Global South suffers gap in climate change research as rich countries lead agenda, studies find

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Developing countries suffer from a significant gap in terms of scientific research related to climate change, according to a new study, even if they contain the communities and people most vulnerable to extreme weather events, to the rise in the level of the sea and other serious impacts of climate change.

“There is sort of a knowledge gap, especially in peer-reviewed articles in large databases of literature on these areas,” said Max Callaghan, senior author of study and researcher at the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change in Berlin.

“We know there is some kind of inequality in this global science system in terms of resources.”

The glaring gap in the availability of scientific research has been on the radar of climate experts, with major hurdles facing scientists in the south of the world, such as access to prestigious (and expensive) scientific journals, the lack of time and funding to work on research, and even onerous visa requirements that make it difficult for scientists to attend conferences and meetings in northern countries.

Experts warn that the gap could leave developing countries without the means to identify where climate mitigation and adaptation efforts should be directed to prepare for future weather disasters. Good climate science is also needed so that aid money countries to help poor countries tackle climate change is targeted and spent on the right projects.

Protesters display their placards at a climate change protest in South Africa in 2019. Even with relatively little funding for climate science, researchers already know that much of Africa faces the impacts of climate change. (Denis Farrell / The Associated Press)

Machine learning maps climate impacts

The new study, published this week in Nature Climate Change, used machine learning to examine more than 100,000 scientific papers around the world. The study was designed as a way to see if machine learning could help the work of the United Nations climate science body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, making it easier to review and analyze the paper thousands of scientists are currently examining by hand.

The study authors divided the world into smaller grid cells and calculated the number of climate studies that investigated climate impacts in these regions.

They found that many more climate studies had been published on impacts in developed countries than in developing countries.

For example, nearly 30,000 studies focused on regions of North America. Only 10,000 studies have looked at Africa, which has more than double the population.

The researchers then used the precipitation and temperature data to determine whether a particular area was experiencing climate change caused by human activity. They found that while three-quarters of Africans lived in areas subject to the impacts of climate change, only 22 percent of them lived in areas with high levels of scientific research on these impacts.

This interactive map of the study shows the weight of evidence of climate impacts per grid cell across the world. Darker shading shows a greater weight of proof. Filters can be used to specify climatic factor and impact category. Credit: Max Callaghan.

Canada funds research in the southern hemisphere

An agency of the Canadian government is working to fill this research gap. The International Development Research Center, a federal state-owned company, finances and promotes scientific research in countries of the South and has offices in countries such as Uruguay, Senegal and India.

In 2019-2020, new projects totaling $ 166.4 million were funded by IDRC and its associated donors. The center make calls for research proposals on international development that achieve specific objectives, such as adaptation to climate change. Researchers and institutions can apply, with the money going to local researchers or collaborations.

Bruce Currie-Alder, Climate Resilience Program Manager at IDRC, says that while there have been years of conceptual thinking about climate change adaptation, we now need to implement these concepts here in Canada, and everywhere. elsewhere by seeing the climate impacts. This is where local climate science becomes very important, in determining exactly how a particular region should adapt.

“It’s one thing to say the world is getting warmer. There are some parts that are drier, there is a certain frequency of storms,” ​​he said.

“What does that mean in a particular district or state? And this knowledge is absolutely essential.”

Bruce Currie-Alder, who heads climate resilience programs at IDRC, says local science of climate impacts is needed to help communities prepare for the future. (IDRC)

Obstacles facing African researchers

The deep divide in climate science has been highlighted by another paper published in September and funded in part by IDRC, which reviewed research funding in Africa. He found that a meager 3.8% of global climate change research funding goes to Africa.

Even when it does, the money mostly goes to researchers in the north of the world. For example, of this small amount of funding for research in Africa, 78 percent went to institutions in Europe and North America. Only 14.5% went to African institutions.

Massive waves crash on the Sea Point promenade in Cape Town, South Africa in 2020. The southern countries of the world are also home to communities most vulnerable to extreme weather conditions caused by climate change. (Nardus Engelbrecht / AP Photo)

Christopher Trisos, South African co-author of the article and senior researcher at the African Climate and Development Initiative in Cape Town, says the solution lies not only in increasing funding for African researchers, but also in improving the quality of funding.

“For example, increasing direct access and direct control of research, design and resources for African partners when working with researchers from countries like Canada or the United States, as opposed to research programs. research defined externally, ”he said.

Trisos also pointed out that African researchers face obstacles even when trying to access published articles, many of which are in journals behind online payment walls that could exceed their budget.

“So publishing more open access data and more open access scientific publications is also a big part of the solution,” he said.

Christopher Trisos, a researcher at the African Climate and Development Initiative in Cape Town, says there is a greater acceptance of indigenous knowledge being valuable in understanding how people can adapt to climate change. (Christophe Trisos / Twitter)

The paper said that these funding disparities lead to “an uneven power dynamic in the way climate change research agendas in Africa are shaped by research institutions in Europe and the United States.”

One of the results is that researchers in developed countries can formulate research questions and objectives for a global Nordic audience, rather than providing actionable information to their local partners to use this research to tackle climate change in Africa. , warns the document.

Indigenous knowledge must be included

Michele Leone is a Senior Program Specialist at the IDRC offices in Dakar, Senegal. He is currently working on an IDRC-funded project examining migration in the region and its link to climate and environmental change on water sources and agricultural productivity.

Leone praised the machine learning study, but pointed out that the technological method used is an example of the division of resources between scientists in the North and the South.

“There is the risk of some sort of new global divide,” he said, “with the rapid and exponentially rapid development of artificial intelligence and machine learning tools that have been developed in the north. with Nordic ideas, with Nordic datasets and Nordic biases. “

Trisos says it’s also important to consider who is considered an expert. There are multiple barriers to research that intersect with ethnicity and gender, he says, that hold back some people and certain forms of knowledge.

“Fortunately, within institutions like the IPCC which has started to change authorship, the teams are diversifying,” Trisos said.

“There is also a lot more appreciation of not only scientific knowledge but also indigenous knowledge and local knowledge as holding valuable stories about how people in certain places are affected by climate change. “

Even without so much research in the Global South, it’s clear that climate change is affecting people.

“I think it’s telling that even with this very small amount of funding and research effort, there are still very strong signals of the serious impacts of climate change on people’s health, on their food security, on biodiversity in Africa, ”Trisos said.

“But we would know a lot more if more resources were allocated to the problem.”


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