13 May 2014

Africa: Facing Similar Risks, Africa and Asia Coordinate Research On Climate Change

Kathmandu — Scientists from Africa and Asia will collaborate on research into climate risks in order to share knowledge between regions and help vulnerable communities adapt.

Speaking at the launch of the Collaborative Adaptation Research Initiative in Africa and Asia (CARIAA) in Kathmandu on April 30, leaders of the organisations involved in the new programme said that demographic trends and climate measurements in similar environments across both regions indicate that a large number of people and their livelihoods are at risk from the effects of climate change.

The experts hope that the initiative will contribute to innovative adaptation and mitigation programmes that they say are urgently needed to address the effects of rising temperatures and climatic variability across Africa and Asia.

Supported by 70 million Canadian dollars ($64 million) of funding over seven years by Canada's International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the UK Department for International Development, CARIAA will bring together researchers in a variety of disciplines from Asia and Africa to tackle problems common to both regions, such as droughts and rising sea levels, and to try to find adaptive solutions that can be applied on both continents.

"Collaboration on adaptation research holds a range of large-scale mutual benefits (for) both Africa and Asia regions," said Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and director-general of India-based The Energy and Resources Institute, one of the initiative's lead organisations. "It will enrich our knowledge on options available to help the most vulnerable populations in a wide range of countries and regions."

'HOTSPOT' FOCUS

The CARIAA researchers hope to stimulate effective policies and actions for three types of climate "hotspots" - semi-arid regions in Africa and South and Central Asia, major river deltas in Africa and South Asia, and Himalayan river basins.

The scientists hope that African and Asian nations will collaborate on pest resistance, drought- and salt-tolerant crops, gene banks, improved seed production, post-harvest management, rainwater harvesting and efficient water use.

Bernard Cantin, programme leader for CARIAA-IDRC, said the programme will fund five institutions which will lead four consortia, bringing a range of regional, scientific and socio-economic development expertise to bear on climate vulnerability and options for adaption, including physical, social, economic and political dimensions.

This approach will enable greater South-South sharing of knowledge and experience, and encourage innovation to strengthen adaptation and resilience among the poor, Cantin added.

The consortium working on deltas includes the Institute of Water and Flood Management at Bangladesh University of Technology and Engineering, and India's Jadavpur University, along with teams from Egypt and Ghana.

It will carry out research on the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna delta in Bangladesh, India's Mahanadi delta, the Nile delta in Egypt and the Volta in Ghana to examine migration as an adaptation option for the most vulnerable.

Two consortia will study semi-arid regions, led by the Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS), which will study longer-term approaches to climate adaptation at scale, and the Sustainable Development Policy Institute in Pakistan, which will identify economic threats and opportunities posed by climate change in semi-arid areas.

Other partners in these consortia are from Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Sumetee Pahwa Gajjar of IIHS believes that by focusing research on common hotspot challenges across different contexts, new opportunities and insights can emerge for adaptation at scale in semi-arid regions.

CARIAA's consortium on adaptation strategies in the Himalayan river basins is being led by the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD). Its partners include organizations from Bangladesh, India, the Netherlands and Pakistan.

"CARIAA will provide key insights into future scenarios of water supply and availability to identify effective adaptation options available at a local, national and regional scale in the countries dependent on the Hindu Kush Himalayas glaciers," said David Molden, director-general of ICIMOD.

Molden added that the programme would develop case studies from each of the participating countries in Asia to better understand climate issues and develop research-based adaptation plans.

Pachauri believes many areas of Asia are extremely vulnerable to climate change. Any alteration in temperature and precipitation, he said, would affect the way snow and ice melt in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region, as well as atmospheric circulation patterns that drive the South Asian summer monsoon.

COMING THREATS

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's projections warn that without adaptation measures to safeguard populations from the risks associated with climate change, hundreds of millions of people will be affected by coastal flooding or displaced due to land loss by 2100. The majority of those affected will be from East, Southeast and South Asia.

In semi-arid parts of Asia and also in Africa, more frequent and prolonged droughts have already started threatening agriculture and livestock, key sources of food and livelihood.

Dominique Charron, director of the agriculture and environment wing at Canada's International Development Research Centre, said CARIAA's programming would help communities and countries prepare for likely shifts in their livelihood base resulting from changing weather patterns in Asia and Africa.

"It will also build expertise in climate change adaptation in semi-arid regions and provide lasting networks for exchange of this new knowledge between southern and northern institutions," Charron added.

He said the research teams would work with local people and organisations to simulate potential changes in migration and land use that might result from climate change, and the different adaptation choices facing affected populations.

Since the impacts of climate change on natural ecosystems do not follow national borders, there is a need for cross-boundary collaboration between countries to better understand climate threats and discover adaptation and mitigation strategies that work, said Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development.

Huq added that the researchers taking part in the initiative must closely collaborate with policymakers and planners to translate their research findings into adaptation and mitigation plans that would represent real solutions.

Saleem Shaikh is a climate change and development science correspondent based in Islamabad, Pakistan.

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