Climate impacts in the Sahel and West Africa: the role of climate science in policy making

Given that the population of the Sahel depends largely on rain-fed agriculture and transhumant livestock rearing, there is a growing concern about the future climate of the region as global warming may alter the availability of water resources. The lack of consensus on climate projections for West Africa results partly from the inability of climate models to capture some basic features of present-day climate variability in the region. As a result, climate model projections are difficult to analyse in terms of impacts and provide little guidance to inform decision making on adaption and resilience-building. However, by engaging with users of climate information to better understand their activities and their sensitivities to weather and climate, and by looking beyond the user to understand the wider systems context in which climate change occurs, progress can be made in interpreting climate impacts. This paper reviews the latest climate projections for West Africa and considers alternative ways in which the knowledge generated from climate science can be understood in the context of preparing for an uncertain future that provides practical help for decision makers.