While public sector interest in climate information services (CIS) is concerned with resilience in the face of climate variability and change, the private sector is beginning to recognize that there is a growing market for climate services. Public-private partnerships (PPPs) are helping to bridge gaps in public services around the globe.
While they take many forms, PPPs are formal collaborations between private sector, government and/or non-profit entities whose purpose is to achieve a mutually beneficial common goal. The need for reliable and accessible climate and weather information to support resilience in Sub-Saharan Africa is an expanding area of mutual interest. National meteorological and hydrological services (NMHSs) have historically filled this role, but there is growing recognition that private service providers could offer the innovation, technology and capital necessary to fill key gaps in CIS across Africa.
Recognizing the role PPPs could play in advancing CIS in Sub-Saharan Africa, the USAID-funded, Assessing Sustainability and Effectiveness of Climate Information Services in Africa (Sustainable CIS) project is identifying and piloting effective models for establishing robust PPPs in this sector. While many African countries have experience in establishing PPPs in agriculture, infrastructure and healthcare, PPPs for CIS are still nascent. Successful PPPs require clear motivation and benefit to all parties. Though estimates of market growth vary, one study finds that £12.3bn global revenues were generated for climate services in 2011 and are projected to grow to £16bn by 2015. The Weather Channel estimated in 2012 that the total private sector market in the United States accounted for $5.1 billion USD. Through PPPs, the private sector has potential to play a vital role, for example by building information technology infrastructure, investing in essential equipment and delivering quality climate information. In turn, government can help cover gaps in funding, shore up the regulatory environment, and lead public engagement.
Assessments undertaken by Sustainable CIS so far have pinpointed several areas and actions that are key in establishing a strong foundation for PPPs that support timely delivery of quality climate information to broad audiences. Among these is the value of having a mediator, or other neutral party, to moderate conversations between NMHSs and private sector interests. At times, there is a lack of trust between private and public actors, especially in emerging sectors such as information technology. This was demonstrated recently when negotiations between a private company and the national NMHS of an African nation came to a standstill over trepidations the national institutions had with the private company. Neutral mediators can facilitate the negotiations to help address underlying issues, support dialogue and build trust though regular meetings.
Another common gap is a regulatory framework that guides and sets boundaries for partnerships. This can result in missed partnership opportunities or benefits that are out of balance among public and private actors. There is a clear need for sound regulations that account for diverse private sector entities that have equally divergent entry points into the CIS market. Sustainable CIS is working to guide the establishment of fair, transparent international and national regulations for PPPs that enforce good practices and meaningful results.
Between 2016 and 2018, The Sustainable CIS consortium, made up of Winrock International, Global Framework of Climate Services (GFCS), International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI), the Climate System Analysis Group (CSAG) and Centre Regional de Formation et d'Application en Agrométéorologie et Hydrologie Opérationnelle (AGRHYMET), will continue to examine the role of the private sector and PPPs for sustainable and useful climate service provisions.
 Buswell, G., & Pradhan, C. (2015). Climate Services: Markets, Systems & Data Exploitation. CGI. Retrieved from ECMWF: http://www.ecmwf.int/sites/default/files/elibrary/2015/13558-climate-services-markets-systems-data-exploitation.pdf
 Ban, Raymond. (2012). The Weather and Climate Enterprise in the United States. Available at: http://www.climate.go.kr/home/cc_data/presentation/20120402/20120402_presentation_0_Raymond.pdf
Fatema Rajabali leads the Knowledge Management component of the Sustainable Climate Information Services project and is the Knowledge Management and Outreach Officer for the Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS). Fatema’s recent work has focused on climate change adaptation research and implementing and evaluating strategies for research uptake.
Robert O’Sullivan manages the Sustainable Climate Information Services project for Winrock International and is director of Winrock’s Policy, Markets and Finance unit. He is a senior climate change and land use expert with over 15 years of multidisciplinary experience covering climate change law, policy, finance and the carbon market.
Jeremy Usher is a global weather and climate technology expert with more than 20 years of experience in both the public and private sectors. He serves as a consultant to Winrock International on the Sustainable Climate Information Services project.