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Mobilizing knowledge for climate resilience and adaptation


The Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) underscores the urgency of finding ways to adapt to the impacts of global warming — even as we work to limit global temperature rise. These impacts are unevenly distributed: the hardest hit are the most vulnerable people and the most fragile ecosystems around the world. 

While we have seen global progress on adaptation, significant gaps remain — especially for low-income populations. The IPCC calls for solutions that address social inequities, target populations at greatest risk and cut across sectors and systems. When adaptation plans don’t account for how they affect various groups in society they can put people at greater risk and deepen inequalities. Action to enhance adaptation and resilience therefore needs to be locally led and inclusive so that no one is left behind and so the people most affected by climate change have a voice in shaping solutions.   

From our long-term investments in climate change adaptation, IDRC has learned that for evidence to be put into use it must respond to the priorities of decision-makers and other users in ways they can directly apply. This demands collaboration and a focus on knowledge synthesis, translation and brokering to better connect those who produce evidence with those who can put it into action. 

Research highlights

  • Climate action demands evidence that responds to the priorities of decision-makers and other users in ways they can directly apply. This requires collaboration and a focus on knowledge synthesis, translation, and brokering to improve connections between the people who produce evidence with those who can put it in action. 

  • Modest investments in African contributions to the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report have produced outsized results, including new understandings of Africa’s vulnerabilities and adaptation options and a new framework for assessing climate risk. 

  • Through CLARE, CDKN and Step Change, IDRC and its partners are investing in collaborative, multi-sectoral efforts that mobilize evidence for climate action while building Southern capacity and leadership. 

Building Southern capacity for climate change action 

The Climate Adaptation and Resilience (CLARE) initiative, co-funded by IDRC and the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, enables socially inclusive and sustainable action to build resilience in vulnerable low- and middle-income countries of Africa and the Asia-Pacific. According to IDRC President Jean Lebel, “the CLARE partnership recognizes that efforts to respond to the climate crisis are constrained by the under-representation of voices from the Global South in research and knowledge ecosystems.”  

CLARE, which was launched in 2021, fosters collaborative partnerships that work across sectors, generating new knowledge that strengthens adaptation and resilience. It supports localized and evidence-based action to help vulnerable people withstand the impacts of a changing climate and to make vital contributions to international responses. To maximize the uptake of knowledge in climate action policies and practices, it also invests in building the required skills and provides knowledge-brokering services and tools.  

Advancing African thought leadership on managing climate risks  

Semi-arid and low-lying coastal regions of Africa are among the most vulnerable to climate change, yet African science is underrepresented in international assessments of risks and impacts. To address this gap, CLARE provided funding support to strengthen Africa’s contribution to the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report and to strengthen the capacity of young African scholars to contribute to future assessment cycles. It funded the participation of two African co-ordinating lead authors and supporting interns and enabled them to synthesize research on key assessment topics.  

In the words of IPCC co-chair Debra Roberts, the latest Africa regional chapter was “the clearest and most comprehensive review of the continent ever contained in an IPCC report.” 

The synthesis of evidence went beyond strengthening the report’s Africa chapter. It had a strong influence on the latest African Union Climate Change and Resilient Development Strategy and Action Plan, which echoes the chapter’s messages on climate change literacy, adaptation finance, good governance and law, transport and mobility, urban resilience, climate insurance and climate services. 

The impact of the African research team extended far beyond Africa. In a 2021 journal article, the team proposed a new framework for thinking about climate change risks that ripples across the IPCC report. As University of Cape Town co-authors Nicholas Simpson and Christopher Trisos argue in the Conversation, “Recent evidence indicates how some of the most severe climate change impacts, such as those from deadly heat or sudden ecosystem collapse, are strongly influenced by interactions across sectors and regions.” They also point to risks inadvertently introduced by some mitigation and adaptation responses to climate change. The interactions among these varied risks can compound and cascade to deepen the impacts on vulnerable groups and ecosystems. 

This new recognition is influencing thinking as far away as Europe and North America: it factors into the Belgian government’s establishment of a new coordinating body for climate risk analysis and assessment and into the US Department of Energy’s Vision 2030 for risk assessment. 

This small investment through CLARE has had far-reaching results: project leads have since joined the core writing team of the Summary for Urban Policymakers, which focuses on the implications of the Sixth Assessment Report for urban areas and engaging city officials around the world. The Summary will be published in advance of the 27th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), or COP27, to be held in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, from November 6–18. It sets the research agenda for a future IPCC Special Report on Cities and Settlements by the Sea proposed for the IPCC seventh assessment cycle. 

A woman waters tree seedlings at a nursery in Machakos, Kenya.
IDRC/Sven Torfinn

Fostering peer learning and brokering knowledge

The Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) brokers climate knowledge to and between decision-makers, including through peer-to-peer learning opportunities within government ministries. Since 2018, CDKN has been led by an alliance of organizations based entirely in the Global South. With support from IDRC and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, it has grown its “knowledge-in-action” services, cultivating Southern learning, collaboration and leadership on climate action.  

In South America, for example, CDKN fostered peer learning among gender specialists within environment ministries in Peru, Ecuador and Chile. This learning focused on mainstreaming gender into nationally determined contributions and across all sectors. As a result, the Government of Ecuador used insights to develop their gender and climate change action plan.  

In Namibia, CDKN helped integrate gender-responsive climate action into regional plans and projects. Thanks to this initiative, an institution was established to enhance regional and national coordination on climate change and gender.  

In Nepal, CDKN enhanced collaborative water management by running water forums, developing toolkits and hosting exchanges between Australian and Nepalese urban water management experts. Recommendations from these initiatives were ultimately included in a water security plan for the local government in Dhulikhel.  

Looking ahead: deepening our support for Southern-led adaptation and resilience 

In 2022, CLARE issued a call for concept notes that will see a new round of projects launched in Africa and Asia-Pacific in early 2023, with an expected investment of CAD56 million. Supported research will help countries improve their  understanding of climate risks, strengthen their action to respond to climate extremes and natural hazards, and pursue resilient development in a changing climate. Projects will be multi-country, transdisciplinary and collaborative and either led by or in partnership with Southern researchers. 

IDRC and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands are also scaling up their investment in knowledge mobilization for adaptation action by launching Step Change. Building on earlier support for CDKN, the initiative will advance gender-responsive and socially inclusive climate-resilient development by mobilizing knowledge into action and by building climate leadership and capacity at all levels. A second “field-building” component of Step Change will scale lessons from CDKN on effective ways to broker knowledge for action. It will develop Southern abilities in knowledge synthesis and broker and expand the number of organizations equipped with these skills. With the urgency of adapting to climate change mounting, these investments will increase momentum for action, and produce a critical mass of Southern organizations the can propel locally led adaptation solutions.