Key uncertainties confidence levels unknowns research gaps and priorities

While much is being discovered about climate variability and change, the impacts and possible responses to such changes result in significant areas that require more concerted effort and learning.

9.8.1 Uncertainties, confidence levels and unknowns

• While climate models are generally consistent regarding the direction of warming in Africa, projected changes in precipitation are less consistent.

• The role of land-use and land-cover change (i.e., land architecture in various guises) emerges as a key theme. The links between land-use changes, climate stress and possible feedbacks are not yet clearly understood.

• The contribution of climate to food insecurity in Africa is still not fully understood, particularly the role of other multiple stresses that enhance impacts of droughts and floods and possible future climate change. While drought may affect production in some years, climate variability alone does not explain the limits of food production in Africa. Better models and methods to improve understanding of multiple stresses, particularly at a range of scales, e.g., global, regional and local, and including the role of climate change and variability, are therefore required.

• Several areas of debate and contention, some shown here, also exist, with particular reference to health, the water sector and certain ecosystem responses, e.g., in mountain environments. More research on such areas is clearly needed.

• Impacts in the water sector, while addressed by global- and regional-scale model assessments, are still relatively poorly researched, particularly for local assessments and for groundwater impacts. Detailed 'systems' assessments, including hydrological systems assessments, also need to be expanded upon.

• Several of the impacts and vulnerabilities presented here derived from global models do not currently resolve local-level changes and impacts. Developing and improving regional and local-level climate models and scenarios could improve the confidence attached to the various projections.

• Local-scale assessments of various sorts, including adaptation studies, are still focused on understanding current vulnerabilities and adaptation strategies. Few comprehensive, comparable studies are available within regions, particularly those focusing on future options and pathways for adaptation.

• Finally, there is still much uncertainty in assessing the role of climate change in complex systems that are shaped by interacting multiple stressors. Preliminary investigations give some indications of these interactions, but further analysis is required.

Table 9.3. Potential impacts of climate change on the Millennium Development Goals (after AfDB et al., 2002; Thornton et al., 2006).

Millennium Development Goals: climate change as a cross-cutting issue

Potential impacts

Millennium Development Goal*

Climate Change (CC) may reduce poor people's livelihood assets, for example health, access to water, homes and infrastructure. It may also alter the path and rate of economic growth due to changes in natural systems and resources, infrastructure and labour productivity. A reduction in economic growth directly impacts poverty through reduced income opportunities. In addition to CC, expected impacts on regional food security are likely, particularly in Africa, where food security is expected to worsen (see Sections 9.4.1, 9.4.3, 9.4.4 and 9.4.8).

Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger (Goal 1)

Climate change is likely to directly impact children and pregnant women because they are particularly susceptible to vector- and water-borne diseases, e.g., malaria is currently responsible for a quarter of maternal mortality. Other expected impacts include:

• increased heat-related mortality and illness associated with heatwaves (which may be balanced by less winter-cold-related deaths in some countries);

• increased prevalence of some vector-borne diseases (e.g., malaria, dengue fever), and vulnerability to water, food or person-to-person diseases (e.g. cholera, dysentery) (see Section 9.4.3);

• declining quantity and quality of drinking water, which worsens malnutrition, since it is a prerequisite for good health;

• reduced natural resource productivity and threatened food security, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa (see Sections 9.4.3, 9.4.3, 9.4.4, 9.6.1).

Health-related goals:

• reduce infant mortality (Goal 4);

• improve maternal health (Goal 5);

• combat major diseases (Goal 6).

Direct impacts:

• Climate change may alter the quality and productivity of natural resources and ecosystems, some of which may be irreversibly damaged, and these changes may also decrease biological diversity and compound existing environmental degradation (see Section 9.4.4).

• Climate change would alter the ecosystem-human interfaces and interactions that may lead to loss of biodiversity and hence erode the basic support systems for the livelihood of many people in Africa (see Section 9.4, Table 9.1 and Chapter 4).

Ensure environmental sustainability (Goal 7)

Indirect impacts: links to climate change include:

• Loss of livelihood assets (natural, health, financial and physical capital) may reduce opportunities for full time education in numerous ways.

• Natural disasters and drought reduce children's available time (which may be diverted to household tasks), while displacement and migration can reduce access to education opportunities (see Sections 9.2.1 and 9.2.2).

Achieve universal primary education (Goal 2)

One of the expected impacts of climate change is that it could exacerbate current gender inequalities, through impacting on the natural resource base, leading to decreasing agricultural productivity. This may place additional burdens on women's health, and reduce time available to participate in decision-making and for practicing income-generation activities. Climate-related disasters have been found to impact female-headed households, particularly where they have fewer assets (see Section 9.7.1, Table 9.2).

Promote gender equality and empower women (Goal 3)

Global climate change is a global issue, and responses require global co-operation, especially to help developing countries adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change.

Global partnerships (Goal 8)

* The order in which the Millennium Development Goals are listed here places the goals that could be directly impacted first, followed by those that are indirectly impacted.

* The order in which the Millennium Development Goals are listed here places the goals that could be directly impacted first, followed by those that are indirectly impacted.

9.8.2 Research gaps and priorities

As shown at the outset of this chapter, there has been a substantial shift from an impacts-led approach to a vulnerability-led approach in climate-change science. Despite this shift, much of the climate-change research remains focused on impacts. For Africa, however, as this chapter has attempted to show, a great deal more needs to be done in order to understand and show the interactions between vulnerability and adaptation to climate change and variability and the consequences of climate variability and change both in the short and long term.

