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Accelerating adaptation action in Africa – Insights from African experts

In late 2020, CDKN interviewed leading African scientists and climate change adaptation practitioners. This consultation highlighted key areas of investment for unlocking adaptation in Africa and includes a series of videos that explores climate change adaptation entry points and options for Africa.
Multiple Authors
Sedem Tetevi and Co. © SEDLA, Ghana
One of a specially-commissioned series of videos that explores climate change adaptation entry points and options for Africa.


Africa’s climate is already changing: average land temperatures have increased by more than 1°C since pre-industrial times, sea levels are rising and extreme weather events, such as storms and droughts are more frequent. Further climate change is inevitable. Adapting to its impacts is essential for African societies to develop sustainably.

CDKN interviewed leading African scientists and climate change adaptation practitioners, in late 2020, to identify the key actions African countries must take to rise to this challenge. CDKN also commissioned a series of articles and videos by African experts on ‘Accelerating adaptation action in Africa’ and undertook a related literature scan. Statements from these leading scientists and practitioners are presented throughout the report.

Specifically, the paper highlights specific entry points and opportunities for governments, private businesses, civil society and development partners to accelerate effective, inclusive adaptation action.

*Download the full publication from the right-hand column. The key messages are provided below.


In late 2020, CDKN interviewed leading African scientists and climate change adaptation practitioners to identify the key actions African countries must take to rise to the adaptation challenge.

This consultation highlighted three key areas of investment for unlocking effective, accelerated adaptation at scale in Africa:

  • Investing in people’s skills and knowledge;
  • Investing in climate-resilient economies, which are well-informed by climate risk; and
  • Investing in nature.

For each of the three areas – people, climate-resilient economies, and nature – the paper provides detail on promising approaches to policy and programme design and investment that are already demonstrated in Africa. Specific entry points and opportunities are provided for each area, along with many grounded examples.

The paper flags technological and financial innovations with the potential to be rolled out at significantly greater scale (such as early humanitarian action and the use of insurance payments that are triggered on the basis of forecast impacts of extreme weather, to give but two examples).

Participants at a meeting of the Southern Africa Climate Finance Partnership. Photo credit: SouthSouthNorth

Adaptation Options

Consultation with the leading African scientists and climate change adaptation practitioners highlighted three key areas of investment which would unlock accelerated adaptation at scale in Africa.

It is important to look at African capabilities to adapt to climate change. It is true that the continent’s diverse countries and communities face significant challenges in the face of climate variability and change. However, it would be misguided to spotlight only Africa’s climate vulnerabilities and needs for greater financial, technical and knowledge resources – at the risk of perpetuating perceptions of weakness and dependency. It is time to change the narrative and recognise the widespread resolve among communities to adapt and thrive.

This paper discusses how to accelerate the innovation and uptake of effective climate change adaptation solutions on the continent. It spotlights where African ingenuity is already rising to the challenges of slow-onset climate changes, such as prolonged droughts, more erratic rainfall and sea level rise, and impacts such as flooding, increased erosion and reduced crop productivity. At the same time, the paper also highlights where disaster risk reduction measures have been effective in saving lives and protecting assets from rapid-onset climate hazards, such as storms, and what further efforts are needed to expand these measures.

The discussion is summarised below:

Invest in people’s skills and knowledge

Investing in people’s skills and knowledge is key for maximising African ingenuity, and involves:

  • A climate-informed education system,
  • A climate-informed workforce,
  • Robust, well-integrated climate services,
  • More, and increasingly refined, multi-hazard early warning systems,
  • Indigenous knowledge about coping with climate variability and change,
  • Partnering intentionally with women, youth, indigenous people and other marginalised groups,
  • Learning by doing,
  • Scientific literature on African climate and by Africans.
Women farm with indigenous zai pit technology. Photo credit: ICRISAT

Invest in climate-smart economies including resilient water, energy and food systems

It is vital to invest in climate-smart economies, which involves:

  • Integrating climate risks into macroeconomic and sector planning,
  • Applying the triple dividends of resilience,
  • Climate and environment risk disclosure and investment by African businesses,
  • Access to adaptation finance at all levels of governance,
  • Varied toolkit of finance instruments required,
  • Increasing capacity for climate-resilient water management,
  • Assessing climate risks in energy development,
  • Climate change as one of many compounding stresses on food systems.
The Red Cross in Uganda has piloted forecast-based financing, whereby humanitarian relief supplies and equipment are rapidly distributed in communities to reduce the effects of an extreme weather event (here, heavy rain and floods), when such an event is predicted. Photo credit: Ugandan Red Cross Society.

Invest in nature

The awareness of biodiversity and appreciation of healthy, vibrant ecosystems that sustain productive capacities and enrich culture, heritage and quality of life are being flagged as a priority by a wide range of community organisations, NGOs, and development practitioners and business leaders, as well as scientists across Africa. Investing in nature involves:

  • Nature-based solutions to climate change receive new impetus,
  • Public works programmes for green jobs,
  • Debt-for-nature swaps, blue and green bonds.
CaptionEthiopia – community based rainfed watershed management. Photo credit: ICARDA – Science for Resilient Livelihoods in Dry via Flickr


The paper concludes that, as elsewhere around the globe, bringing adaptation to scale in Africa does not mean straightforward replication of adaptation solutions from one locality to another. Given the immense diversity in geo-physical, ecological, social and cultural settings across Africa, adaptation solutions must, naturally, be locally-appropriate and locally-owned if they are to succeed.

  • Working with indigenous knowledge is important.
    • It capitalises on knowledge that people have developed to cope with existing climate variability. It helps build solutions that have legitimacy in local contexts.
    • However, some indigenous knowledge techniques on their own will not be sufficient, where significant shifts in climate have already occurred, or will occur.
    • Local wisdom must be integrated with a scientific understanding of climate change, including scientific projections of future climate change, to inform development decisions with long time horizons of five or more years
    • Implementing more widespread and ambitious adaptation in Africa will require more such partnerships, to integrate these different forms of knowledge and advance understanding and action.
  • There is an urgent need for more finance for adaptation overall, and for more climate finance to reach local actors, to support these local priorities and partnerships.
    • At present, an estimated 10 per cent of climate finance reaches local actors; many African stakeholders are calling for this proportion to increase multi-fold.
  • A shift in more funding to local actors must occur in the context of strengthening public participation in climate and environmental decision-making at all levels (from local to national) and in the context of robust, accountable governance of public climate finance for Africa’s communities.
    • Changes will be needed in capacities and institutional arrangements to support this shift.
    • International development partners will need to change as much as African institutions themselves.

Only with the combination of persistence, openness and adaptive ways of working by all partners can African countries be adequately supported to implement locally-appropriate, locally-led solutions.

Project Links

Suggested Citation

Sokona, Y., Uku, J., Zablone, O., Diop, S. H., Kunamwene, I., Lesolang, P., … & Scott, C. (2021). Accelerating adaptation action in Africa. CDKN Working Paper

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