Climatologists outline their agenda for Africa in 2023

Universities will continue to play a significant role in dealing with the impact of climate change, promoting sustainability and providing roadmaps towards mitigation and adaptation methods during 2023.

Given the challenges Africa is facing, climatologists are set to continue their work to tackle the transition to low-carbon economies and cleaner forms of energy, build climate and sustainability courses and curricula, develop strategies for extreme climatic events, and investigate climatic trends and dynamics needed to formulate policies and strategies.

In order to strengthen capacity in climate research, universities in Africa will also host and participate in climate policy dialogue sessions such as South Africa’s 5th National Global Change Conference (GCC5) that will be hosted from 30 January to 2 February, the 9th Africa Regional Forum on Sustainable Development from 28 February to 2 March, and the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference (the 28th session of the Conference of the Parties, or COP28) that will take place in November 2023.

Transdisciplinary climate programmes

According to Isaac Kow Tetteh, an associate professor of climate science at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana, the ravages of global climate change triggered the introduction of climate science, climate-related and transdisciplinary climate programmes, from undergraduate to PhD levels, across the different colleges at the academic institution.

The university has emerged as a champion in climate research in the region and integrated climate science across the work, research and projects of various faculties, ranging from the colleges of science, agriculture and natural resources, to engineering, health sciences, art and the built environment to humanities and social sciences.

The university houses the West African Science Service Centre on Climate Change and Adapted Land Use (WASCAL), which focuses on climate-oriented research, as well as the Kumasi Center for Collaborative Research in Tropical Medicine (KCCR), which conducts research into climate-driven infectious and neglected tropical diseases, among others.

“The climate research agenda of all of them, aligned with the university’s vision and mission statements, is to develop a solid capacity-building base that will generate innovative solutions to climate change issues affecting all sectors of the country and beyond,” Tetteh said.

The university is expected to lead cross-cutting climate change projects in climate diagnostics and hydro-climatological modelling, with particular emphasis on extreme climatic events; cleaner energy production technologies; ecological restoration and watershed management.

The university will also explore climate-smart agriculture; solid and liquid waste management; atmospheric quality monitoring and climate change and food security; and greenhouse gases mitigation technologies using recycled agricultural waste, as this has become increasingly important in the shift from linear to circular economies.

The department will also explore biogas generation from organic waste and climate-change vulnerability assessment, coping mechanisms, and adaptations.

“The climatologists will use dynamic or numerical climate models, climate adaptation models, and greenhouse gas mitigation technologies to address climate-sensitive socio-economic issues. These research activities seamlessly fit into Sustainable Development Goal 13, which focuses on taking the needed action to combat climate change and its impacts,” Tetteh stated.

Towards a low-carbon economy

In 2022, Ain Shams University, a leading institution in climate-change research in Egypt, established a centre for excellence in sustainability which is being used as a launching ground for research activities on sustainability, climate change and its impact.

According to Professor Ali Hassan, based in the faculty of graduate studies and environmental research at Ain Shams University, the centre has various foci, including promoting circularity and sustainability at the faculty and university, as well as streamlining the sustainability theme across national and regional educational institutions.

“We have just finished our research agenda for the next five years and we will focus on providing science-based guidance for the country towards a low-carbon economy. In our faculty we are working on carbon neutrality and in March [2023], we are launching a special diploma on calculating the carbon footprint of different sectors and businesses,” he said.

During the interview with University World News, Hassan highlighted that the diploma – which would be offered to sustainability and environmental officers at government level, industry players and academia – aimed to help sectors to become aware of their carbon footprint and gain critical skills and knowledge needed to calculate, prepare and write their environment social, governance and sustainability reports.

He added that this training was crucial as it gears Egypt towards a resilient and sustainable economy in line with the ongoing transition to green economies within regional and global nations, and one of the crucial issues for the environmental component would be reporting on carbon emissions.

The faculty is set to launch a masters level programme in cooperation with the Institute of Environmental Management Assessment (IEMA) in the United Kingdom, which will focus on carbon and environmental literacy as well as environmental consultancy, which would open a new green jobs market for graduates.

Through these courses, graduates will not only acquire essential skills but will attain a membership level at IEMA, one of the accredited voices in sustainability training across the globe.

“The carbon and environmental literacy courses will give more edge and opportunity for graduates to be employed within the region and internationally,” Hassan said.

He emphasised the importance of an integrated and collective approach between policymakers, academia and industry to achieve climate-action goals.

“Our priority is to map climate change impacts and vulnerability at national level as this provides key areas on where to allocate funding, and this is crucial because we are prioritising our funding to high-risk and affected areas,” said Hassan.

Expanding networks for climate change research

Professor Guy Midgley, the acting director at the School for Climate Studies established in 2021 at Stellenbosch University (SU) in South Africa, mentioned that the school would place emphasis on strengthening existing networks and further developing climate initiatives launched in the previous year such as the African Journal of Climate Studies.

In 2022, the academic institution co-led a programme on capacity building and policy development under the Global Alliance of Universities on Climate and was one of 15 universities around the world to participate in building a pilot science policy training course for 100 students.

More importantly, the School for Climate Studies held a virtual global student youth conference in September 2022 prior to the 27th session to the Conference of the Parties (COP27), which took place at the end of 2022 in Egypt, with selected students becoming actively engaged in observing negotiation sessions and their dynamics over the course of COP27.

SU also hosted the African Regional Forum on Climate Change, involving 45 African institutions and several hundred delegates engaged in a week-long indaba or gathering, involving theme-based sessions led by both experts and post-graduate students. These events discussed key interests in climate-change adaptation and mitigation in the region.

At local level, efforts went towards building capacity in hydrological modelling, producing new science for the Western Cape and South Africa as well as Southern African hydrological systems, including through internationally funded projects supported by the European Union Horizon and UNESCO funding.

“Going forward, on the operation side, we expanded quite fast in 2022. We are now bedding down our networks and strengthening our communications, particularly within the university, so that we can pursue some new funding opportunities, one of which is in health and human migration issues, in collaboration with European universities, another in climate-change ethics, and then a further large effort in carbon dioxide management science for South Africa and Southern Africa,” he stated.

“We are also following developments in understanding climate variability – El Niño Southern Oscillation – which is crucial over the short to medium term, and a welcome focus in the international community.”

Understanding climatic trends

Professor Susanne Fietz, an earth scientist at SU, stressed the importance of their research in understanding climate trends of both the past and the future as well as climate-mitigation strategies.

“With our research, we hope to raise awareness about the current trends accelerated by human activity compared to the past natural trends. And we contribute to better understanding of carbon sequestration strategies.

“Such strategies in the future can only be successful if based on a fundamental understanding of the ecosystem functioning and carbon chemistry. That is what we aim to contribute,” she said.

Some of the ongoing research initiatives include reconstruction of climate (such as temperature and hydrology) of the past and studying the role of biogeochemistry in climate trends, which serves to understand the ocean as an important factor in climate dynamics, improving the understanding of potential strategies to mitigate climate change.

Supporting climate policies development

According to Eberechi Osuagwu, a lecturer at the Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, Nigeria, research projects at the College of Natural Resources and Environmental Management have focused on policy development around climate change.

This includes contributing towards the national climate response strategy and nationally determined contributions, or NDCs, in line with global recommendations.

“Our department will focus on aiding the country’s efforts to reduce emissions and work towards the national adaptation plan.

“These policies aim to reduce vulnerability of people and systems to climate-change impact, build Nigeria’s response to climate change, create mitigation strategies to reduce emissions through agriculture and transportation systems, develop early warning systems and spearhead climate-smart agriculture,” she said.