Managing uncertainty in adaptation


Africa is highly vulnerable to climate change, and finding ways to adapt is imperative for the continent’s growing population. Yet those working to develop adaptation options face significant scientific uncertainties. Along with methodological issues that are common elsewhere, researchers in Africa also face a lack of solid basic information, such as historical climate data or reliable census data. But experience from participatory action research in Africa suggests that scientific uncertainty is not the main obstacle to effective adaptation. Weak institutional capacity for making decisions and taking action in the face of complex and uncertain problems appears to play a much greater role.

This paper discusses the uncertainties that arise in complex, multidisciplinary research, and how these uncertainties are understood and dealt with by researchers and decision-makers. It draws on the experience of the Climate Change Adaptation in Africa (CCAA) program, which supports 46 projects in 33 countries that aim to improve adaptation practice and policy. The paper highlights some limitations on the use of research results in climate change adaptation decision-making in Africa, and questions how future research and programming can be oriented to address these constraints.


International Development Research Centre, Ottawa,Canada. Climate Change Adaptation in AfricaPerspectives series. 10 pp.

Managing uncertainty in adaptation

Published 1 January 2011