To make good decisions, Africa needs its own climate knowledge

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    There seems to exist a great disconnect in the dissemination of information on climate change issues in Africa.

    “A large mix of quality information is not tailored to the needs, issue and questions related to Africa,” says Bruce Hewitson, a climatologist at the University of Cape Town.

    Geoff Barnard, chair of an international Climate Knowledge Brokers group and knowledge management adviser to the UK-backed Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN), agrees.

    “Africa has rich experiences and knowledge but there are gaps in connecting it and making it accessible globally,” he says. This is a key contributing factor to why most of Africa’s climate services are being sourced outside the African continent.

    To effectively design and implement climate adaptation and mitigation strategies, Africa’s communities, policy makers and organisations need to develop and strengthen their skills and abilities. This will require access to a wealth of information and knowledge.

    “There’s need to build a community whom we can trust to guide the continent’s decision making and that community does not exist,” Hewitson notes.

    A new global agreement to tackle climate change, agreed in Paris last December, emphasizes the need for country-driven capacities for climate action based on and responsive to national need. Climate knowledge brokers – people who sit between knowledge producers and knowledge users – can help filter and improve the quality of information available across disciplines and sectors.

    Late last month, a group of potential African climate knowledge brokers gathered in Addis Ababa, organized by the UK-based Climate Knowledge Brokers group, to look at what information Africa needs and how the ability to produce and broker it might be developed. The meeting brought together 30 researchers, government representatives, climate change organisations, non-governmental organisations, media, civil society and consultants from 10 countries.

    Fiona Percy, coordinator of the adaptation learning programme for Africa at CARE International, says it is important to bring together different knowledge sources, from researchers to policy makers and local communities, to make informed decisions.

    “Climate science is available in many African countries, though complicated. Many institutions do not know how to make it useful for decision-making processes” she notes.

    Mamouda Moussa Na Abou, a knowledge sharing expert at Senegal-based ENDA Energie, which works on energy, environment and development issues, and for the UK-backed Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters (BRACED) initiative, says knowledge brokers in Africa need to create information that is useful and based on demand from governments, in order to help those governments access international climate funds available.

    The media is also seen as an important knowledge broker in a long “knowledge supply chain”. Samuel Ogallah,a programme manager at the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA), which has been building the capacity of African reporters to cover climate change, called their role “critical”.
    Without journalists to help get knowledge where it is needed, adapting to climate change or mitigating it will be much harder, he said.

    CDKN, which is working to help establish an African climate knowledge brokers group, believes it could be supported by a range of funders, particularly donors who recognise that good knowledge is key to good decisions on climate change.

    Barnard says he sees this as an opportunity for the African governments – now waking up to climate opportunities and implications – to invest some of their resources in building the capacity to bid for climate finance on their own, rather than by hiring consultancy groups.

    African governments “need to be knowledge players themselves so as to bring together their own knowledge through their own ministries”, he says.

    In a decade, the hope is Africa will have a diverse and competent web of climate change knowledge brokers, including extension agents, community-based organisations, government services, researchers, the media, policy makers, and non-governmental organisations, all of them sharing knowledge while learning from each other.

    That group should be not just translating global information into local languages and contexts but also facilitating “information flowing not only from the top but also from the bottom up” Redda says.

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