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Using climate information to achieve long-term development objectives in coastal Ghana and Mozambique

This policy brief describes a ‘co-exploration’ approach to identifying climate change adaptation needs in Accra, Ghana, and Maputo, Mozambique.
Multiple Authors


The cities of Accra in Ghana and Maputo in Mozambique currently face many development challenges, such as poor transport and drainage infrastructure, partly as a result of inadequate planning regulation and law enforcement. These weaknesses in governance and service provision already have profound implications for people’s livelihoods and well-being. Climate change, amongst other things, contributes to increasing flooding and coastal erosion in these cities, which compounds these development challenges.

As part of the Future Climate for Africa (FCFA) scoping phase, a large programme funded by the UK’s Department for International Development and Natural Environment Research Council, the authors assessed whether and how future climate information is being used to guide the planning and delivery of development programmes in the two cities. Methods included a desktop study, a preliminary survey and a participatory workshop in each city. In the process, a recently developed ‘co-exploration’ workshop methodology was further refined.

The workshop, held in Accra in June 2014, explored how multiple risks and stressors create vulnerability for city residents, using Dansoman in Accra and Costa do Sol in Maputo as test cases. In each of these cities, participants were a mix of academics, government officials, disaster risk reduction practitioners and climate impact modellers. Rather than beginning with the climate science and adopting a sector focus, the co-exploration approach began with a place-based, multi-stressor vulnerability analysis onto which layers of climate data were integrated to inform decision-making.

This policy brief (download available from the right-hand column and via the link under further resources) summarises the main findings of this scoping phase. The key messages from the brief and the sections on Barriers, Guiding Principles (for integrating climate information into decision-making) and future research are provided below.

Key Messages

  • A pilot study on the use of medium to long-term climate information in the cities of Accra in Ghana and Maputo in Mozambique found that future climate information does not appear to be directly used in either city.
  • Acknowledging the non-climate issues facing both cities was critical to identifying suitable climate change adaptation strategies and interventions.
  • Future planning responses should not be determined solely by climate stressors, but by acknowledging the natural interrelationship of non- climatic and climatic factors.
  • Decision-makers in these cities have expressed the need for improved observational data to support both current and future decision-making.
  • Projects such as this provide a useful mechanism for investigating vulnerabilities and testing potential ways to address them. A more sustained co-exploration approach is required to investigate and implement on-the-ground action.

Barriers to climate science uptake

Both cities reported sparse data coverage and several temporal gaps in observed climate data. This lack of a complete historical record was cited as a key obstacle to climate-related risk management in both cities. Addressing these issues may improve the uptake of climate information by decision-makers across departments. In addition, much of the observed data is not verified, and the resulting data inconsistency presents an obstacle to robust modelling of future climate projections by scientists.

The vulnerabilities that were identified in the desktop study indicate that there is a strong need for more decision-relevant climate information on the 5–40-year timeframe. The climate information required includes: projections of changing rainfall intensity, frequency of tropical cyclones, frequency of large-scale heavy rainfall in upstream catchments and sea level rise. But beyond climate and ocean variables, there is a need for modelling impacts, such as hydrology modelling, disease modelling and coastal dynamics modelling.

Guiding principles for integrating climate information into decision-making

This project questioned traditional climate change decision-making processes that ascribe a high weighting to climate risks within a multi-stressor decision-making context, and presented an alternative decision- making process that sets the climate risk in context. The steps below outline the essence of the approach taken within the workshop of this project:

  1. Identify exposure units within broad categories of livelihoods, infrastructure and services (elements of a system that may be exposed to stresses, e.g. roads, businesses)

  2. Identify non-climate stressors acting on these exposure units

  3. Rank the influence of the non-climate stressor on the exposure unit

  4. Determine whether climate stressors increase the overall stress on the exposure unit

  5. Based on the analysis of steps 1–4, prioritise specific exposure units for further analysis and explore adaptation options, when provided with increasingly complex layers of climate information.

By waiting until step 4 to introduce climate information, this approach ensures that climate data do not drive the analysis. Instead, the multi-stressor context is acknowledged first, and climate risk is more appropriately integrated into the decision-making process.

Taking this research forward

A frequent reflection on any process like this is how to sustain engagement with the participants after the workshop. The concern is that this kind of intermittent relationship with knowledge users will generate apathy over time and create a negative working relationship. However, the organisers recognise that the pilot nature of this project only allowed for one workshop, and this was communicated to participants to explain the inevitable constraints to the exploration of city vulnerabilities and adaptation options. The overall FCFA programme has the potential to, at least partly, address the continuity issue, enabling participants to achieve real changes.

The co-exploration approach is complementary to FCFA’s design in that it prioritises close engagement of the climate community and the various decision-making constituencies who rely on climate information, and it examines the limits of climate model data in a place-based context that recognises the chaotic nature of real-life decision-making related to risk management and future planning. Moreover, this approach values multi-focal learning across the decision-making space that goes beyond the simplistic dichotomy of ‘climate services’ and ‘end users’.

A co-exploration approach, therefore, seems to be a valuable way of beginning the dialogue among climate scientists, climate service providers and relevant experts from different disciplines and arenas that have a stake in policy outcomes. This approach also provides a means to strengthen the climate data literacy of those who currently depend on climate information for decision-making but who lack the skills to critically evaluate the potential and the limitations of this information. Such strengthened capacity and understanding is critical for promoting effective real-world adaptation planning. It also helps to avoid ‘maladaptation’, where climate adaptation decisions taken today inadvertently undermine future climate resilience.

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