible.

The problem is how to channel funds to the countries that need them the most. These countries are also likely to have the lowest capacity to access them.


New approaches could play a significant role in tackling the problem of climate data and its interpretation. The best way to do this is to create partnerships across UN agencies. The UN organisations including the World Meteorological Organization, the United Nations Environment Programme, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the African Centre for Meteorological Applications for Development could play a significant role in dealing with the problem.

This kind of partnership can help create an African research network programme. It would serve to connect local communities, farmers, researchers and meteorological departments in collection and use of data to combat climate change.

Key ministries responsible for planning, agriculture, land and water resources must invest jointly in research and development for adaptation. This is more essential in drought tolerant crops where early warning systems and water efficiency technologies can make a huge difference. This can be done in what we call the 4-Cs framework:

  • Climate Projection,
  • Climate Education,
  • Climate Governance and
  • Climate Finance.

Thinking in this way encourages a whole government approach to planning and implementation of adaptation. Lead ministries must take responsibility for specific tasks by emphasising how important it is for all relevant ministries and other stakeholders to foster adaptation.

For example, Climate Projection would be placed under the domain of meteorological departments. It would be their responsibility to coordinate data with the various departments of agriculture, research institutions and farm communities. And the ministry of finance would be urged to pursue adaptation funding.

Establishing a regional capacity-building hub in Africa is also important. The hubs duty would be to oversee the negotiation, planning, monitoring and evaluation of adaptation programmes, and the training of staff to work on them.

This effort could be led by the New Partnership for Africa’s Development in partnership with UN agencies. As a complementary effort to this partnership, existing national and regional programs could address the threats of climate change.

Despite pledges from developed countries to meet the cost of adaptation in Africa, little or no priority has been given to finance. Given the potential impacts of climate change, mobilizing the already agreed $100 billion a year by 2020, through the Green Climate Fund, may not be enough. The conference in Paris provides a golden opportunity to negotiate a financial package that recognizes the true scale of the climate change challenge in Africa.

The following people also featured as co-authors on the article:

* Prof. James Ford of the McGill University,
* Dr Stephen Twomlow of the International Fund for Agricultural Development,
* Dr Keith Alverson of the United Nations Environment Programme,
* Dr Rafaello Cervigni of the World Bank,
* Dr Andrea Cattaneo of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations,
* Dr Ariella Helfgott of the University of Oxford,
* Dr Pradeep Kurukulasuriya of the United Nations Development Programme,
* Dr Saleem Huq of the International Institute for Environment and Development and
* Ms Jane O. Ebinger of the World Bank

The Conversation

Ademola Adenle, Research Fellow, University of Oxford and John Morton, Professor of Development Anthropology, and Head of Livelihoods and Institutions Department, University of Greenwich

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.



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