"Tackling the Global Challenge of Climate Change - German-African Cooperation in Education and Research"

Opening Speech by Georg Schütte at the Side Event: “Strengthening Africa’s Competence in Combating Climate Change: African-German Cooperation in Education and Research” at the 21st UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP 21) in Paris

Dr. Georg Schütte, Staatssekretär im Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung
Georg Schütte, Staatssekretär im Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (BMBF). © Bundesregierung / Steffen Kugler

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Professor Abiola,
Dr Sedogo and Dr Mwima,
Dr Adelegan and Professor Jürgens
Ladies and Gentlemen,

On behalf of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, I would like to welcome you to the Side Event on “Strengthening Africa’s Competence in Combating Climate Change: African-German Cooperation in Education and Research”, during which we will be presenting our SASSCAL and WASCAL cooperation projects. I am particularly pleased that we are able to hold this event in association with our partners and friends from Southern and West Africa.

We are meeting here in the margins of a historic UN climate conference, whose aim is no less than to reach a world climate agreement which is to be as binding, as comprehensive and as ambitious as possible. We are all hoping that the negotiations will be a success and trust in the negotiators’ skilfulness and ability to compromise.

Apart from the task of framing a new agreement, other aspects will play an important role in the conference – such as climate funding and the transfer of technology. As far as the latter is concerned, the new agreement refers explicitly to international research cooperation in order first and foremost to help the Developing Countries to adapt to climate change and to reduce emissions.

The central role of science and innovation in combating climate change has often been underlined in recent months, most recently on 14 October in the European Parliament’s resolution towards a new international climate agreement in Paris. In this resolution, the Members of the European Parliament call for the use of research funding to attain the reduction targets and to develop climate change mitigation and adaptation measures.

In their Leaders’ Declaration, the Heads of State and Government at the G7 summit in Elmau called for joint action, especially with Africa, to tackle climate change. Effective protection against climate-related risks needs to be developed as quickly as possible for rural areas in Africa.

Today, we would like to present two model initiatives with which we are endeavouring to put these aims into practice: “SASSCAL” and “WASCAL” – the Science Service Centers on Climate Change and Adapted Land Use in Southern and West Africa, respectively.

We began establishing these two centres in 2010 together with partners in ten countries in West Africa and five countries in Southern Africa. We are working together with Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, the Gambia, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo in WASCAL – the “West African Science Service Center on Climate Change and Adapted Land Use”. This summer, we also decided to invite the other five members of the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, to participate in WASCAL – that is to say Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde.

SASSCAL – the “Southern African Science Service Center for Climate Change and Adaptive Land Management” – is being set up in association with Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and South Africa.

Basically, both centres aim to strengthen research and promote the establishment of research capacities and infrastructures in the partner countries as well as enable them to draw up their own strategies and priorities for dealing with climate change and its impact.

One cannot emphasize enough the importance of a close partnership between policy-makers and science in the countries in the region and in Germany.

This is the only way that sustainable, long-term structures can be established. It is the only way that people can become capable of taking climate change mitigation into their own hands.

This point was emphasized by all the government representatives at the WASCAL Ministerial Conference in Berlin in July 2015. The participants also expressed the wish to present the two science service centres to a wider public in the margins of the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP21) here in Paris in December. I am delighted that this presentation is meeting with such great interest today!

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me mention a few fundamental aspects before we take a closer look at the two science service centres and their distinctive features:

Climate policy is a central reference point in my Ministry’s, that is to say, German research policy. We consider climate research to be a reliable basis for taking climate policy decisions. The IPCC analyses and evaluates such research. It is largely thanks to science that we have been able to identify climate change as a major global challenge.

Now, science is facing a further important task: we need sound scientific advice in order to redirect our policy and adapt to climate change. Research and research policy must now turn their attention to questions for which we need the answers in the near or more distant future.

SASSCAL and WASCAL are thus playing a decisive role in empowering people to tackle the negative effects of climate change. This is of vital importance because if affects the lives of countless people.

The results provided by climate research must not remain abstract. They must be processed comprehensibly and transformed into practical applications. SASSCAL and WASCAL plan to build relevant capacities in this context.

Let us take, for instance, the example of the West African savannahs – the breadbaskets of the region. In the past, the soil and the climate in these areas have been so good that crops such as millet and maize have usually flourished very well. However, climate forecasts for these areas predict great fluctuations in rainfall. This will severely jeopardize the provision of food staples as well as endangering people’s livelihoods. 

Scientists at WASCAL are therefore working directly with farmers and local authorities in the region. Local surveys and mapping exercises are being combined with modern remote sensing and climate modelling methods. The centre also taps and makes use of traditional knowledge in order to find promising adaptation solutions. This information is collated by WASCAL’s data management. Here capacities are also being built to enable the development of independent climate forecasts and scenarios which can be used for planning adaptation measures or for representing the region’s own interests in international negotiation processes such as the UNFCCC.

Let me now turn my attention to a second example from Southern Africa: SASSCAL has made considerable progress in increasing the density of measuring networks through cross-border planning and by installing automatic weather stations in Angola, Botswana and Zambia. The data obtained is made directly available to the national weather services. It is also used in SASSCAL’s national nodes, which coordinate the regional research programme. In this way, the countries are establishing a joint regional basis; for example, for cross-border early warning systems in the event of floods or for the coordinated observation of changes in land use.

We consider one thing to be of the utmost importance in all these activities – namely, the excellent training of young researchers in the regions and for the regions. This is a decisive factor for the sustainable impact of the initiative.

Over the coming months, both centres will focus on drafting a new research programme for the next development phase. This programme will be based on the centres’ current work and match the needs of the respective regions and players as closely as possible.

The German Research Ministry is providing the African centres with funds of up to 50 million euros each in the first funding phase from 2012 to 2016. It plans to provide a further 10 million euros per centre for the second research phase, which will run from 2016 to 2020.

In return, the partner countries have committed themselves to giving the centres a long-term perspective: by involving them in regional cooperation structures such as ECOWAS, by linking them up with national research institutions and programmes and, of course, by providing own funding for their operation.

Joint activities must focus on this aspect of “ownership” if these initiatives are to be successful.

SASSCAL and WASCAL can build on many decades of successful cooperation between Germany and countries in Africa. Research and development have always played a crucial role in our cooperation and we are delighted to see a growing interest in this exchange from both German and African universities and other research institutions and education providers.

Our “Africa Strategy 2014-2018” pools all the German Research Ministry’s measures in education and research cooperation with countries in Africa. My Ministry is currently funding over 280 projects on the African continent involving total funds of approximately 225 million euros. A decisive factor in this context is that the Africa Strategy too has been drafted in close coordination with African and German researchers and science organizations.

That – Ladies and Gentlemen – is our aim: to decide together what topics are important for research cooperation. We want to be sure that German science is conducting research with and not just in Africa.

We have established SASSCAL and WASCAL with this aim in mind and have established mutual trust. And I can assure you that, in this spirit, we will continue to be a reliable partner for Africa.

I hope that this evening will offer interesting presentations and ideas and that you will gain exciting insights into German-African research cooperation.

Thank you!