BARCELONA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Investments in African schools, healthcare and other infrastructure are at risk from the long-term impacts of global warming because governments and businesses are not considering climate information in their plans, researchers have warned.
They looked at how climate predictions starting from five years to decades ahead were used in Malawi, Rwanda, Zambia and the coastal cities of Accra in Ghana and Maputo in Mozambique, as well as by planners of large African dams and ports.
In a report, they concluded that “very few long-term decision-making processes” draw on climate information.
“African decision makers are overwhelmed by a large number of immediate, short-term development needs and this can eclipse longer-term concerns,” Lindsey Jones, one of the authors, with the London-based Overseas Development Institute (ODI) said in an email.
“However, even some short-term interventions today, like designing healthcare systems, could have consequences far in the future,” he added.
If planners did try to use climate information, it was either basic or not acted upon, Jones said.
One problem is that the scientists who produce climate information often communicate in a way that is too technical and ill-matched to practical needs in sectors such as transport, food security, agriculture, energy and health, the report said.
In Africa, much of the relevant data is low quality or hard to access, and the uncertainties around climate information are poorly understood, it added.
Climate information on expected changes in temperature and precipitation can shape the design of investments so they are better able to withstand those shifts.
“Doing so requires a step change in the way we currently conduct and communicate climate science,” said Jones.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, if the world keeps on emitting greenhouse gases at today’s rates, average temperatures across large parts of Africa could rise by more than 4 degrees Celsius by late this century.
Even if emissions are reduced, temperatures across Africa will continue to climb in the coming decades, putting more people and assets in the path of floods, droughts and heatwaves from mid-century onwards, according to the ODI and SouthSouthNorth, a climate policy group based in Cape Town.
Both organisations said governments and businesses have much to gain from using climate information in their long-term plans and investment choices.
“There are too few organisations and individuals to translate climate information into a language that makes sense to decision makers, so that they can weigh up the costs and benefits of acting on it,” said Stefan Raubenheimer, director of SouthSouthNorth.
The report also highlighted an opportunity to boost the quality and quantity of climate observation networks and infrastructure in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as digitising large amounts of unarchived historical data.
(This version of the story refiles with full attribution in paragraph 4)
Reporting by Megan Rowling; Editing by Astrid Zweynert