THE donor-led approach to research on climate change in Africa, and Zimbabwe in particular, has thrown into question the periodical assessment reports by the UN's panel on climate change, widely considered the most authoritative body on the science.On March 31 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a section of its serialised Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) from Working Group II in Japan, highlighting a difficult future for Africa's agriculture, food security and even adaptation, due to rising climate risks.
The latest report drew input from over 300 scientists from across the world. The last assessment report was released in 2007.
However, despite that representation, some local scientists and environmentalists are concerned the IPCC's Reports fail to tell the true story of the Zimbabwean or African experience on climate change, especially the humanitarian impact, or the traditional methods of responding to climatic changes and variability.
This, the scientists argue, leads to the creation of wrong prescriptions to the climate change problem in Africa; responses designed in global conference rooms, far detached from reality.
Instead, what they are looking for is first hand local research that explores the true impacts of climate change in terms of vulnerability, adaptation and mitigation in a low-income developing country like Zimbabwe and how to go about building resilience at all scales.
Regardless of origin of funds, local scientists want the IPCC's reports to include research that reflects the correct African perspective; research which has fully examined the scope and prospects for adapting to climate change in the context of development and poverty reduction, some of the continent's most pressing needs.
Mr Elisha Moyo, a climate scientist with the Meteorological Services Department and currently attached to the SADC Climate Services Centre in Botswana, had warned before the release of the AR5 in March that the outcomes should be taken "with a pinch of salt."
He stated then his reasons for the apprehension. "The IPCC only takes care of published meteorological material to come up with its own reports. There has not been that much material published in local journals due to lack of funding.
"As a result, there is limited work from Zimbabwe and Africa that is contained in the final IPCC reports. These are controlled reports and we stand as spectators."
Research that is foreign funded tends to reflect views desired by the funder. Chapter 22 of the Working Group II's input to the Fifth Assessment Report, the section that reports on Africa, was written by 55 contributing authors, 5 lead authors and two coordinating lead authors.
Of the contributing authors, only one was from Zimbabwe, a Mzime R. Ndebele-Murisa. Although the co-ordinating lead authors were from Senegal and Namibia, at least 27 of all the authors who contributed to the chapter on Africa were not from Africa.
These came from countries such as the UK, US, Germany, Netherlands, Bulgaria, France and Mexico.
In Africa, most of the authors came from South Africa which had more than 10 contributors followed by Nigeria's 5 and Senegal 4.
The selection criteria could not be immediately established, but the figures show that nearly 50 percent of the authors writing on Africa in the IPCC's latest report were foreigners, whose knowledge of the continent is likely only from a scientific standpoint.
Now, many voices in Zimbabwe are echoing Mr Moyo's sentiments. Mr Simon Bere, an environmentalist from Harare, said while he accepts some of the findings from the IPCC's study, he was not sure African governments possessed the necessary financial wherewithal to address mitigation and adaptation effectively.
"Africa's environmental initiatives are predominantly driven from, and funded by Europe and America," Mr Bere said by email.
"Even the climate change adaptation programmes are heavily donor driven and one wonders if African governments will have the capacity to cope when the eye of the climate change storm reaches Africa."
But climate change is a global phenomena and, therefore, "should not be treated at the same level as we treat weather," Mr Bere observed, adding "so to try and zero on small areas . . . when conducting climate change research at a global scale would be missing the point."
While local research is necessary, Africa faces limits on funding, technology and capacity to implement functional climate strategies or undertake studies that can be fed into global reports such as those by the UN climate change panel.
Mr Bere cited this as the continent's achilles heel. "There are very few experts in Africa who are capable of contributing meaningful scientific research in climate change and this is largely why there is little local research," he said.
The IPCC is the international body for assessing the science related to climate change. It was set up in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organisation and the UN Environment Programme to provide policymakers with regular assessments of the scientific basis of climate change, its impacts and future risks, and options for adaptation and mitigation.
Still, Zimbabwe needs to do a lot in the field of climate change, Mr Moyo said, expressing dismay at lack of adequate local comprehensive climate studies.
"My heart bleeds when organisations take the IPCC reports as the Bible of climate change but without understanding how it is compiled and its relevance or its limitations as well as opportunities for Zimbabwe," noted the scientist.
The AR5 report, titled Climate Change 2014: "Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability", details the impacts of climate change to date, the future risks from a changing climate, and the opportunities for effective action to reduce risks.
Temperatures in sub-Saharan Africa will rise by up to 6 degrees Celsius by the end of this century, the AR5 study shows, much faster than the global average. The report was high on confidence rainfall will decline in southern Africa and that hot days and droughts will frequent.
As a result, food security will be threatened, water stress worsens and adaptative capacity is compromised.
Zimbabwe is expected to suffer yield declines in excess of 30 percent by 2050, according to the panel's study.
The IPCC noted that "agriculture in Africa will face significant challenges in adapting to climate changes projected to occur by mid-century, as negative effects of high temperatures become increasingly prominent . . . thus increasing the likelihood of diminished yield potential of major crops... "
"In another dimension, however, Mr Bere discounts the relevance of domestic climate research. I believe the whole climate change revolves around the axis of drivers of climate change, climate change itself, the impacts of climate change and the response to climate change," he said.
God is faithful.