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close this bookSustaining the Future: Economic, Social, and Environmental Change in Sub-Saharan Africa (UNU, 1996, 365 pages)
close this folderPart 4: Institutional issues
close this folderModes of international and regional research cooperation
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentThe global change programmes
View the documentNetworking
View the documentEnvironmental governance
View the documentOutlook
View the documentReferences

The global change programmes

One of the most important points on the international agenda (although at first by no means universally accepted) is the sharing and exchange of scientific data and knowledge about environmental matters. With the assistance of organizations such as the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Programme, as well as non-governmental organizations such as the ICSU and the IUCN (the World Conservation Union), this goal has now been reached in most countries. Depending on their respective scientific infrastructure, many countries are now in a position to assess the importance of their national environmental data and research findings for their own development agenda.

However, for the evaluation of global and regional scientific implications there still remain many problems. Even when the data are available, it is in many cases not known how the earth's ecosystems will respond to significant environmental changes, and what the results will be in various parts of the world. To shed further light on some of these questions is the basic goal of the two global change programmes under discussion here.

The International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme

Established in 1986 by the ICSU, the IGBP has now reached its implementation phase. The aim of IGBP is stated as:

To describe and understand the interactive physical, chemical and biological processes that regulate the total Earth system, the unique environment that it provides for life, the changes that are occurring in this system, and the manner in which they are influenced by human activities. (IGBP 1992: 5)

The present programme is organized to tackle a number of key questions. Core projects have been established or proposed to answer each question, and potential projects are being considered.

Question 1: How is the chemistry of the global atmosphere regulated, and what is the role of biological processes in producing and consuming trace gases?
Core project: International Global Atmospheric Chemistry (IGAC).

Question 2: How will global changes affect terrestrial ecosystems?
Core projects: Global Change and Terrestrial Ecosystems (GCTE); Land Use/Land Cover project.

Question 3: How does vegetation interact with the physical processes of the hydrological cycle?
Core project: Biospheric Aspects of the Hydrological Cycle (BAHC),

Question 4: How will changes in land use, sealevel, and climate alter coastal ecosystems, and what are the wider consequences?
Core project: Land-Ocean Interactions in the Coastal Zone (LOICZ).

Question 5: How do ocean biogeochemical processes influence and respond to climate change?
Core projects: Joint Global Ocean Flux Study (JCOFS); Global Ocean Euphotic Zone Study (GOEZS).

Question 6: What significant climatic and environmental changes occurred in the past, and what were their causes?
Core project: Past Global Changes (PAGES).

Within the core projects there is a distinction between core research, regional/national research, and other relevant research. Much of the work is based on a network of national committees. There are currently 66 national IGBP committees all around the world. In SubSaharan Africa, national committees have been established in Benin (1992), Botswana (1993), Cote d'Ivoire (1992), Ghana (1993), Kenya (1990), Niger (1991), Nigeria (1992), Sierra Leone (1993), South Africa (1987), Togo (1992), Uganda (1990), Zambia (1990), and Zimbabwe (1989).

In addition to the core projects, there are three other IGBP activities with overarching and integrative goals: the Task Force on Global

Analysis, Interpretation, and Modelling (GAIM); the Data and Information System (IGBP-DIS); and the System for Analysis, Research, and Training (START).

The START programme (the somewhat halting abbreviation stands for SysTem for Analysis, Research and Training) is a new initiative responding to the need to ensure global coverage of the global change research programmes in both developed and developing countries and regions (Eddy et al. 1991). START is organized under the joint auspices of the IGBP, the World Climate Programme, and HDP, with the aim of providing the necessary structure of networks, centres, and sites to address the regional origins and impacts of global change. Its major objective is to strengthen the participation of developing countries in IGBP research through the research networks as well as training.

For the purposes of START, the world has been divided into 14 ecological regions, each with networking functions. Africa is divided into two regions: North Africa (NAF), with headquarters in Ghana, and South and East Africa (SAF), with headquarters in Malawi.

The Human Dimensions of Global Environmental Change

It is recognized that understanding global environmental change will not be possible without acknowledging the intricate ways in which human activities affect the physical environment. Themes such as land degradation and society, population pressure and carrying capacity, land use and resource management, marginality and criticality, resilience and sustainability of social groups have increasingly come to the attention of research in various disciplines.

