African experts demand fairness, accuracy in climate modelling

Dr George Wamukoya, lead Africa climate talks negotiator.


What you need to know:

  • In the Nairobi meeting, the group, which included climate experts from the continent, released a statement urging the IPCC to relook its scenario modelling so that Africa is not disadvantaged.

African climate experts have written to the United Nations protesting the mistreatment of the continent when building climate scenarios. The letter, addressed to the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), raises concerns about how the models for Africa were done during the recently concluded 6thAssessment Cycle.

Last week, the experts met in Nairobi to find a solution to the under-representation of their expertise in the authorship of a critical United Nations report that advances scientific knowledge of climate change. The IPCC assessment report has historically left out pertinent climate issues of the continent, with only 11 per cent of the scientists in the last assessment cycle being from Africa, which came second last after South America.

In the Nairobi meeting, the group, which included climate experts from the continent, released a statement urging the IPCC to relook its scenario modelling so that Africa is not disadvantaged.

“The scenarios that we have at the moment kind of continue with the narrative of disparity between Africa and the global north. IPCC does review of scientific literature on the state of knowledge, the gaps and that will inform the next actions by all stakeholders, particularly policy makers,” said Prof Aliyu Barau, a climate scientist from Nigeria.

In the letter, African experts urged the UN body to “design models that take into account the convergence in the final energy per capita between the Global south and Global north,” and also consider a model that takes into account the common but differentiated responsibilities,” a recognition that Africa continues to fight for during the annual Conference of Parties.

“Usually when you review knowledge and write a book, it is natural to repeat knowledge from previous books, but after some time, you will need to update that knowledge. So what we are saying is IPCC has come a long way and if the knowledge starts wrong, especially in framing, then that already disadvantages the person on who the knowledge is based. It is therefore important that there is equity and balance between the regions, have the knowledge updated so that all the regions are starting on a level ground,” Prof Barau said.

Hosted by the Africa Group of Negotiators Expert Support (AGNES), the Nairobi meeting aimed to refine strategies to address unique challenges faced by the continent, focusing on strengthening urban resilience and bridging knowledge gaps specific to the continent's context.

Dr George Wamukoya, the team leader of AGNES, said Africa's participation in the IPCC's assessment cycles is essential for ensuring that the continent's unique challenges and perspectives are adequately addressed.

"As we confront the escalating impacts of climate change, particularly in rapidly urbanising regions, it is imperative that Africa contributes fully to the generation of knowledge and the formulation of strategies to build resilience and mitigate risks. Through collaborative efforts and strategic planning, we can harness Africa's expertise to drive impactful change and pave the way for a more sustainable future," he said.

This is ahead of the seventh assessment report cycle, whose deliberations play a crucial role in guiding effective, science-backed climate action.

Environment Principal Secretary Festus Ng'eno reiterated the need to include African experts' papers in the IPCC assessment. "As we have articulated in the past, even though the 6th assessment cycle delivered improvements in regional representativeness, there still is a lot of science from our part of the world that needs to be included in the IPCC assessments," he said.

"There are also gaps in knowledge that we must work on collaboratively to ensure they can be assessed. In this decade of action, what comes out of the IPCC needs to capture our unique, intricate, context-specific needs if we are to develop evidence-based response measures. It is also crucial for us that the IPCC outputs serve as a basis for our negotiations within the UNFCCC," he explained.

PS Ng'eno said it is time experts move away from just talking about where our gaps are without developing ways to address them.

"It is akin to aimlessly punching the air," he said.

He added that it is essential that the climate scientists raise the need for a special report in the upcoming cycle on adaptation indicators and metrics for the continent.