SciDev.Net talks to ASSAf's Roseanne Diab about the role of science academies in climate change awareness and risk reduction.
Following their recent conference (AMASA-8) in Nigeria, Africa's science academies have issued a call for the continent's scientists to work harder to produce and disseminate information on climate change. Underpinning the call is a focus on the importance of trans-national collaborations between scientists to improve climate modelling, monitoring and analyses. Roseanne Diab, executive officer of the Academy of Science of South Africa, discusses the plea for 'urgent action'.
Why has it taken so long for the African community to take the lead in the study of climate change impacts?
I think that this is not a new call. What is new is the call on African academies to unite and act together.
There has been a varying amount of work by scientists in individual countries to examine the impact of climate change on sectors such as health and agriculture, and so on. This call is important because we are saying that academies must come together, coordinate and work jointly to achieve a greater impact. I think that is what brought about Africa's science academies call for the continent's scientists to work harder to produce and disseminate information on climate change
How do you propose this should be done?
The academies have the ability to coordinate studies and they also have access to policymakers. There needs to be leadership, through the Network of African Science Academies (NASAC) for example, to draw up proposals for studying climate change impacts.
We need to draw together experts from various countries in a way that showcases what African scientists can do and the common challenges we face in Africa. We then need to bring these to the attention of the policymakers who matter, at either a national or continental level.
How would funding for this be sourced?
Strangely enough, there is a huge amount of funding available for climate change activities. The problem is how to access it. I think that through coordinated action we may be able to acquire funding from global funding bodies. I don't think this will be problematic.
Is there any particular time frame for this study or will it continue indefinitely?
No, I don't think it will continue indefinitely. But it usually takes between 18 to 24 months to pull together this kind of study and produce a report explaining the science.
I think it is important to dispel any myths [about climate change] so that you don't have people publicly saying things that are unsupported by evidence. Unfortunately politicians can latch onto such myths as scientific evidence yet it's not credible.
That where is the value of science academies comes in. The academies have the means to shed light through evidence based information
Why do you think there has previously been a gap?
I think the science community in Africa has contributed through the work of individuals. So there are individuals within each of the countries who are probably well networked internationally but not on a continental level. They might have worked with European and North American scientists, but not with scientists from elsewhere in Africa.
What I think is different with this initiative [the African Science Academy Development Initiative] is that it has come from within Africa. It is saying: let's coordinate African scientists within Africa; let our voices be heard as collective rather than merely as separate individuals. Of course, individuals are also important. But bringing individuals together in a collective form has huge potential.
What about capacity building?
Again, there was an interesting comment made yesterday that Africa is the most 'capacity built' continent in the world. And it is true. There are numerous capacity building initiatives in Africa. The issue is how to make them sustainable and effective.
My view is that partnerships are the most effective way of doing capacity building both partnerships among individuals and between groups in Africa. I think the key problem that African scientists often face is that they work in isolation. Partnerships are the way forward. Networking between the academies is also a form of partnership: you come together and draw on each others' strengths.
How can African researchers step up their observation, modelling and analyses of the effects of climate change?
There are only few experts. With regard to monitoring climate change, monitoring networks need to be formed officially through governments.Our various meteorological institutes or services, in collaboration with the World Meteorological Organization, need to step up in terms of monitoring.
I think the academies can contribute by making the case that unless there are sound observational platforms, the models for monitoring climate change for Africa are not going to improve.We can get data from the rest of the world and from satellites, but we need ground-based observations in Africa.
Academies can make that case, but ultimately it is the governments that need to put monitoring networks in place.
And regarding modelling, I think we should try to avoid a situation where we are duplicating modelling expertise in too many places across the continent. Modelling requires infrastructure, well-qualified people, and a critical mass of people. In a way it is better to consolidate that expertise in one or more centres of excellence and use that to build capacity for the rest of the continent. I don't think we should duplicate every aspect of this, in every country in Africa. It will be far too expensive.
This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.