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Building Climate Resilience in Africa Through Research and Development

This article provides an evaluation of the Future Climate for Africa programme (2015-2021), which has brought together more than 200 researchers from over 20 countries to improve understanding of climate variability and change across Africa.
Multiple Authors
a map of all current FCFA projects


This article synthesizes the findings from an evaluation of the Future Climate For Africa (FCFA) programme over the past six years of implementation. The evaluation aimed to assess the impacts, outcomes and achievements of the programme in relation to the programme Theory of Change (ToC), with a particular focus on ‘Improved medium-term (5–40 year) decision making, policies, planning and investments by African stakeholders and donors’.

Rather than focusing on progress at the output level, the evaluation considered the intended, expected, and unexpected outcomes or changes that led to progress towards the planned impacts of the programme. An iterative approach was employed to identify the progress made in three key impact pathways:

  1. Targeted engagement through case studies and the the staging of pilot case studies.
  2. Securing long-term legacy through improvements in technical knowledge base, models, data and capacity.
  3. Engagement with users and key decision makers at regional and pan African level.

This brief* highlights the progress in relation to these impact pathways; outlines the enablers and, subsequently, the barriers and challenges to achieving this progress; and concludes with recommendations for future programmes.

*ThisweADAPT article is an abridged version of the original text, which can be downloaded from the right-hand column. Please access the original text for research purposes, full references, and to quote text.

About FCFA

Future Climate For Africa (FCFA) is a £25 million programme funded by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) – previously the Department for International Development (DFID) – and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). It generated fundamentally new climate science focused on Africa and piloted the use of improved medium- to long-term (5–40 year) climate change information in development projects. The goal of FCFA was to reduce disruption and damage from climate change and to safeguard economic development and poverty eradication efforts over the long term.

FCFA is made up of five international research teams and a Coordination, Capacity Development and Knowledge Exchange (CCKE) unit. The five research teams are:

  • AMMA-2050 (African Monsoon Multidisciplinary Analysis 2050)
  • FRACTAL (Future Resilience for African Cities and Lands)
  • IMPALA (Improving Model Processes for African Climate)
  • HyCRISTAL (Integrating Hydro-Climate Science into Policy Decisions for Climate-Resilient Infrastructure and Livelihoods in East Africa)
  • UMFULA (Uncertainty Reduction in Models for Understanding Development Applications)

Evaluation method, progress, and impacts

The FCFA was focused on combining research with significant impacts. Three pathways were used to direct FCFA and evaluate these impacts.

Pathway 1 was targeted engagement through case studies, focusing on specific adaptation problems and groups of stakeholders. This was achieved through the staging of pilot case studies that demonstrate the application, value and role of climate information in specific decision- making contexts relevant to long-term (5–40 year) investments, policies and plans. Progress in this pathway showed that FCFA contributed to an increased awareness, understanding and appreciation of climate information by decision makers. Impacts from pathway 1 were:

  • The integration of climate information into 13 policies, plans and investments in 6 different countries.
  • A commitment to establish two new institutional structures focused on addressing issues of climate change in two additional countries.
  • A further 18 instances where input has been provided into policies and/or processes but where these changes did not, or have yet to, occur.
  • 14 tools tailored towards the needs of the users to support the uptake and use of climate information.

Pathway 2 consisted of securing long-term legacy through improvements in technical knowledge base, models, data and capacity. This pathway made significant contributions to addressing fundamental research gaps in African climate science. Substantial achievements have also been made in furthering the quality and type of climate information available across East, West, Southern and Central Africa. Impacts from pathway 2 were:

  • New model developments (including CP4-Africa and METUM GA7)
  • Improved understanding of past and future climate and climate extremes over Africa
  • Improved understanding of the processes that influence Africa’s climate
  • Improved understanding of model errors and projection uncertainty over Africa
  • 198+ published academic articles on climate science across Africa
  • Improved scientific capacity of 99 early career researchers

Pathway 3 was composed of engagement with users and key decision makers at regional and pan-African level, utilising FCFA generic products and tools. Research impacts were amplified through engaging with, and strengthening, networks of decision makers at sub-regional, pan-African and global scales. The impacts of pathway 3 were:

  • 187 institutions directly involved in the FCFA programme
  • 106,590 people engaged through communications activities and media
  • 7 current and future research and/or development programmes (5 with a regional or continental focus) informed by the findings and experiences of FCFA
  • 16 partnerships with external entities/projects leveraged to bolster and extend the reach and success of FCFA
  • At least 6 substantial examples of national and regional engagements to bring climate change considerations, informed by FCFA research, into policy and planning at these levels

Enabling Factors

Several factors helped with the successes and impacts of the FCFA. These are described in detail in the full text (see pages 4-9), where they are presented alongside illustrative case studies. The enablers of FCFA’s progress in supporting climate resilience in Africa include:

