Why we must step up Africa's climate reporting

A 72-year-old Longor Lochakai from Moruese village in Loima, Turkana supports himself on walking sticks as drought continues to ravage the county. [Martin Ndiema, Standard]

Africa stands closest to the climate gallows for crimes committed by rich continents. This month, hundreds of lives were lost to Cyclone Freddy that ripped through Malawi and Mozambique. The Horn of Africa, on the other hand, bakes under prolonged drought. Yet, Africa emits only three per cent of global carbon emissions, the culprit behind climate change. The continent is least prepared in adaptation infrastructure. Comprehensive assessments of climate risks and responses are, therefore, urgently needed to guide decision-making and help install infrastructure for resilience.

This is precisely why global assessment reports around the climate landscape are crucial. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the UN body that assesses the science related to climate change, reporting about the speed and scale of climate effects, the identified gaps, as well as the recommended actions.

The IPCC assessments underpin intergovernmental climate change negotiations 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 voluntary contributions of scientists globally. The last release was on March 20 and was the synthesis report for all reports.

Several key takeaways surface from this synthesis report. Historical contributions of emissions vary substantially, with 41 per cent of people, largely in the global south, emitting less than 3tCO2eq, or a quarter of someone in the US.

Energy generation is a big contributor to carbon emissions. Most African economies, have low installed power capacities and are transitioning to greener sources. Another finding is that between 2010 and 2020, human lives lost to floods, droughts and storms were 15 times higher in the global south. This means these regions, especially Africa, are paying the price for emissions by developing countries.

Last November at the COP27 climate summit in Egypt, rich economies made new pledges totalling $230 million to the adaptation fund to help vulnerable countries tighten their resilience to climate shocks. A loss and damage fund was also adopted as the third line of defence.

A lot more ground remains uncovered, however. Previous pledges by developed countries to channel $100 billion a year by 2020 towards helping vulnerable nations adapt to climate change have gone unfulfilled. The IPCC report also says that extreme hot weather conditions are increasingly being recorded in Africa, but their impacts go undocumented. Tied to this are knowledge gaps in Africa as far as climate issues are concerned.

The IPCC does not provide financial support for authors, beyond travel support for developing country authors to attend face-to-face meetings. While northern scholars receive support from their governments and universities, African scholars hardly have this luxury, and their contribution to IPCC is compromised as a result. Indeed, in the 6th Assessment Report, only 11 per cent of authors are from Africa. With the little representation, are the right signals from Africa being picked? We don't think so. As a result, the solutions outlined do not represent the African context.

The report shines a spotlight on the gaping adaptation gaps among lower income groups which exposes them to climate shocks. To this end, the new IPCC report should set the tone for increased climate funding flows to Africa, without necessarily loading vulnerable countries with debt. It should also spur government action at local level to incorporate this science into long term plans to cushion its citizens

Patricia Nying'uro is a climate scientist and IPCC focal point for Kenya. George Wamukoya is team lead African Group of Negotiators Experts Support