Africa’s adaptation potential limited by inequitable research funding
Less than 4% of global climate change research funding is spent in Africa. Of the estimated USD 1.26 billion in funding earmarked for Africa-related research on climate impacts, mitigation and adaptation, less than 15% goes to local research institutions.
Kenya (2.3% of total funding) and South Africa (2.2%) are the only African countries to feature on a list of the top 10 countries that receive climate change research funding – and they are at the bottom.
Indeed, more than 75% of funding for African-related climate research flows to institutions in Europe and the United States, even though Africa is one of the world’s most affected regions by climate change.
I presented these statistics to the Adaptation Research Alliance following my work as lead author of the Africa chapter of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group II Report titled “AR6 Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaption and Vulnerability”.
As I shared with the ARA, my co-authors and I found these statistics shocking. Without urgent action, the global disparity in research funding will have a tremendous impact on the adaptive capacity of the region, reducing the ability to support livelihoods in the face of a changing climate.
According to our assessments in the chapter, most African countries have contributed very little to greenhouse gas emissions responsible for global warming. Yet, they experience widespread losses and damages attributed to climate change.
For example, over the past two decades, 337 million people in Africa have been affected by natural disasters. Floods and droughts accounted for 80% of these disasters, resulting in over 46,000 deaths.
Temperature changes and extreme weather events threaten food security, health systems, freshwater availability, and ecosystem stability. Climate impacts also reduce economic growth and contribute to the displacement of millions of people.
We predict that African countries will enter unprecedented high-temperature climates earlier in this century than generally wealthier, higher latitude countries.
All of this emphasises the urgency of adaptation measures in Africa. Every fraction of further warming that can be avoided reduces the risk to African economies, ecosystems, and livelihoods. But if solutions are to be successful, decisions on how research is undertaken and which measures should be implemented must be led by those at the frontlines of climate-related impacts.
In Africa, however, that’s not so easy.
As a result of research budget trajectory, an overwhelming majority of adaptation data comes from the Global North. This means that what we know doesn’t directly correlate to the context or complexities of those living in Africa.
Without access to current, relevant research, it is not possible for quick decision-making in the face of extreme temperatures or other climate-related events. By increasing funding for African partners and giving them a leading role in research processes, we can enable more actionable insights on climate adaptation in Africa.
Climate resilient development also requires access to salient and credible climate information. Our assessment shows that of the 1,017 land-based observational networks in the world, only 10% are in Africa, and 54% of Africa’s surface weather stations cannot capture data accurately. To support a resilient climate in Africa, funding schemes should enable reliable technologies and coordinated pathways of knowledge-sharing and implementation.
Filling these gaps and supporting African climate researchers is the priority for organisations like the ARA. A coalition representing the global adaptation community, with members like my institution, the Universite Nationale d’Agriculture du Benin, it supports action-oriented research that is led by user needs, co-produced with local experts, and equitable in practice.
The ARA directs funding and capacity-building initiatives to researchers based in the countries where climate impacts are unfolding. It also creates space for collaboration between institutions for joint initiatives.
Through these efforts, the ARA enables greater representation in research design and outcomes, and the development of solutions that fit the context of specific regions, like Africa.
But the ARA can’t do it alone. We need the global research and funding communities to support inclusive principles for research and more impactful funding initiatives. Then we can begin to empower those at the frontlines of climate change to play a central role in building resilience.
Written by Edmond Totin, a social scientist in agricultural innovation, climate adaptation, policies and governance from ARA member the Universite Nationale d’Agriculture du Benin.