  1. Integrating climate research and development impact. Fundamental to the success of FCFA was the much stronger focus on delivering development impact than had been the case in many previous climate science research programmes.
  2. The inclusion of pilot projects. This allowed for the trialling of different approaches to integrating climate information into decision-making processes. This was a crucial component to the outcomes of the programme, but also provided valuable learning for future interventions to support the uptake and use of climate information.
  3. Delivering context-specific interventions. Analysis of the social, economic and political contexts allowed projects to gain an understanding of decision-making processes and drivers, local development priorities and the needs of different sectors. Stakeholder mapping helped identify key entities and groups to be included in the process of co-producing climate information within each context.
  4. Utilizing interdisciplinarity and co-production. These approaches were especially beneficial in establishing relationships, and finding common ground, between different groups. This fostered co-ownership of the policy change process, improved decision makers’ understanding of, and capacity to use, climate information, and improved researchers’ capacity for engagement and collaborative research.
  5. Making explicit links between climate change and development goals. FCFA’s process involved first identifying development goals and challenges, and then applying a climate change lens. This provided strategic opportunities for aligning the production and communication of climate risks and climate information with the priorities of decision makers.
  6. Promoting southern leadership and enhanced South–North collaboration. FCFA’s intensive South–North and South–South collaborations facilitated the development of adaptive and research capacities of the different research partners. Shared learning through the programme supported the development of a collective capacity by allowing stakeholders to learn from each other and work together to find solutions.
  7. Employing a collaborative and flexible research approach. The collaborative nature of FCFA allowed climate scientists to work in a coordinated way to build on each others’ knowledge and research. This resulted in much quicker advances in climate science than what would ordinarily happen in isolated research projects. The flexible programmatic approach also allowed for different groups of researchers from different fields to pick up on, and explore, aspects that emerged as important and interesting and, in so doing, meet the climate information needs of decision makers.

Challenges and barriers

The project experienced several challenges. These are described in detail in the full text (see pages 10-11). These included:

  • The implementation gap, where a significant missing step relates to the translation of decision-making processes, such as policies, plans and investments, into action. There is a need for activities and capacity to be sustained so as to ensure interventions do not stop at the policy, planning and investment stage, but are maintained through to implementation.
  • The assumption that better climate information would promote better decision making. The pilot sites have demonstrated the variety of influencing factors and drivers, unrelated to climate change, that shape decision-making processes, including development objectives, availability of finance, investment priorities, political processes, power structures, and so forth.
  • Retaining long-term capacity. High staff turnover often resulted in projects having to start the whole process again, including reintroducing concepts, as well as securing stakeholder buy-in and support.
  • A relatively short programme time frame. While the collaborative nature of FCFA aided in the programme making rapid advances, the ambition of influencing medium- to long-term decision-making within a five- to seven- year programme was extremely difficult to achieve. As the long-term impacts are only expected to come to fruition by mid-century, it is difficult to determine currently how effective FCFA’s interventions were.

Key Recommendations for Future Programmes Aiming to Build Climate Resilience

  • Create tailored approaches to linking climate research and development. Programmes should be guided by an evidence-based design process, which includes context analysis and stakeholder mapping, to ensure programmes are addressing local needs. Interdisciplinary and, if possible, transdisciplinary approaches should be adopted to ensure a range of knowledge is being utilised to support the integration of climate information in decision-making. These approaches should be guided by co-production to co-explore and co-develop information and promote local ownership of programme activities and outcomes. Allowing project and programme flexibility in budget and activities can further ensure that programmes are addressing local needs and responding to emerging needs and opportunities.

  • Support collaborative and cross-institutional research. Encouraging and supporting greater collaborative efforts in climate science research is vital in order to make rapid advances in filling gaps in the scientific knowledge of Africa’s climate. Incentivising cross-institutional research, particularly through South–North and South–South partnerships, can support the advancement of climate science through pooling global expertise, technical capabilities and available data.

  • Make provisions to bridge the implementation gap. Once climate change policies have been put in place, or polices have adapted to include a focus on managing issues of climate change, the process of implementation needs to be considered. To ensure such policies contribute to the objective of FCFA – increasing the resilience of African people and societies – it is imperative that they be implemented. Therefore, it is necessary to plan and make provision for this in the programme design, and to take an active approach to bridging the implementation gap and integrating this as an explicit goal in future programmes, particularly given the significant resource constraints and competing budget requirements of decision makers.

  • Apply a strategic approach to capacity development. A similar approach to that applied to the capacity development of the early career researchers should be used across the programme; in particular, effectively supporting and developing the capacity of decision makers to understand, interpret and apply climate information. Building the capacity of intermediaries (e.g. knowledge brokers, facilitators and trainers) is particularly important to ensure capacity can be maintained and further developed beyond project closure.

  • Develop a clear Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning (MEL) strategy. A well-resourced, coordinated MEL approach across FCFA would have been valuable, in particular for measuring programme-level progress towards outcome and impacts. Having dedicated MEL focal points at the project and programme level is particularly important in ensuring that MEL strategies are relevant at both project and programme levels; that there is more buy-in to the programme ToC, and that the strategy is capturing the range of impacts.

  • Create greater focus on the southern partners. Increase the opportunity and potential for southern researchers and institutions to take leadership roles when implementing this type of project, including providing programmes of support at an institutional level to make this possible. Ensuring that increasing responsibility is being transferred as the capacity of southern partners is developed during programmes helps create a legacy of skills and knowledge to promote the continuation and sustainability of programme activities. Furthermore, programmes should consider building institutional capacity to ensure that southern researchers are able to be retained past the end of the programme.

  • Lengthen the program time frame and make provisions for continuity. The process of setting up partnerships, conducting context analysis, co-producing tailored climate information tools and products, and ongoing capacity building is resource-intensive and time-consuming. In order for programmes to bridge the implementation gap, it would be prudent to extend the time frame of programmes. Furthermore, to avoid backsliding and losing momentum gain in programmes, steps need to be in place to ensure programme continuation. It is important that donors capitalise on the investment and advances are made by ensuring that new programmes start as the old ones end, or by making concrete linkages to embed the progress in other programmmes.

Key FCFA resources

Suggested Citation

Bouwer, R., Chalmers, T., Vaughan, L., (2021), ‘Building Climate Resilience in Africa Through Research and Development: An Evaluation of the Future Climate for Africa programme,’ Future Climate for Africa,

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