New regional climate risk reports for Central and Southern Africa

Working in partnership, the Met Office, the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) have published two new reports, outlining climate risk for the regions of Central Africa and Southern Africa  to support adaptation and resilience planning.

These publications are a result of a transdisciplinary collaboration between policymakers, social scientists and climate scientists at the FCDO, Met Office and ODI, and are part of a series of Regional Climate Risk Reports, which can be found at this link. To date, regional climate risk assessments have typically focussed on understanding the physical hazards of climate change, with less focus on how these interact with different levels of exposure and vulnerability of people and nature around the world.

Taking an integrated approach, these new reports provide a useful picture of how the different components of climate risk interact by bringing together the latest climate science from the Met Office with socio-economic thematic analysis from ODI. This provides a much more holistic understanding of the risks and, crucially, supports the development of action plans of what we can do to manage these risks, by reducing people’s exposure and vulnerability to the hazards through targeted investment in adaptation and resilience.

How does it work?

Social scientists in the team analysed the socio-economic development landscape and challenges across Africa, relevant to sensitives and vulnerabilities to climate variability and change. They brought expertise across a range of different sectors. In parallel, applied climate scientists in the team produced standardised information about climate, climate variability and climate change, and analysed this with the socio-economic geography in mind. Together an integrated analysis was produced of the key regional climate risks and signposts to areas of particular concern and/or uncertainty relevant for risk-based planning of UK investments to support climate resilience of the regions.

What are the key risks?

Across Central and Southern Africa, food systems are particularly vulnerable to climate change as most crops are rainfed and farming and pastoral livelihoods are subsistence orientated. Into the future, food security is expected to become more precarious as food production and food prices become more volatile due to rising temperatures, greater rainfall variability and more weather and climate extremes.

Many of the impacts of climate change will be felt through the water cycle, changing rainfall patterns and river flows. More variable river flows may disrupt electricity generation from hydropower, such as in Southern Africa where hydropower insecurity is already a key source of economic and social risk. Existing water and other critical infrastructure across Central and Southern Africa is vulnerable to climate extremes, particularly heatwaves, floods, and high winds.

Risks to health are closely linked to heat extremes and rising temperatures, and associated increases in communicable and non-communicable disease. In Central and Southern African coastal and marine environments, fisheries play an important economic and nutritional role, but these are vulnerable to ocean warming and changing oxygen levels which impacts fish stocks. Coastal fisheries and marine environments are threatened by pollution and dredging, as well as climate change. Negative impacts on tourism, maritime transportation and port facilities are expected due to sea level rise, and the impacts of storms, storm surges and cyclones.

In Central and Southern Africa, climate change will affect the range and composition of ecosystems and the services they support, many of which are already under pressure from human encroachment and degradation. Ecosystem loss and degradation poses threats for food security, flood control and carbon storage across the region.

How is this information being used?

The Regional Climate Risk Reports provide actionable information on climate change and its likely impacts on people, economies and the environment, and support the development of a wide range of international humanitarian and adaptation and resilience-focussed programmes funded by FCDO. The close and effective collaboration across disciplines has strengthened interdisciplinary climate risk analysis for development programming by the UK. Drawing on the growing skills of these organisations, further regional Climate Risk Reports, for Central, South and Southeast Asia, have been commissioned by FCDO, demonstrating the value of this approach.

The information is highly valuable for understanding the implications and risk of climate change for health, agriculture, infrastructure, food and water security, ecosystems, disaster risk reduction and human livelihoods. This approach can be used to inform and support climate resilient development in vulnerable communities across the world. Given the rapidly narrowing window of opportunity to enable climate resilient development, scaling up such approaches to informing effective adaptation, alongside urgent and sustained mitigation action, is essential if we are to minimise the risks and impacts that current and future climate change poses.