NRENs: Critical enablers of climate and weather research
The world has just seven short years to get to the finishing line, and we are still determining whether we can meet the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Goal 13 (Climate action) is on red alert. In fact, the UN says this is “humanity’s ‘code red’ warning”.
International organisations, governments and regional and local institutions, including academic and research institutions, all strive to contribute to meeting this goal. In the research and education technology space, Research and Education Networks (RENs) are pushing their infrastructure and services buttons to help the world to get an inch closer to meeting Global Goal 13.
African RENs – both regional and national counterparts – have been supporting research and innovation in fields such as earth observation, weather monitoring and early warning, among others. By providing high-speed connectivity and access to cutting-edge research tools, national RENs have enabled researchers to collaborate across borders and disciplines and develop new solutions to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
For instance, the National Authority for Remote Sensing and Space Sciences, connected to Egypt’s scientific NREN, researches how to predict dust and sandstorms. NRENs support connectivity needs for the Digital Earth Africa platform addressing climate change.
Moreover, Taita-Taveta University, connected to KENET in Kenya, hosts the TAITAGIS Project. The connection is aimed at boosting access to geoinformatics education and training to foster the collecting and analysing of environmental and climatic data to help prepare for natural disasters and environmental protection.
WACREN Climate Programme
The West and Central African Research and Education Network (WACREN), the regional REN for the West and Central African sub-region, has initiated a new programme called the WACREN Climate Programme.
In this programme, WACREN also aims to offer some services to climate research organisations, climate researchers, scientists and product innovators and meteorological agencies in the WACREN enclave, riding on the back of in-country RENs. The services include data storage, cloud computing for analyses and enabling weather stations.
In some parts of Africa, NRENs already provide collaboration tools, such as video conferencing, file sharing and virtual research environments that enable researchers to work together in real time, share results and discuss findings. This is important for fostering interdisciplinary collaborations and supporting the exchange of knowledge and expertise among researchers in climate research and meteorological organisations.
Some NRENs and their affiliated institutions have deliberately embraced environmentally friendly solutions within their operational settings and offerings. For instance, the Central Coordinating Body for Networking in Kenya is actively establishing a data centre that adheres to energy-saving standards. Moreover, the centre is striving to achieve the Green Data Centre label and is collaborating with GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit) to install photovoltaic panels, generating electricity from solar energy.
What must African RENs do next?
NRENs can promote awareness and education about climate change by providing free or zero-rated access to e-learning resources, online courses and niche collaborative platforms to enhance climate research work. By supporting the development of open educational resources and massive open online courses, NRENs can help to build capacity and promote knowledge sharing among educators and learners across the continent.
Furthermore, NRENs can leverage their partnerships and collaborations with other regional and global networks to promote sustainable development and climate action. NRENs can facilitate knowledge exchange and cooperation on sustainable development issues by working with organisations such as the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases.
Overall, NRENs can play a critical role in addressing the challenges posed by climate change by supporting research, education and collaboration across borders and disciplines and promoting awareness and action among the wider community.
RENs can also initiate projects supporting research into developing and deploying new technologies and tools like sensor networks for climate and weather monitoring, climate data analytics platforms, machine learning algorithms, etc.
In these projects, RENs can offer researchers and research organisations high-speed, large-sized bandwidth and free access to online resources and collaboration tools. This can help to advance the state-of-the-art in climate and weather research and support decision-making processes related to climate change mitigation and adaptation.
This is plausible with the announcement that WASCAL (West African Science Service Centre on Climate Change and Adapted Land Use) will join WACREN. WASCAL has over a dozen centres of excellence dotted across the west arm of Africa.
NRENs can also provide access to advanced computing resources, such as high-performance computing clusters, supporting complex climate simulations and data analysis. This can help researchers to better understand the impacts of climate change on different regions and ecosystems and develop more effective strategies for mitigating and adapting to these impacts.
In addition, NRENs can support the development and deployment of sensor networks and other monitoring technologies, providing real-time data on weather patterns and environmental conditions. This can help to improve the accuracy of weather forecasts and support early warning systems for natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods and droughts.
In sum, NRENs are critical enablers of climate and weather research, providing the infrastructure, tools and services that researchers need to conduct cutting-edge research and collaborate with colleagues around the world. By investing in RENs, governments and research organisations can help to support the global response to climate change and promote sustainable development.
Effah Amponsah is communication and marketing officer at the West and Central African Research and Education Network (WACREN) in Accra, Ghana. This article was first published on Africa Connect 3.