Skip to main content

Local research is essential for Central Africa’s climate action

November 17, 2022

All eyes are on Egypt for the UN Climate Change Conference (COP27) in November, but in Central Africa, the issue is a year-round preoccupation.

In a keynote address during a webinar in June on the climate emergency in Central Africa, Edmond Totin of the Université Nationale d’Agriculture du Bénin noted, “While world global warming is estimated to be 1.09oC, it is 1.1oC in Central Africa.” This difference is expected to cause even more severe water shortages and reduce agricultural production. Also speaking at the webinar, Denis Sonwa, senior scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research, said that Africa’s biophysical characteristics (such as landforms, soil and vegetation) favour heat absorption. This means that an average global temperature increase of 1.5oC would in fact be much higher in regions like the Sahel.

In the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group II’s Sixth Assessment Report (WGII AR6), increasing mean temperature trends across Africa are attributed to human-induced climate change. Totin co-authored the Report’s Africa chapter, which highlights that “most African countries have contributed among the least to global greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change, yet they have already experienced widespread losses and damages. Central Africa is no different [….].” Among the losses and damages are increased risks to human health, reduced economic growth, water shortages, reduced food production, biodiversity loss and adverse impacts on human settlements and infrastructure.

Lack of local real-time data

Measuring the extent of local-level climate change is hindered by a lack of data. The IPCC notes that “Africa faces severe data constraints due to under-investment in weather observation stations, research and data sharing.” Most Central African countries have fewer than 25 such stations. As a result, continent-wide data does not reflect local realities, according to natural resource management expert Gervais Itsoua Madzous. This dearth of data hinders the analysis of regional change trends and leads to inaccurate forecasts and poor or nonexistent early-warning systems for the most vulnerable people.

As Sonwa indicated, data scarcity even affected the IPCC report: only 11% of authors were from the African continent and none were from Central Africa. From 1990–2019, Africa received just 3.8% of global climate-related research funding. Of this, only 14.5% went to African institutions. As a result, the IPCC assigned a “low confidence” rating to scientific findings about Africa.

IDRC-supported research led by Sonwa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Cameroon found an underlying need for investments in adaptation efforts developed by local communities to reduce climate risks and increase resilience.  

Women hold the key

Local data exists but it is often overlooked because it is in the hands of local farmers, many of them women. This wealth of local and of gendered knowledge is very important, said sociologist Marguerite Nzuzi Kenge. An expert on gender and social issues in the DRC, Kenge told the webinar panel that women tend to be acutely aware of weather changes because they are guardians of traditional practices. “This knowledge needs to be brought to higher institutions to support innovation,” she stated.

Women are disproportionately affected by climate impacts, as IDRC-supported research in the DRC confirmed. In the Congo Basin, for example, migrations induced by conflict and climate change have threatened women’s livelihoods in part because herds of migrating cattle have damaged fields and crops. These migrations also increased pressure on resources, contributing to lower production, difficult working conditions and violence. Climate change is also disrupting agricultural practices during the dry season and intensifying women’s vulnerability because they are forced to travel longer distances to harvest and trade non-traditional products such as honey and mushrooms.

A forest canopy visible from the air in the Congo Basin rainforest in Gabon.
David Rose/Panos
A forest canopy visible from the air in the Congo Basin rainforest in Gabon.

Moving forward

Despite these challenges, Africa has massive potential for climate mitigation because of its commitment to building climate resilience and improving data. The AR6 Report notes that “People already make abundant use of their local and indigenous knowledge to cope with climate variability. This knowledge is very important for strengthening local climate change adaptation.” However, Totin said that local knowledge is not articulated in adaptation options. “We are reacting rather than anticipating,” he said.

The Congo Basin is highly strategic in the fight against climate change because it is one of the few remaining net carbon sinks on earth. African countries are also making serious efforts to transition to low-carbon technologies, low-carbon and resilient infrastructure, and low-carbon tax systems.

But research is needed to realize that future. IDRC works on the basis that researchers in low- and middle-income countries are best placed to decide what evidence is needed to help find solutions for issues affecting their communities. For example, it provides ongoing support to the Mathematical Sciences for Climate Resilience program at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences, which is providing 100 internships in the field of climate change. IDRC also continues to fund support for women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics to help women scientists establish careers.

Over the next three years, 12 new research projects supported by IDRC will address the gender barriers that hinder women’s access to economic opportunities, while supporting sustainable climate-resilient recovery. For example, research in Cameroon will generate knowledge on factors that affect how women and minority groups benefit from the ongoing restoration of degraded land.

Projects such as these show that it’s time for donors to pay attention to the significant impact of African researchers. They also underscore that climate action should consider the full context of the sustainable development agenda, including poverty, hunger, employment and women’s empowerment.

Research highlights

  • Although African countries have contributed least to global greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change, they are already experiencing widespread losses and damages.
  • Africa faces severe data constraints due to under-investment in weather observation stations, research and data sharing.
  • Local knowledge is crucial for strengthening climate change adaptation, yet it is often overlooked.