25 June 2018

Africa: No One-Size-Fits-All Solution for Climate Adaptation in Africa

Photo: Jeroen van Loon/Deutsche Welle
Maalim and other Kenyans believe camels will provide them food security in the future.

Cape Town — Adaptation Futures 2018 - one of the largest gatherings of climate scientists, practitioners and business leaders has taken place for the first time on the African continent with the goal of highlighting challenges faced by the global south in dealing with climate impacts. allAfrica caught up with the International Development Research Centre's Georgina Cunhill Kemp to hear her thoughts.

What you are working on at the moment?

I'm a senior programme officer in the climate change programme which falls within our agriculture and environment programme and I specifically work on the Collaborative Adaptation Research Initiative in Africa and Asia (CARIAA).

This is a seven-year partnership programme between the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the Department for International Development in the UK DFID, and what we've been trying to do through that programme is support research in climate change hot spots. Climate change hot spots are parts of the world where we see high climate signals, places like delta regions which are exposed to sea level rise, glacier-fed river systems that are heavily impacted by glacial retreat and semi-arid regions that have high variability of rainfall.

But a climate change hotspot is a region that also has high concentrations of particularly vulnerable people with potentially limited capacity to adapt and we're trying to support evidence-based decision-making that supports the resilience of the most vulnerable. So we have supported four consortia that work across three of these hotspots and we're at the end of that program now it closes down for the IDRC in April 2019 and for the projects themselves, they're all coming to an end in about November this year.

So we were at Adaptation Futures presenting quite a bit of that work and we had more than 20 special sessions put in by the CARIAA consortium and more than 50 presentations made by both researchers and practitioners in the network.

So what's interesting about CARRIA is that we haven't just funded researchers to do this work. What we've done is funded quite innovative, what we call transdisciplinary networks, which are essentially partnerships between NGOs and researchers at multiple scales to try and find solutions to some of the challenges experienced by communities in these climate change hotspots.

Why is this conference important?

Adaptation Futures is an interesting conference because it's a very big conference which has its pros and cons. On the positive side a big diversity of types of stakeholders attend Adaptation Futures so you have decision-makers you have a lot of practitioners, you have a lot of researchers which makes it a good venue to really try and influence practice. So we're trying to not only inform decision-making and policy making in these regions, we're also trying in some cases to shift the way that research is done in the first place.

Really pushing for sometimes a policy-first approach, trying to raise awareness about the value and the importance of partnering with NGO partners, practitioner partners for example, so in a conference like this we're not necessarily influencing decision-making processes because that's what we do outside of conferences. But inside of these kind of conferences, I think our objective is sometimes - and it was certainly with many of our sessions - trying to expose the audience to different ways of doing research and showcasing how we've done that in the CARIAA program.

It's also an important conference for networking. I mean the amount of networking that happened in that conference for all of us in the program from the researchers to the practitioners to the donors. It's magnificent, so I think that there probably isn't another forum like that where you can meet people and understand what's happening at quite large scales across the continent and beyond. I think it's probably the only forum to really do that at the scale at which Adaptation Futures does it.

Could you give us specific examples of the work in particular African countries?

CARRIA, as I said, supports four consortia, the consortia I oversee directly is the ASSAR consortium that's Adaptation at Scale and Semi-Arid Regions and it's headed by Mark knew at the University of Cape Town. The countries that we work in in Africa are Ghana and Mali in West Africa, Kenya and Ethiopia in East Africa and Namibia and Botswana in Southern Africa.

So in Botswana, well as in all the regions really, they've been trying to understand vulnerability to climate change. what's been interesting about the Botswana work is that they've had quite a bit of success with what we call vulnerability and risk analysis. And they offer training to local development planners on vulnerability and risk analysis and how to bring that into district level development plans, and that was actually so successful that the Botswana government has now asked this project to offer training across the entire country to all district development planners and all economic planners who do the 4 - 5 year local development plans.

Which is really the scale at which decisions and policy influence communities, you know, there's the lowest level of policymaking which is really important. So that is something that they're about to offer in that project. You really influence governance I guess, but really the ways in which district development plans are developed.

So that's really exciting, in Ethiopia and Kenya - they've had a focus in Ethiopia on invasive species that have really impacted communities who are pastoral, they keep livestock. And so that team has been working really hard actually with the National Task Force on Prosopis - that's the name of the species - to try and influence the ways in which that species is managed so that it support the community's ability to continue pursuing livelihoods that they value.

What would you say governments need to do in terms of adaptation on the continent?

And that's not a question that one can answer for the whole continent. I don't even think it's a question that we can answer for one country. It depends on the place and the purpose in the context. Some of the work coming out of the ASSAR consortium specifically out of UCT suggests that one of the biggest challenges we have and this is really based on the Southern African work in Botswana and Namibia is this real lack of vertical integration between what's happening at national level and in terms of adaptation planning and what's happening at local level in terms of district development planning for example drought relief strategies. There's just this real sort of lack of integration and sometimes you know they really aren't connected to each other in ways in which these planning processes are happening.

So that has been an interesting insight out of this research and something that's been happening on the African continent for a very long time and not only in Africa, worldwide, has been a very strong shift towards decentralization and decentralized decision-making.

What's been interesting about the research In ASSAR is that it suggests that we really shouldn't approach that too naively. There are gaps in capacity at multiple scales to actually make that decentralization work effectively and more than arguing for decentralization we need to be finding ways to align the local and the national, and one of the ways and opportunities that we have right now to do that is in the National Adaptation Planning or NAPS processes that governments are currently developing as part of their commitments to the UNFCCC processes. So that is something that the ASSAR project is now actually starting to look at as a window of opportunity to influence adaptation planning that seeks greater alignment between these national and local governance plans.

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