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Linking Climate Science to Livelihoods

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Climate change is going to affect and alter the way in which we all live. However, these changes will not be felt equally throughout the world. Populations differ in their resilience to changes in the climate. Meaning, for some geographical areas and populations, the effects of climate change will be detrimental, yet for others who are perhaps better equipped to confront these changes, the effects will not be as impactful.

Whilst many things will contribute to these differences in how climate change is experienced, it is now widely acknowledged that poorer populations in rural areas are those who are most likely to suffer the most detrimental effects.  However we are still not entirely aware of the full extent climate change will have on the livelihoods of this group, and indeed the livelihoods of the wider populations affected by climate change.  

This gap highlights the need to be able to forecast scenarios on how climate change could impact vulnerable populations and how their livelihoods will be affected. Enabling decision-makers to give advice based on evidence to vulnerable populations on ways to be more resilient from climate change shocks. This could include, for example, recommending which crops may be best-suited to the climate over the coming years, such as drought-resistant varieties.

The information we need to enable decision-making on this level requires data from many different sources, in many different formats. By combining a collection of datasets linked to livelihoods, The Integrated Database for African Policy-Makers (IDAPS) is an innovative project enabling effective livelihood policies in the face of climate-related risk across Africa. The Walker Institute is working with Evidence for Development on this project along with multiple contributing stakeholders.

To find out more about this project we met with Dai Clegg, a big data specialist and an associate at the NGO Evidence for Development. Through his wide experience in both the public and private sector focusing on big data, databases and data modelling he is perfectly placed to support the creation of a database which will store useful and accessible information which can be used by a variety of actors to help make livelihoods more resilient to climate change shocks.  

Conceived out of the HyCRISTAL project and making use of the data collected by it, IDAPS is a rich database that combines datasets from crop yields, hydrology, meteorology, agronomy, fisheries and livelihoods in order to predict the varying ways changes to the climate could potentially affect vulnerable populations.

Dai explained that IDAPS functions as a platform which can indicate the probability of a given scenario – thereby giving policy makers a more comprehensive picture of potential outcomes, along with a numerical indicator of likelihood. He explained this in the example below:

 “If your probability is at least a 10 per cent change, say of a fall in yield in a crop typically relied upon or grown by people in a particular area, then you know you have a problem and need to decide what you are going to do about it.”

“Different wealth groups in the same area can be affected differently, which makes it difficult to say ‘this is going to be a good thing, this is going to be a bad thing’.

“But the poorest people are the most vulnerable and there will be huge variations in terms of what they can grow, whether they live by the lake, whether they live near a water supply in the mountains.”

Dai acknowledges that “the database doesn’t solve the problem but it does allow you to identify the highest levels of vulnerability and help you make the case for specific actions and policies”, thereby ensuring that government agencies are better able to target their limited resources to those in most need at any particular time.

 IDAPS hopes to show what the impact of climate change will be for families or communities in their real lives, on a day to day basis. Dai Clegg provided an example in the form of a 1.5 degree temperature rise in northern Uganda and how it could affect the region’s coffee growers. The automatic reaction, he says, would be to think it spells ‘disaster’, but in reality that can be avoided with some planning.

“If we know that the only people growing coffee in that region are commercial farmers, and we give them five years or ten years warning, they can adapt commercially and maybe switch the crop to something else, or a more heat resistant variety of coffee”

The landlocked East African Country, Uganda, is set to be the pilot for IDAPS. With plans for the first pilot to be trialled in the Lake Victoria Basin. We are currently seeking final approval from the Ugandan government in order to begin collecting the livelihood data.

“Uganda is not a particularly poor country and famine has not happened there for decades. So, it is not a ‘country on the edge’, but the Government is worried because there are some places where small climate changes can have big effects”

Once the system is piloted in Uganda, there are hopes that other African countries will become involved, potentially starting with Kenya and Tanzania.

“I was in Addis Ababa at the African Union at the end of last year and they were talking about the need to get every single country in Africa to have procedures and policies in place for understanding the impact of climate change. There is a big drive to do this and a huge amount of interest. We can’t prevent the problem of climate change, but we can scope it and show what can be done to fix it.”

“Nothing speaks louder than results and once we have some results from Uganda and can show people what can be achieved, then I think we will see some pretty rapid expansion of this project. Livelihood data is where the rubber meets the road. It is the thing that connects climate with real people and real lives and it is the thing which has been missing in a lot of scientific research.  IDAPS is trying to link climate science to livelihoods and that has never been attempted before.”