* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
There is reason to be hopeful when it comes to hard-fought development and climate services gains, but caution is needed
Blane Harvey is an Assistant Professor at McGill University and Research Associate at the Overseas Development Institute; Lindsey Jones is a Research Associate at the Overseas Development Institute; Logan Cochrane is a Banting Fellow at Carleton University and an adjunct professor at Hawassa University; Roop Singh is a Climate Risk Adviser at the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre.
The harrowing impacts of Cyclone Idai in Mozambique are a stark reminder that climate extremes can all too easily wipe out hard-fought development gains. Governments and communities across Africa are therefore looking to climate science to support their decision-making in an increasingly uncertain climate. The hope is that by improving our understanding of global and regional weather systems we will be able to provide better answers to questions like these, saving both lives and resources.
‘Climate services’ can help by providing
Critics, however, raise important questions about the contribution that climate services will actually make to the lives of the most vulnerable. Do communities trust this information? Is it reliable enough? Do people have the means to take action based on the new information? To better understand what this might mean we studied the increasing roles that NGOs have played in Burkina Faso and Ethiopia, finding
Better coordination is needed. The growing interest in climate services means that national services are being overstretched by an ever-expanding range of projects and partnerships. This can lead to duplication in services, conflicting information, and uneven levels of coverage. Initiatives like the World Meteorological Organization’s Global Framework for Climate Services are calling for better coordination, but many countries simply can’t keep up. NGOs may want to make sure their projects are in line with national priorities, but they ultimately remain accountable to bilateral donors in the North who have priorities of their own and expect to see timely project results.
NGOs are expanding the reach of climate services, but communication is too one-directional. Research tells us that climate services are best when they’re “co-produced,” meaning that users help to define what the services are, and how they work. NGOs working in BRACED and elsewhere have made great advances in sharing information with communities who tend to be left out, using creative approaches like mobile phone messaging, theatre, and radio to reach them in formats they can access and understand. But more needs to be done to bring community knowledge into climate services. Many communities have long used local observations and traditional knowledge to anticipate climate trends, and disregarding their knowledge can lead to mistrust of new alternatives. NGOs can act as brokers to ensure that local voices and knowledge shape future investments and initiatives.
Are we setting people up to fail? A final concern is around the long-term viability of these new developments. A large proportion of the advances in climate services have been financed through donor-funded projects that typically run for less than 5 years. These projects aim to get communities to use climate services regularly, with a view to changing people’s decision-making
Research tells us that there is