Low climate literacy among women, youth hampers resilience

“The US$100 billion pledge for climate finance made about a decade ago appears to be a pipedream. Needless to say, closing finance gaps and increasing the flow of climate finance by billions of dollars per year from both public and private sector is critical,” says Joyce Kimutai, climate scientist and principal meteorologist at the Kenya Meteorological Department, and a PhD candidate at the African Climate Development Institute, at the University of Cape Town in South Africa.

During an interview with University World News, she also mentioned that climate-positive recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic should be one of the key issues on Africa’s agenda during the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC, COP27) in November 2022 in Egypt.

UWN: What is your main field of expertise and how did your work as a climate scientist begin?

JK: My main field of expertise is climate change science. I studied meteorology as an undergraduate at the University of Nairobi (Kenya) and attribution science for my MPhil and DPhil at the University of Cape Town (South Africa), coupled with an exchange programme (student visits) at the University of Oxford (UK). Attribution science (attribution of climate extremes) is a new fast-evolving field of climate change science that seeks to quantify the role and contribution of anthropogenic climate change on climate extremes.

My research has increasingly focused on the attribution of floods and drought, and recently heatwaves, mainly in East Africa. I am passionate about advancing evidence-based climate policy in Africa, especially championing the debate addressing African problems through African solutions.

UWN: Based on your fieldwork, what are some of the pressing issues facing African communities in your region, particularly women and youths, due to climate change?

JK: Women and the youth are highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. In Africa, women depend more on, yet have less access to, natural resources and always bear a disproportionate responsibility of securing food, water, and fuel. As rain-fed agriculture is the main economic activity in most African countries, increased frequency and intensity of extreme events, for example, droughts and floods, have reduced agricultural productivity.

In such periods, women tend to work harder to secure income and resources for their families. There is low climate literacy among women and youth: only 23% to 66% of people, mainly men, are aware of climate change, its causes, and its implications. Climate funding mechanisms for women and youth and gender-responsive climate policies are really scarce on the continent at the moment

UWN: What role do you see universities and academics playing in the domestication of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, mainly SDG13 (climate action)?

JK: The debate on ‘African solutions to African problems’ is of utmost importance and it means domestication of issues in pursuit of achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and climate-resilient development. Research institutions and academics play a critical role in this. They are key in identifying gaps in knowledge and emerging needs for countries that can be addressed through climate research.

From these, they champion and conduct locally-led climate research activities which in turn provide the latest scientific knowledge on climate change impacts on livelihoods, local economies, poverty, climate-related loss and damage, sustainable development and intersecting issues like biodiversity loss and inequality. This informs evidence-based local and regional climate policies and supports climate action.

UWN: Only 3.8% of global climate change research funding has been allocated to Africa and only 1% to educational institutions. What could some of the implications of this be on climate change research output in the region?

JK: It is quite unfortunate that Africa receives only 3.8% of global climate change research funding with only 1% going to institutions. The Global South is highly vulnerable and bears the biggest brunt of climate change, yet is less responsible. It is detrimental, from a climate justice perspective, to not concentrate efforts on improving science on the Global South. Implications include the underrepresentation of regions’ climate issues due to the inadequate resource capacity of local institutions/researchers to conduct research. This hampers progress towards climate-resilient development and the achievement of SDGs.

The US$100 billion pledge for climate finance made about a decade ago appears to be a pipedream. Even so, it is important that the resources are provided in the form of concessional finance and debt relief to the developing and least developed nations.

UWN: Data science is a critical component of climate action, particularly in meteorology. Where are the gaps and bottlenecks around data collection in the African context and how best can these be addressed?

JK: The two main issues facing data collection by the national meteorological services (NMS) are inadequate observational networks and insufficient automation of collection and transmission of data. This compromises the availability and quality of the station data and the analysis and understanding of the changes in the climate system. In my opinion, possible solutions to these issues are to enhance funding towards improving observations network and infrastructure and strengthening the capacities of African NMSs to manage and utilise big data and the latest technology in climate services provision.

UWN: What is the importance of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group II Report 2022 for Africa, considering the upcoming UNFCCC in Egypt?

JK: The IPCC WGII report highlights Africa’s increasing vulnerability to climate change and its impacts. As we are aware, the continent has contributed the least to greenhouse gas emissions, yet key development sectors have [experienced] and continue to experience widespread losses and damages attributable to anthropogenic climate change, including biodiversity loss, water shortages, reduced food production, loss of lives, and reduced economic growth.

For instance, East Africa is identified as one of the global hot-spot areas of high human vulnerability to climate hazards, mainly regarding severe poverty, poor governance, limited access to basic facilities, violent conflict and high climate-sensitive livelihoods. The report emphasises the need for climate-resilient development which comes with more benefits and opportunities like poverty eradication, and enhancement of food security. These issues should be prioritised on the COP27 agenda.

UWN: As principal negotiator on agenda items under science, review and systematic observations, loss, and damage at the COP27 sessions, what are some of the critical issues on Africa’s agenda during the COP27?

JK: Being a negotiator is a very challenging, yet quite interesting, role. As we head for COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh, key issues on Africa’s agenda include costing adaptation needs in African countries, the need to strengthen resilience to extreme events, and a funding mechanism for loss and damage. Climate-positive recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic should also dominate Africa’s agenda.

UWN: The uptake of climate change education at African educational institutions across the region has been slow. What could be some of the drawbacks, and what can be done?

JK: Climate change education and literacy underpin informed mitigation and adaptation responses. Human responses to climate change are determined in part by the perception of change and an understanding of its causes, impacts, and future risks. Some of the setbacks to advancing climate-change education in African schools are the ineffective rollout of climate-change curricula in all learning institutions and limited climate literacy among teachers.

Research shows that integrating climate change in the education curriculum with a programme that targets children almost guarantees the uptake of climate-change education at educational institutions. There is also the need for a well-planned and sustainable awareness-creation programme among school teachers and tutors.

This article was updated on 4 November.