Climate affects the lives of all living beings on earth. Every system is vulnerable to climate, and the impact of climate extremes can cause devastating damage to people and their economies and environment. This vulnerability, however, varies from region to region, and is a function of many factors, such as the geographic location, resiliency, capacities (economic, technical and financial), social capital, political environment, and livelihood security.
Developing countries have the least technical and financial capacities to cope with the impacts of climate variability. This situation predisposes them to greater vulnerability to climate risks than the industrialized and developed countries, which possess adequate capabilities and resilience to cope with climate variability. Most countries in Africa, especially those in the sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), are characterized by diverse livelihood security systems such as pastoral, rainfed agriculture, and cash crops. Developing countries largely depend on precipitation for the productivity of these systems. The developing countries' reliance on natural resources such as precipitation for economic development and livelihood security makes these countries extremely susceptible to seasonal to interannual climate variability. The relatively poor economies and weak institutional infrastructures of these regions further compound the problem. According to the IPCC Third Assessment Report (McCarthy et al. 2001), the global average surface temperature increased in the last century, and it will continue to rise in the current and future centuries. This environmental dynamic will, however, vary by region, and will be accompanied by significant changes in precipitation, sea level rise and frequency and intensity of extreme events such as droughts, hurricanes and floods. These changes will affect all regions, but the developing regions such as Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, Southeast Asia and the South Pacific with the least technical and economic capabilities to plan, respond and adapt, will be the hardest hit by the impacts of climate variability and change.
Developing countries, therefore, need to be given the opportunity to take advantage of the recent advances in climate science and technology, which would assist them in reducing their vulnerability to climate variability and change. Such technology can also increase their resilience and develop sustainable strategies to effectively adapt and cope with climate variability and change. The vulnerability of developing countries is further compounded by their predominant dependence on agriculture, a system whose fate is intricately tied with availability of sufficient soil moisture during the production season. Knowledge of the coming rainfall seasons is, therefore, critical for farmers. This information would help farmers to modify farm management decisions that would help reduce their ex-post production losses, such as crop yields. In the developing countries, agriculture is the main driver of their economies and can contribute an estimated 75-80% to the gross domestic products (GDPs) of these countries. Unfortunately, this sector is notoriously vulnerable to climate variability due to its dependence on precipitation, a variable that is likely to influence crop or livestock products.
Understanding the dynamics of climate variability and the role of climate variability in human affairs, and using the understanding as a basis for highly interdisciplinary, problem focused research that results in new information and options for decision-makers struggling to manage climate risks, such as droughts and floods, should be a priority. This is especially true for those developing countries that are disproportionately more vulnerable, and have the least capacity to respond to climate risks. The research efforts would, therefore, require involvement of many players, especially from the developed nations of the U.S. and Europe. The developed countries have cutting edge technologies such as seasonal climate forecasting that the developing countries can access through international research collaboration. This chapter highlights institutional and scientific advances and challenges of capacity building that have emerged out of the COF process. The chapter also identifies the main regional and international partners and collaborators, including their roles in the regional and national institutional capacity building, that has emanated form the Climate Outlook Forums (COF) process.
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