How geographic gaps are harming climate science | News | Ecobusiness
The mountain of science investigating climate change continues to grow rapidly, and the evidence of its real-world impacts is becoming more and more obvious.
In March, the latest IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report warned of dramatic changes affecting human health, natural ecosystems, and global and local economies.
However, even as decisive action to mitigate and adapt to climate change becomes more urgent, significant geographic gaps remain in the research underlying these assessments.
A recent study published in the journal Environmental Research: Climate reveals the urgent need for more information. As a result, while the field of attribution science is growing, Significant progress has been made in linking extreme weather events with human-induced climate change, but there are significant regional and national differences in understanding the impacts.
One of the authors of this report is Dr. Luke Harrington, Senior Research Fellow at the New Zealand Climate Change Institute, Victoria University of Wellington. He said many parts of the world lack long enough historical records and high-quality data to predict the types and severity of extreme weather events. For example, there is virtually no official record of heatwaves, even though sub-Saharan Africa is “literally a hotspot of heatwave activity.”
We’ve been improving with each evaluation cycle, but we still need real work. Not only do you let people into the room, but you can hear them when they are in the room.
Debra Roberts, Professor, University of KwaZulu-Natal
This is a problem identified by Dr. Caroline Wainwright, a Grantham Research Fellow at Imperial College London, who studies climate variability and change in the tropics. She said regions such as Europe “arguably have been studied more than places in Africa”, and as a result don’t have a complete picture of what’s going on.
Namita Chakma, a professor of geography at Burdwan University in India, agrees, saying scientific analysis on India is lacking due to the lack of information collected daily from weather stations. . set. It is also difficult to study climate variables at the micro-regional level. ”
We also do not have enough information to assess the total human and social losses from extreme weather events. Some studies have looked at economic and infrastructure impacts, deaths and hospitalizations, but these are generally confined to wealthy Arctic countries.
For example, Harrington cites a global database that records mortality associated with extreme weather events. Asia, Africa, South America and the Caribbean account for only a small portion of the recorded deaths, despite her 85% of the world’s population. “Some parts of the world have put in place much more robust monitoring systems to track the impact of events of this kind,” he said.
As a result, the harms of climate change in low- and middle-income countries are greatly underestimated.
Dr. Friederike Ott, a senior lecturer at the Grantham Institute and an attributed science expert, is also a co-author of Environmental Studies: Climate Studies. Without this information, she believes countries have the knowledge to plan properly, make the most of limited resources, and improve their chances of living safely and adapting to a changing climate. said it wouldn’t be possible.
For example, Wainwright points out that in East Africa there is great uncertainty about whether the climate will become wetter or drier, affecting state and community planning.
barriers to research
This question has been bubbling beneath the surface of climate science for several years.
Part of this problem is the lack of published scholarly literature from outside the Global North. When Reuters published its 2021 “hot list” of the 1000 “most influential” climate scientists, few Global South scientists were listed, sparking backlash from researchers. rice field.
But a Carbon Brief study of the backgrounds of nearly 1,300 authors involved in the 100 most cited climate change research papers from 2016 to 2020 found a similar pattern. We also found significant imbalances within the region. Eight of the ten African authors were from South Africa. And when it comes to first authorship, none of the top 100 papers had an African or South American scientist as the first author. Of the seven papers led by Asian authors, five were from China.
Language can be a barrier, as can local research capabilities.
A 2018 paper published in Nature Climate Change explores the obstacles facing young climate scientists in Africa., We have found that inadequate facilities, underfunded research, inaccessible data, and immature academic writing skills are undermining efforts to combat climate change on the continent.
Dr. Victor Dyke, a researcher at the Institute of Atmospheric Physics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, who specializes in extreme weather events in Africa and East Asia, said African researchers had more than enough time to publish their papers in the most prestigious journals. and may not have the funds. We don’t always have the resources to keep us up to date with the latest science and policy. “It would be difficult for anyone to make a significant contribution in that respect.”
Dyke said Chinese researchers are encouraged to publish papers in high-impact journals with cash bonuses from institutions.
Wainwright also highlights the limitations of short- and long-term weather forecasts, which he says affect agriculture and daily service planning. The Environmental Research: Climate paper reports on South Africa, where corruption has denied funding for weather reporting facilities and created large data gaps in an otherwise excellent forecasting network; He points to the example of Somalia, which is prone to severe droughts.
Furthermore, regions like East Africa are subject to high natural variability, making climate change studies difficult. It can also be affected by atmospheric phenomena such as La Niña that complicate climate prediction.
Researchers say the geographic gap is also due to the fact that scientific efforts around the world are not equally valued. Debra Roberts, deputy head of his unit’s Sustainable and Resilient Cities Initiative in South Africa’s Esekwini Municipality, said much of the climate change action being taken at the city level has gone unwritten. “A lot of that knowledge is often in people’s heads.”
Even the IPCC is not truly representative. Mr. Roberts is Professor Emeritus of Life Sciences at the University of Natal and Co-Chair of Working Group II of the IPCC to ensure that sufficient numbers of researchers from the Global South are working on the international report. said that there is a constant battle of “We’ve been improving with each evaluation cycle, but it still needs real work. It’s not just getting people into the room, but making sure they can hear them when they’re in the room.”
While technology can be a boon to climate science, it can also be another barrier.
Wainwright said most climate models were developed in the Northern Hemisphere and “so they generally represent the climate in those regions better.” Dyke agrees. After looking at several different datasets, I don’t think they fully capture the spatial distribution of rainfall and its variability in West Africa.
Artificial intelligence is also a challenge. A paper examining machine learning tools from the UK found that they could support research on climate adaptation policy by rapidly processing large amounts of policy text. But they only work with digitized data, which “is a serious limitation in many parts of the world.”
The program will bring climate science to the Southern Hemisphere, including the United Nations World Meteorological Organization’s Regional Training Center in Nanjing and the GCRF African Swift work funded by UK Research and Innovation aimed at improving forecasts in Africa. is trying to build the capacity of
However, there is still much work to be done.
Dyke recently received a grant from the Chinese government to work in West Africa. He said such funding was necessary and welcomed, but also rare. It adds that there is a strategic or commercial interest in “They want to solve their problems.”
He wants a general improvement in the quality of research in Africa and sees mentorship and training as a means to address this. Collaboration is also important, helping researchers read papers and work with datasets that may otherwise be inaccessible.
Dyke wistfully talks about returning to work in Nigeria. “When I was doing my Ph.D., I had an ambition to go back to Africa and contribute to science. I am facing a problem.”
This article was originally published in China Dialogue under a Creative Commons license.