9.82.1 Climate

Notwithstanding the marked progress made in recent years, particularly with model assessments (e.g., in parts of Africa, see Christensen et al., 2007), the climate of many parts of Africa is still not fully understood. Climate scenarios developed from GCMs are very coarse and do not usually adequately capture important regional variations in Africa's climate. The need exists to further develop regional climate models and sub-regional models at a scale that would be meaningful to decision-makers and to include stakeholders in framing some of the issues that may require more investigation. A further need is an improved understanding of climate variability, including an adequate representation of the climate system and the role of regional oceans and diverse feedback mechanisms.

9.82.2 Water

Detailed, regional-scale research on the impact of, and vulnerability to, climate change and variability with reference to water is needed; e.g., for African watersheds and river basins including the complex interactions of water governance in these areas. Water quality and its relation to water-usage patterns are also important issues that need to be incorporated into future projections. Further research on the impacts of climate variability and change on groundwater is also needed.

9.8.23 Energy

There is very little detailed information on the impacts and vulnerabilities of the energy sector in Africa specific to climate change and variability, particularly using and applying SRES scenarios and GCMs outputs. There is also a need to identify and assess the barriers (technical, economic and social) to the transfer and adoption of alternative and renewable energy sources, specifically solar energy, as well as the design, implications, impacts and possible benefits of current mitigation options (e.g., Clean Development Mechanisms (CDMs), including carbon sequestration).

9.8.2.4 Ecosystems

There is a great need for a well-established programme of research and technology development in climate prediction, which could assess the risks and impacts of climate change on ecosystems. Assessment of the impacts of climate variability and change on important, sensitive and unique ecosystems in Africa (hotspots), on the rainforests of the Congo Basin, on other areas of mountain biodiversity, as well as inland and on marine fish stocks, still requires further research.

9.8.25 Tourism

There is a need to enhance practical research regarding the vulnerability and impacts of climate change on tourism, as tourism is one of the most important and highly promising economic activities in Africa. Large gaps appear to exist in research on the impacts of climate variability and change on tourism and related matters, such as the impacts of climate change on coral reefs and how these impacts might affect ecotourism.

9.8.2.6 Health

Most assessments on health have concentrated on malaria, and there are still debates on the attribution of malaria resurgence in some African areas. The need exists to examine the impacts of future climate change on other health problems, e.g., dengue fever, meningitis, etc, and their associated vulnerabilities. There is also an urgent need to begin a dialogue and research effort on the heightened vulnerabilities associated with HIV/AIDS and periods of climate stress and climate change.

9.8.2.7 Agriculture

More regional and local research is still required on a range of issues, such as the study of the relationship between CO2-enrichment and future production of agricultural crops in Africa, salt-tolerant plants, and other trees and plants in coastal zones. Very little research has been conducted on the impacts of climate change on livestock, plant pests and diseases. The livestock sector is very important in Africa and is considered very vulnerable to climate variability and change. Research on the links between agriculture, land use, and carbon sequestration and agricultural use in biofuels also needs to be expanded.

9.8.2.8 Adaptation

There is a need to improve our understanding of the role of complex socio-economic, socio-cultural and biophysical systems, including a re-examination of possible myths of environmental change and of the links between climate change, adaptation, and development in Africa. Such investigations arguably underpin much of the emerging discourse on adaptation. There is also a need to assess current and expected future impacts and vulnerabilities, and the future adaptation options and pathways that may arise from the interaction of multiple stressors on the coping capacities of African communities.

9.82.9 Vulnerability and risk reduction

While there are some joint activities that involve those trying to enhance risk-reduction activities, there is still little active engagement between communities that are essentially researching similar themes. The need exists, therefore, to enhance efforts on the coupling and drawing together of disaster risk-reduction activities, vulnerability assessments, and climate change and variability assessments. There is also a need to improve and continue to assess the means (including the institutional design and requirements) by which scientific knowledge and advanced technological products (e.g., early warning systems, seasonal forecasts) could be used to enhance the resilience of vulnerable communities in Africa in order to improve their capacity to cope with current and future climate variability and change.

9.8.2.10 Enhancing African capacity

A need exists for African recognised 'hubs' or centres of excellence established by Africans and developed by African scientists. There is the need to also enhance institutional 'absorptive capacity' in the various regions, providing opportunities for young scientists to improve research in the fields of climate-change impacts, vulnerability and adaptation.

9.82.11 Knowledge for action

Much of the research on climate has been driven by the atmospheric sciences community, including, more recently, greater interaction with biophysical scientists (e.g., global change programmes including IGBP/WCRP). However, this chapter has shown that there is much to be gained from a more nuanced approach, which includes those working in the sociological and economic sciences (e.g., IHDP and a range of others). Moreover, the growing interest in partnerships, both public and private, as well as the inclusion of large corporations, formal and informal business, and wider civic society requires more inclusive processes and activities. Such activities, however, may not be sufficient, particularly if change is rapid. For this reason, more 'urgent' and 'creative' interactions (e.g., greater interactions between users and producers of science, stakeholder interactions, communication, institutional design, etc.) will be required. Much could also be gained by greater interactions between those from the disaster risk-reduction, development, and climate-science communities.

Finally, despite the shift in focus from 'impacts-led' research to 'vulnerability-led' research, there are still few studies that clearly show the interaction between multiple stresses and adaptation to such stresses in Africa. The role of land-use and land-cover change is one area that could be further explored to enhance such an understanding. Likewise, while there is evidence of researchers grappling with various paradigms of research, e.g., disaster risk-reduction and climate change, there are still few detailed and rich compendia of studies on 'human dimensions' interactions, adaptation and climate change (of both a historical, current, and future-scenarios nature). The need for more detailed local-level analyses of the role of multiple interacting factors, including development activities and climate risk-reduction in the African context, is evident from much of this chapter.

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