The Human Dimensions of Global Environmental Change Programme (HDP) was set up as a complement to the IGBP to bring together social and natural scientists, as well as those involved in the management of human activities, to carry out research and related activities in key areas of human interactions with the earth (Jacobson and Price 1990). It was initiated at a symposium in 1988 jointly by the UNU, the International Social Science Council (ISSC), the International Federation of Institutes for Advanced Studies (IFIAS), and UNESCO. The broad objectives of the programme were defined as (HDP 1989):

1. to foster a global network of scientists and other concerned parties, and to encourage this network - in collaboration with other relevant research initiatives - to engage in research directed towards the dynamics of human interactions with the global ecosystem;

2. to understand selected core projects central to the purposes of the programme;

3. to develop appropriate information systems and methodologies that will enable the execution of a research programme of this scope;

4. to explore the ethical, cultural, and legal traditions and frame works that underlie and shape the human aspects of global change;

5. to propose procedures and techniques for assisting in the translation of research findings into policy-relevant terms; and

6. to promote educational efforts devoted to human activities having significant effects on the global environment.

One of the important projects is the one on global risk assessment. Risk assessment has emerged as a tool for exploring the potential impacts of proposed technological innovations and large-scale industrial activities. This working group is exploring various aspects of risk assessment theory and practice at the level of global risks. Other themes covered in the context of global risks are uncertainty, critical regions, technology, and corporations. Special attention is given to high-risk regions and potential sealevel rise.

The project on Critical Zones in Global Environmental Change is carried out as a collaboration between the UNU and the International Geographical Union (IGU). Nine regions around the world are explored, where large-scale environmental degradation threatens current or future human occupance and well-being (Kasperson et al. 1995). One of these case-studies is concerned with the dry hill region of Kenya, the Ukambani Mountains.

A closely related activity co-sponsored by the IGU and the UNU is an initiative on Famine Vulnerability and Most Critical Zones and Regions (Bohle et al. 1993).

Since the UNU's 1988 Tokyo symposium, HDP has been continuously evolving, changing, and attracting new partners and scholars. It is to be hoped that it will continue to adapt itself to the actual needs perceived worldwide and will be designed to address global environmental issues with a long-term perspective.

The UNU environmental programmes

UNU environmental research programmes, other than those directly related to HDP, emphasize the importance of local and regional ecological sustainability through appropriate environmental and resource management (Manshard and Uitto 1993).

Major initiatives include the long-term collaborative research project on People, Land Management, and Environmental Change (PLEC) launched in 1992. PLEC emphasizes the consequences for land management, and hence for the environment, of population and production pressure in the smallholder agricultural areas of developing countries. On the basis of field research clusters in various parts of the world, PLEC seeks to obtain data-based, policy-related propositions concerning the adaptation of farming systems to population growth and demographic change, to changing socio-economic conditions, and to environmental deterioration. Strong emphasis is placed on: (i) the study of adaptive agro-diversity and its relations to biodiversity; (ii) identification of what is sustainable and what is unsustainable; (iii) the provision of researched options for the better management of land, its waters and biota, under societal, demographic, and environmental change in different big-geophysical settings, and evaluation of capacity to adopt these options; and (iv) the creation or enhancement of baseline data that could form the basis of longperiod ecological monitoring research, incorporating human use and socio-economic elements (Brookfield 1993).

Five clusters have been established. Two of them are in Africa -one based in Ghana with extension into Guinea, the other covering East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda).

A major effort has been made by the University to develop the Institute for Natural Resources in Africa (INRA) headquartered in Ghana. UNU/INRA's objectives emphasize human resource development and institutional capacity-building related to the strategies and priorities of Agenda 21 through collaboration with African universities and networking within a "college of research associates." The programme focuses on three key areas: (i) soil and water conservation and management; (ii) indigenous African food and other useful plants - conservation of biodiversity, improvement, production, and utilization; and (iii) mineral resources management, development, and the environment. The activities focus on research and capacity-building in the field of environmentally sustainable development, including surveys, research meetings/workshops, and training courses related to soil and water management, indigenous African food and other useful plants, and home gardens, as well as environmental monitoring.

Following UNCED and the ratification of the Convention on Biological Diversity, questions relating to sustainable production and to genetic and ecological biodiversity are receiving significant attention in the international community in terms of improved regional economic cooperation. All of the above topics have a direct bearing on the preservation and management of biological diversity in Africa.