Better climate-related research and early warning systems are needed as extreme weather—from cyclones to drought—continues to afflict the African continent, said Sudanese billionaire and philanthropist Mo Ibrahim, who heads up his own foundation.
“We don’t have a voice on global climate discussions as we lack strong research capabilities,” Ibrahim told The Associated Press.
Experts say having a greater volume of reliable data can help countries predict and plan for future extreme weather events, mitigating their impact on human life. But weather stations across the region are sparse and unevenly distributed, leading to “critical” gaps in climate data.
With this and other crucial issues on the table, he added that Africa must help “shape the agenda” at this year’s United Nations climate conference, COP 27, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.
Earlier this year, a UN report by leading climate scientists said determining climate change risks on the continent currently “relies on evidence from global studies that use data largely from outside of Africa.” The panel said global data, while good at estimating averages across the world, lacks the specifics African nations need to determine how vulnerable they are and how they can best prepare.
Central and north African regions have been singled out by the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) as the worst affected by the absence of weather data, which it says leads to significant margins of error in predicting rainfall trends.
This year has seen a severe drought in the Horn and eastern Africa and extreme heat in the northern parts of the continent, while the southern African region has been pummeled by intense cyclones.
The Mo Ibrahim Foundation estimates that some of the countries most vulnerable to extreme weather globally are in Africa, with 20% of the continent’s population at highest risk. A report released by the foundation also estimates that around 10 million people across the continent are already displaced, at least in part because of climate change.
Earlier this year, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres instructed the WMO to ensure that “every person on Earth is protected by early warning systems” within five years. Currently, only 22% of weather stations in Africa meet global reporting requirements for climate observation systems. The UN weather agency is expected to present an action plan to achieve the five-year goal at COP 27.
Evans Mukolwe, a former UN weather scientist, told AP that besides weather station installations and ocean observations, there’s an urgent need to compile available historical data for African countries to inform future predictions. Mukolwe, now a climate and drought monitoring advisor with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, said Kenya still “holds 20 million analogue weather cards going back to 1896” containing valuable climate information.
“It is in Africa’s and the world’s interest to invest more in climate research and integrate weather information services for effective adaptation and mitigation strategies,” he said.
Ibrahim said that despite a lack of investment in weather services, the continent has already made headway in other areas when it comes to combatting climate change.
“Africa has a great record on climate adaptation,” he said. “We have over 22 countries on the continent where the main sources of energy are renewable, a feat that is unmatched by any other continent, and vast forests that are efficient in carbon capture.”
This report by the Associated Press was republished by The Canadian Press on June 6, 2022.