Africa's lack of scientific and technological capacity means it is less prepared for the effects of climate change than any other continent, says a report released by the UK government yesterday (16 December).
The African Climate Report assesses the status of knowledge of climate systems in Africa and recommends actions to help the continent face the threat of climate change.
The report concludes that climate observation is less developed in Africa than in any other region, and that scientific understanding and technical expertise in climate systems are also very poor on the continent.
It lists a variety of "options for collective actions" that could be implemented in the short and medium term to help address Africa's vulnerability to climate change. These include ways of strengthening research capacity so that observing, modelling and predicting climate can improve.
The report suggests creating a training fund for African climatologists and establishing a regional climate centre backed by the World Meteorological Organization.
Other potential initiatives include creating an international research programme on African climate and its relation to sustainable development, possibly by establishing a specialist institute.
The causes of climate change are global, and largely brought about by greenhouse gas emissions from industrialised nations. Africa is not in a position to address these, says Declan Conway, who researches African climate change at the University of East Anglia, United Kingdom and is one of the report's authors.
Nonetheless, he adds, sustainable solutions to the threats posed by climate change to Africa cannot be created and implemented by the international community.
"The answers will come from Africa," says Conway. Solutions include both increasing technical capacity and raising awareness.
According to Conway, a priority for Africa is to examine the vulnerability of different regions to climatic variation and to extreme weather conditions.
"We know that drought is more severe in southern Africa, that rainfall variability in Ethiopia is involved in famine and that Mozambique is highly vulnerable to floods," he said.
"It's a case of looking at those situations and trying to improve the capacity to prepare and cope with more of the same and possibly more extreme conditions."
The report fits neatly into the United Kingdom's two priorities for its 2005 presidency of the 'G8' group of industrialised nations — African development and climate change. Environment and development ministers from the G8 nations will discuss the report's conclusions at a meeting in the United Kingdom in March next year.
Launching the report, Margaret Beckett, the UK secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs said: "The challenges of climate change and development in Africa are closely linked. But we urgently need to improve our understanding of how climate change will affect Africa."
Climate has a significant impact on the livelihoods of millions of Africans but its variability — combined with the continent's poor capacity to monitor and respond to climate change — increases Africa's vulnerability.
Beckett presented the report yesterday at the annual summit of the conference of parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, currently being held in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Read more about climate change and COP10 in SciDev.Net's climate change dossier