Climate change in the Congo Basin will be different from the rest of Africa, forecasts show

by Thomas Hubert | CIFOR (Center for International Forestry Research)
Friday, 24 May 2013 08:46 GMT

New research has shown that despite an expected increase in the frequency of strong rains, regions north of the Congo Basin will experience more droughts. Photo courtesy of Ollivier Girard/CIFOR.

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New climate projections for the Congo Basin have renewed the call for informed and collaborative responses to climate change in Central Africa.

“Central Africa’s experience of climate change will be very different from other parts of the continent,” Paul Scholte of the German cooperation agency GIZ told an international conference in Yaoundé, Cameroon, organized by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

Scholte was presenting the results of the first study of climate projections in the Congo Basin for the coming century.

The research by Wageningen University and the Hamburg Climate Service Centre in collaboration with GIZ and COMIFAC is the first to focus exclusively on the Congo Basin, whereas previous models used continental or global data.

“The low emissions scenario is what we are sure will happen, if we are lucky. It predicts a rise in temperatures of at least 2°C this century,” Scholte said.

The results indicate that, despite an expected increase in the frequency of strong rains, regions north of the Congo Basin will experience more droughts. However, for the Congo Basin itself no overall changes in rainfall and subsequent agricultural patterns are expected.

The results also indicate that river flows will increase, but will also become more unpredictable, which could affect the construction and maintenance of hydropower dams.

“Adaptation is especially needed to prepare for extreme weather events such as droughts and floods,” Scholte said. He also cautioned against putting too much hope in hydropower.

Joseph Amougou, the climate change focal point for Cameroon and a government negotiator in climate change talks, said Central African leaders should use this research to make clear and informed policies.

“All countries in the region want to become emergent,” he said.

“‘Emergence’ is the new fashionable fragrance to wear. Yet when you look at Cameroon’s plan for emergence by 2035, there is no mention of climate change.”

Beyond adaptation to evolving climate conditions, such policies should also target international funding for the mitigation of climate change, Amougou added.

Although initiatives such Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) – a UN backed scheme designed to pay tropical countries to keep trees standing — has been attracting most of the attention when it comes to tackling climate mitigation, other approaches are being developed.

“REALU [Reducing Emissions from All Land Uses] includes agriculture, pasture, etc. and asks the question: What is the optimum balance within those areas that can be achieved while allowing the people who live there to achieve their objectives?” said Ken Creighton, a climate change specialist at the US-funded Central African Regional Program for the Environment.

He also highlighted the potential for local versions of REDD+ to leverage their knowledge of the factors in local government that are driving deforestation


Using local knowledge is all about adaptive collaborative management — a method in which people agree to work together to plan, then observe and amend their plan, recognizing that many plans fail in their original form, said CIFOR researcher Carol Colfer.

She cited CIFOR’s current COBAM project, which aims to find synergies between climate adaptation and mitigation initiatives in the Congo basin, as an example of collaborative planning. Collaborative planning is necessary when tackling climate change, so projects can take into account the human and ecological variations between and within communities, she added.

“We need to make use of all the knowledge we have, including local, to deal with this diversity,” Colfer said—although she acknowledged it did not guarantee an end to poor decisions or governance.

Respectfully involving local communities in project design is a powerful way of finding something positive in conflicts or failure, Colfer added.

“When people realize there is a problem, they can be encouraged to do something about it.”