Improving access to and use of timely, accurate, and actionable weather and climate information is essential to building resilience to climate change and strengthening livelihoods across Africa.
Collaborative partnerships between the public and private sectors can foster innovative, sustainable, and cost-effective approaches to weather and climate services systems. Furthermore, these systems can be designed to reach the most vulnerable communities and support them in managing the risks of the climate crisis. Fostering productive private sector growth in the provision of weather and climate services will require collaboration, a supportive enabling environment, and gender-informed approaches.
With the increasing availability and capability of weather and climate information in the public and private sectors and the growing global market for weather and climate services (estimated at $56 billion in 2015), there is a real opportunity for households, communities, and companies in Africa to utilize these services to cope with and adapt to climate change. Unfortunately, due to critical gaps in weather and climate services systems caused by insufficient funding and limited human capital, many African countries are unable to provide the immediate, localized, and actionable data needed to support effective decision making. This creates a vicious cycle in which poor systems discourage governments and the private sector from investing in National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs), causing further deterioration of systems.
Yet, the private sector has a critical role to play in the provision of weather and climate services. There is an opportunity to foster productive and cooperative relationships between national governments and the private sector. Governments must recognize the role the private sector can play, such as reporting weather observation data, visualizing and disseminating data, and providing last mile access, while the private sector must engage with governments to establish roles and policies.
Collaboration Rather Than Competition
Partnerships can be challenging when the private and public sectors both seek to provide weather and climate products and services to users but have differing incentive structures and functions. It can create a culture of competition. For example, NMHSs can rely on government funding to cover core operating and maintenance costs and provide services for free to the public. In comparison, private companies, which can also rely on some government support, charge for products and services through arrangements with other private sector actors. But when the public and private sectors collaborate through partnerships, there is an opportunity to strengthen climate services, increase the range of services available, and generate new revenue for both parties. For example, by strengthening the ability of NMHSs to provide better information to everyone, more vulnerable populations will have access to information for decision making. In turn, the private sector can use that improved information to generate and market tailored services that meet the needs of potential customers and clients.
Supportive Enabling Environment
Strengthen National Government Strategic Plans
Government policy, including a strong National Government Strategic Plan, can help foster markets for climate services if the policy supports secure and predictable funding for NMHSs, including for operations, maintenance, and training. The government strategy can help establish NMHS and private sector roles and data sharing policies, including processes to allow NMHSs to raise additional revenue for tailored services while supporting core operating and management costs, as well as policies to permit private companies to sell specialized services to users (while maintaining free access to basic and early warning services). Policy can also support the creation of public-private partnerships by defining a process to develop partnerships rather than by enforcing rigid pre-set roles for public and private actors, which could include a neutral host to mediate conflict and facilitate discussion. Through a National Government Strategic Plan, governments can identify data gaps and priorities, and technological needs and capacity–with the assistance of tools such as baseline assessments and financial planning––to connect needs with cost-effective solutions and engage the private sector in partnerships.
Strengthen Market Incentives
Donors and development organizations can help stimulate private sector participation in the weather and climate services market by using constructive subsidies that enable climate services development and offer a clear plan to transition to a sustainable model based on public and private cooperation. This could include subsidies that support the collection and generation of weather and climate information needed for the private sector to flourish, as well as subsidies that support the creation of products with high development benefits that generate a return, rather than perverse subsidies that distort the market.
Private sector engagement is a promising avenue for the development of gender-responsive climate services that have the potential to empower women. Unfortunately, very few companies appear to take gender into consideration in their design of climate and weather services, decision-making, or service offerings. This has the potential to exacerbate entrenched inequalities and power structures that disadvantage women, diminishing the effectiveness of efforts to reduce risk and strengthen resilience. The private and public sectors must consider the differing roles, decisions, and control of resources that influence the weather and climate information needs of women and the barriers that may limit women’s access to information through particular communication channels, so they can create products and services that are targeted to women. This will ensure weather and climate services enhance the adaptive capacities of both women and men.
Ali Blumenstock is a program manager with the Mercy Corps Environment Technical Support Unit, where she provides technical support and thought leadership in climate change adaptation, while also supporting the organization’s COVID-19 response efforts in water, sanitation, and hygiene. She has over 8 years of experience working with development and advocacy organizations across the United States and around the world in the fields of conservation, climate change adaptation, and environmental justice. She holds a Master’s in Global Human Development from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.