Building a new vision for climate services in Africa
With finance from the Global Environment Facility, UNDP’s CIRDA Programme supported 11 African nations in improving the effectiveness and sustainability of climate information and early warning systems
Improving access to reliable, accurate and actionable weather and climate information is an essential requirement to support African nations in building resilience to climate change and reaching the Sustainable Development Goals.
After four years, UNDP’s Programme on Climate Information for Resilient Development in Africa (CIRDA) came to a close in late 2019. As African nations move to embrace sustainability, innovation and high-tech solutions to accelerate the ambition of their Nationally Determined Contributions to the Paris Agreement, the programme’s lessons learned and impact are informing a new generation of climate information and early warning systems projects, and building the enabling environments needed to foster low-carbon, climate-resilient development.
Climate change is causing major impacts across Africa, disproportionately affecting the poorest and most vulnerable populations. Left unchecked the climate crisis will push millions of people deeper into poverty, trigger massive migrations, exacerbate existing crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic, and undermine goals to end poverty and hunger by 2030 through the UN’s Decade of Action.
Enhanced climate services protect lives, improve livelihoods, and support informed climate actions, and sustainable economic and social development. At the same time, they significantly reduce risks and enhance coping mechanisms. For every dollar invested in climate services, there is an economic return of five dollars.
Addressing the challenges
Unfortunately, as evidenced by the large number of “non-reporting” weather stations and the absence of effective forecasts and warnings of hazardous weather events in many sub-Saharan African countries, weather and climate information systems in this region often perform well below international standards, are difficult to maintain and service, and fail to provide the immediate, localized and actionable data needed to create effective early warning systems, protect valuable infrastructure, and support evidence-based decision making.
Surface land pressure observations reported by one or more global numerical weather prediction centres on June 27, 2018. Fully reporting stations shown in green, partly reporting stations in orange, minimally functioning stations in red, silent (non-reporting) stations in black. The designations employed and the presentation of material on this map do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the Secretariat of the United Nations or UNDP concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.
While there have been many efforts to improve observations and forecasting of weather and climate in this region, few have had much success or long-lasting impact. Learn more about the challenges of deploying effective climate services in the CIRDA programme’s flagship report: A New Vision for Weather and Climate Services in Africa
Recognizing the need to improve critical environmental monitoring and forecasting systems, several sub-Saharan African countries sought assistance from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), with funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF). In response in 2013, the GEF approved support for projects in 11 African least developed countries (LDCs). Similarly, and responding to requests and the lessons from past failures, the 11 partner countries – including Benin, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Liberia, Malawi, Sao Tome and Principe, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, The Gambia, Uganda, and Zambia – developed a new vision for weather and climate information services in collaboration with UNDP that resulted the Programme for Climate Information for Resilient Development in Africa (CIRDA).
This programme supported national partners in re-imagining the deployment of climate information and early warning systems to foster innovation, sustainability, cost-effectiveness and systematic approaches designed to reach the last mile and improve resilience for vulnerable communities highly impacted by the effects of the climate crisis.
Utilizing an end-to-end systems engineering approach.
Encouraging use of innovative, less expensive, fully integrated monitoring and forecasting equipment, such as lightning detection systems and automated weather and hydrological monitoring stations.
Basing communication systems for data collection and dissemination of information products via existing cell networks.
Establishing long-term agreements for procurement of integrated packages of hardware, software, installation services and training.
Creating a multidisciplinary support team to work with and across countries, aid in procurement actions, and facilitate learning and information sharing.
Fostering collaboration with private providers of weather equipment, services, and communication.
Supporting outreach to businesses in need of tailored weather and climate information services to help define needed system improvements and potentially to become sources of revenue for improving the sustainability of public weather services.
The implementation of CIRDA with its innovative features over a four-year period produced some notable successes and identified many challenges to improving weather and climate information services in LDCs. The lessons learned in the CIRDA Programme are now being reflected in the design of more recent projects and the consideration of new policies by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and other international organizations.
While the CIRDA Programme officially concluded in December of 2019 the project developed various communications and information products to guide a new generation of climate information projects for adaptation. Resources include the report A New Vision for Weather and Climate Services in Africa, a continental-scale market assessment on the potential for climate information services in Africa, a communications toolkit for communicating early warning systems, and most recently the project has produced a terminal evaluation report with the aim of generating best practices and lessons learned when looking to replicate a similar approach to vulnerable countries in enhancing their climate information services.
The evaluation report acknowledges the success of the programme to deliver considerable results by the end of its implementation, including its capacity to enhance national efforts in monitoring and forecasting extreme weather events, and identifying effective communication channels through potential partnerships.
The evaluation also recognized the programme’s success in facilitating the efficient and effective use of hydro-meteorological information for generating early warning and long-term development plans, as reflected in national score cards and in the commissioned market assessment.
A key achievement identified through the terminal evaluation was the support provided by programme specialists to identify capacity gaps in national partners and mobilize support to address these, including guiding appropriate exit strategies to ensure long term sustainability.
The evaluation also recommended as a lessons learned from the project an improved focus on baseline analysis as well as risk monitoring to allow for an enhanced systematization of impact. The programme, if replicated, should consider an enhanced monitoring framework to allow for a better documentation of project results.
The future of climate services
UNDP-supported climate information and early warning systems projects across the globe have reached over 10 million people in the past 12 years.
Building on the success and lessons learned from programmes such as CIRDA and UNDP’s ongoing supports for climate services, the new Alliance for Hydromet Development aims to ramp up action that strengthens the capacity of developing countries to deliver high-quality weather forecasts, early warning systems, water, hydrological and climate services. The founding members of the Alliance for Hydromet Development are the Adaptation Fund, African Development Bank, Asian Development Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Global Environment Facility, Green Climate Fund, Islamic Development Bank, United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Environment Programme, World Bank, World Food Programme and World Meteorological Organization.
UNDP is also a member of the Risk informed Early Action Partnership (REAP), which aims to make 1 billion people safer from disasters by creating a new partnership to greatly expand early action financing and improve early warning systems and the capacity to act on the risks they identify.
Learn how modern lightning detection systems are saving lives in Malawi through a project that supports 3 million Malawians in accessing vital climate services.
From the ashes of war, Sierra Leone is rebuilding its climate services and has developed 70 community-based early warning systems.
The private sector is key. Pilot projects to engage with the private sector have been experimented with in Liberia, Malawi, Sierra Leone and Uganda. These included connections with private-service and cloud providers for monitoring and reporting, engagement with telecoms for dissemination and siting of weather stations, and engagement with the private sector to expand climate services to the last mile.