Climate action and research must come together for better adaptation outcomes

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Global Center on Adaptation

A paradigm shift in the way we conduct climate adaptation research can place vulnerable people’s needs at the forefront of our work.

Adaptation research is changing. It has to, because of the increasing frequency, worsening intensity, and devastating impacts of climate-induced hazards all over the world. We are living in the eye of the storm and the climate emergency is upon us.

Research now needs to be more targeted than ever to effectively deliver solutions to strengthen the adaptation capacities of vulnerable communities and build their resilience against the impacts of climate change.

This requires changing both the way research is conducted and what funders use to measure impact and the value of research.

Responding to the need for this paradigm shift drove the formation of the Adaptation Research Alliance (ARA) – an initiative with over 140 member organizations committed to making the change to action-oriented research.

Six Adaptation Research for Impact Principles underpin the adoption of this new paradigm:

  1. Research is needs-driven, solutions-oriented and leads to a positive impact on the lives of those at risk from climate change.
  2. Research is transdisciplinary and co-produced with users.
  3. Research emphasizes societal impact.
  4. Research builds capacity and empowers actors for the long term.
  5. Research processes address structural inequities that lead to increased vulnerability and reduced adaptive capacity for those at risk.
  6. Learning-while-doing enables adaptation action to be evidence-based and increasingly effective.

A recent review of ‘Good Practices for Action Research’ commissioned by the ARA looked at 20 cases and how well they addressed the ARA’s Adaptation Research for Impact Principles. This review showed that many initiatives were already using one or more of these principles in practice.

For some this shift in research to action-oriented approaches is already well integrated. Approaches such as co-production are taking prominence – where researchers and other stakeholders collectively tackle problems faced in policy and practice, drawing on all the wisdom of these actors to create new and better solutions, supported by research that’s pragmatic and valuable.

For example, the Future Climate for Africa (FCFA) program adopted a co-production approach that proved to be a key enabler for the research used in decision-making. Through 16 pilot studies across 13 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, the program targeted engagements with key institutions and decision-makers on specific adaptation problems. This engagement supported the integration of climate information into 13 national and local policies, plans and investments and delivered 14 tools to support the uptake and use of climate information services.

The State and Trends in Adaptation in Africa Report 2021 (STA21), launched by the Global Center on Adaptation (GCA) last year, showcases more details on the impact of the FCFA. The report is a comprehensive overview of the present and future prospects of the African continent in the light of climate change and is an evidence-based advocacy tool to place adaptation and resilience in Africa higher on the agenda, nationally and internationally, using STA21’s actionable policy recommendations.

GCA invited me to share insights on the work done by FCFA at the Adaptation Dialogues for Africa session on “Adapting agriculture in Africa to build resilience to climate change” on 10th March 2022.

In that session, I highlighted the FCFA’s Climate Information for Tea (Ci4Tea) project. The Ci4Tea team co-produced a range of climate metrics or variables specific to tea plants, such as the number of consecutive days above 27 degrees, or the duration of dry spells, that were particularly relevant for tea growers in Kenya and Malawi.

Research results show that tea farmers experience regional differences in the climate sensitivity of crops, including heat wave frequency, the number of cold nights, rainy days and the duration of dry spells. Increasing temperature and rainfall variability requires prioritization of adaptation interventions such as irrigation and climate-smart agricultural practices.

In this case, the co-production process was particularly important in helping climate scientists understand the climate needs of tea farmers in order to produce locally relevant, tailored information on current and future climate risks. This finer detail of information was then extremely useful when researchers, farmers and organizations co-explored what adaptation options should be prioritized.

While there is still a long road ahead to move research closer to action, the forerunners of these approaches are showing us that it can be done and that the benefit to those most affected by climate change could be enormous.

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