The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) is making progress in developing the first Africa-based earth system model to provide reliable projections of the potential impact of climate change on the continent.
The model will provide input into the coupled model intercomparison project phase 6 (CMIP6) and the sixth assessment report (AR6) of the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), providing an adequate understanding of climate variability in Africa and the Southern Ocean.
“It is a first for the African continent. It is a coupled model, so it is linking oceans – the work that we do in the Southern Ocean – the atmosphere and land. We will incorporate the physics and chemistry of the atmosphere and the oceans and the interactions,” says CSIR natural resources and environment executive director May Hermanus.
While climate change is a global challenge, the research effort to deal with it is disproportionately concentrated in the northern hemisphere and, of the 30 global climate models in existence, only one model focuses on the southern hemisphere.
“We (Africa) are particularly vulnerable to climate change variabilities,” she says, adding that the CSIR has invested about R20-million into the new model to provide answers to questions such as whether climate change will result in the more frequent occurrence of strong El Niño events and drought in the Southern African region, and what might happen to Africa’s climate if greenhouse-gas concentrations continue increasing.
“At the CSIR, we are looking through an African lens. In Africa, we are concerned with the processes that impact us, from the Southern Ocean to the land dynamics, and how they all combine,” says CSIR principal researcher Dr Rebecca Garland, stressing the importance of having an Africa-led model.
In the AR4 and the AR5 of the IPCC, Africa was the only continent for which climate models have not improved.
“We are focusing on improving the representation of the system on the continent,” she says.
Now, no fewer than three dedicated CSIR researchers are serving as coordinating lead authors on developing the fully coupled variable-resolution earth system model to deliver Africa-derived projections of future global climate change.
The CSIR became the first CMIP6-registered group in Africa in 2015 and is collaborating with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, in Australia, to develop the new model to contribute to the CMIP6 and the AR6.
The IPCC’s assessment reports are deemed the most important summary of scientific climate change knowledge globally and are a key input into the international negotiations aimed at tackling climate change.
According to the CSIR, the current global models display data at a resolution of 50 km to 200 km, which is inadequate to allow for an understanding of the fine scale dynamics.
“This new model will include processes at a resolution of 1 to 10 km, which we think will enhance the climate sensitivity of the model in respect of the ocean and land in the southern hemisphere,” it explains.
This will also make the decadal and centenary projections more accurate.
According to the IPCC, the AR6 synthesis report would be finalised in 2022, just prior to the first “global stocktake” in 2023 by the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which is when countries will review progress under the Paris Agreement towards their goal of keeping global warming to below 2º C above preindustrial levels, while pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5º C.