Africa has woken up to the promise of 'climate cash' — but the skills needed to secure it remain thin on the ground, writes Linda Nordling.
Africa's unified stance at the Copenhagen climate summit last December showed that the continent has woken up to potential 'climate cash' from international mitigation and adaptation programmes and confirmed African leaders' political commitment to tackling climate change.
But the skills and infrastructure needed to use climate cash for making sense of local climate change impacts and also for designing and managing sustainable development projects are still thin on the ground in many African countries.
It is encouraging that the list of authors for the International Panel for Climate Change's (IPCC's) fifth report in 2012, announced last month (23 June), includes 66 African scientists. But this number, while a record high for Africa, is still only about eight per cent of the total 831 IPCC report authors.
The proportion of climate science authored by Africans is even smaller. Between 1981 and 2009, African scientists contributed to less than 2.4 per cent of climate papers according to data shared by Thomson Reuters with SciDev.Net.
It is not news that Africa needs climate scientists. A 2004 report commissioned by the UK government said that the African climate observing system — which should underpin the continent's climate science, and include understanding the climate system, calibrating satellites, monitoring change and variability, evaluating models and predicting climate — was the worst on any continent and deteriorating.
The situation has since improved in West Africa — largely due to the efforts of the African Monsoon Multidisciplinary Analysis project — says Richard Washington, an environmental scientist from the University of Oxford, United Kingdom and one of the 2004 report's authors. But in the rest of the continent, it remains dire.
Call to action
A meeting of education leaders in Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania from 27 June to 1 July, 2010 discussed the role of Africa's universities in building the new skills needed. It recommended that African universities overhaul their teaching of environmental science to include up-to-date climate change knowledge.
But training scientists alone won't be enough. The meeting also emphasised the need for universities to fill specialist positions in governments, education and outreach. It called for all university courses to include aspects of sustainability training.
'Because of its necessary interdisciplinary approach and its inherent ability to communicate the wonder and importance of creating new knowledge, climate change study has the potential to serve as an important node for growing the next generation of academics and revitalising the African academy,' Danie Visser, deputy vice-chancellor of the University of Cape Town, South Africa, told the meeting.
African governments also need people trained in areas such as carbon finance and project management to handle the administrative and policy-writing side of climate projects.
Climate change is tricky for governments. The responsibility for it often ends up in departments for environment, which can lack the necessary financial and management skills to land and run complex projects.
And since climate change cuts across so many policy areas, efforts are difficult to coordinate. For example, Nigeria recently had three separate committees dealing with the issue at a federal level — each reporting to a different government department.
Finally, a large number of people will have to be trained at the grassroots level in Africa to make sure that adaptation and mitigation measures — such as deforestation efforts or clean-energy initiatives — are understood and supported by ordinary citizens.
One of the reasons why Africa's climate is poorly understood, the Dar Es Salaam conference heard, is that most climate research projects are funded from outside Africa, producing a bias in the types of topics covered. The delegates agreed that African governments must be lobbied to develop their own funding programs that better reflect local needs.
Africa does have its own continent-wide climate change programme. But it has taken a while to get off the ground.
The ClimDev Africa programme started to take shape in the run-up to the 2005 Gleneagles G8 summit. Having originally been pushed by rich nations, it was passed to African lead institutions: the African Union (AU), the African Development Bank (ADB) and the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).
Progress on the programme was frustratingly slow for a while. But things are now looking up.
The ADB launched an African climate fund in December 2009 to finance climate projects. Among other things, the fund aims to increase adaptation training in Africa by 50 per cent by 2015 and 80 per cent by 2020.
And in May this year, the bank said it would spend US$37 million on a three-year project to re-build African climate monitoring centres.
With more African and international funding expected to come on stream, spending some money now on 'green' skills and infrastructure should serve the continent well for a low carbon future.