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IDRC support to African authors helps produce strong IPCC assessment of African climate evidence

February 28, 2022

Given that Africa is poised to be one of the regions that is most negatively impacted by climate change, detailed assessments of climate-change risks and responses are urgently needed to guide decisions across the continent. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s Sixth Assessment Report AR6 Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, released on February 28 provides the strongest-ever Africa regional chapter on how climate change is impacting the continent. 

“The Africa regional chapter presents the clearest and most comprehensive review of the continent ever contained in an IPCC report,” said Debra Roberts, IPCC co-chair. “The new level of synthetic assessment undertaken by the Africa team highlights a diverse range of climate change issues significant to Africa, and has also advanced the understanding of climate change risk across the entire report.” 

Importantly, African scholars have led in producing this new evidence, made possible through modest but highly targeted funding support through the Climate Adaptation and Resilience (CLARE) initiative supported by IDRC and the United Kingdom’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). This work has shown that it is time for donors to pay attention to the significant impact they can have through investing in processes like the IPCC. 

“We’ve seen that focussed investment in scholars and scholarship from the most impacted regions offers significant scope to diversity perspectives and ensure that all regions have a similar starting point for evidence-based decisions about how to combat climate change,” said Dominique Charron, IDRC’s vice-president for programs and partnerships. 

Why is the African continent so often under-represented in the IPCC’s authorship and evidence base? 

The IPCC is the UN body that assesses the science related to climate change. IPCC assessments underpin intergovernmental climate-change negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and provide the scientific basis for governments and other actors at all levels to develop and implement climate-related policies. The reports, now in their 6th assessment cycle, are developed through the voluntary contributions of scientists around the world.  

The IPCC does not provide any financial support for authors, beyond travel support for developing-country authors to attend face-to-face meetings. While northern scholars often receive support from their governments and universities to volunteer their time to the assessment process, African scholars seldom have this luxury, and their contribution to the IPCC is severely compromised as a result. Indeed, in the 6th Assessment Report, only 11% of authors are from the African continent.   

What was done differently this time? 

Chapter scientists and research assistants are crucial to successful assessment processes. They support lead authors with all aspects of the assessment, making the voluntary nature of that commitment more manageable. They also assist with publishing existing research synthesised from a range of sources in peer-reviewed journals. This can be crucial in some cases, since peer-reviewed evidence carries the greatest weight in IPCC reports. 

In Africa in particular, there is often excellent evidence that remains outside of peer-reviewed journals, and therefore cannot be cited in the Assessment Report without synthesis and publication efforts by IPCC authors. 

Starting in 2019, two African coordinating lead authors for the IPCC’s 6th Assessment Report (Working Group II), Chris Trisos and Mark New from the African Climate and Development Initiative at the University of Cape Town, were supported by IDRC and FCDO to employ interns and chapter scientists for the chapters they were leading. The funds were used primarily to synthesise and incorporate African evidence into both the Africa chapter (chapter 9) and the chapter on decision-making options for managing risk (chapter 17).  

Through this effort, CLARE supported seven interns and four chapter scientists from Ghana, South Africa and Zimbabwe, who were hired by the University of Cape Town. 

What changed? 

The interns, chapter scientists and the coordinating lead authors supported through this modest grant have created, as Debra Roberts noted, the strongest-ever Africa regional chapter, and indeed have strengthened the African evidence throughout the report, since other chapters could also draw on the newly synthesised knowledge.  

The chapter scientists have generated high-profile synthesis papers in peer-reviewed journals, enabling that evidence to be cited in the report. Some notable examples include work on climate change literacy in Africa, climate risk to African heritage, quantified climate finance flows and climate research investments for Africa and expanded climate-change risk assessment methods.  They also helped map human action on climate change adaptation globally. 

By providing a more comprehensive understanding of climate-change impacts and response options, these two chapters will enable African policymakers to make more targeted, ambitious and effective decisions.  

Perhaps as important is the experience in science assessment that these young African scientists gained, positioning them to take on a lead role in future assessment cycles.  

“As an early career scholar, contributing to the first ever multidimensional feasibility and effectiveness assessment of adaptation options applicable to the African region was such a huge opportunity,” said Portia Adade Williams, research scientist with the Science and Technology Policy Research Institute of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in Accra, Ghana. “The experience, expert guidance, and scientific collaborations fostered through the learning process was completely transforming. I keenly look forward to taking a lead role in the next assessment process (i.e. AR7).”   

Learn more about climate impacts and response options on the African continent 

Visit the IDRC events page to register for a March 15 webinar entitled “Climate emergency in West Africa: impacts and insights,” and join our keynote speakers, Chris Trisos and Edmond Totin, and panellists for a conversation on the IPCC Working Group II report and beyond. 

Visit the 2022 African Studies Association of Africa conference website to register and join an IDRC roundtable on April 12 entitled “What does the IPCC report mean for Eastern and Southern Africa?”. The keynote speaker, Ibidun Adelekan, will be joined by three panellists for a conversation on the IPCC Working Group II report and beyond

Research Highlights

  • IPCC authors have produced the strongest-ever assessment of African climate evidence, thanks to targeted support to African authors. 

  • CLARE supported seven interns and four chapter scientists from Ghana, South Africa and Zimbabwe, who supported two Africa coordinating lead authors of the IPCC. 

  • By providing a more comprehensive understanding of climate change impacts and response options, these efforts enable African policymakers to make more targeted, ambitious and effective decisions.