Future Resilience for African CiTies And Lands (FRACTAL)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Geography - SoGE


The problem: Building climate change resilience necessarily means building urban resilience. Africa's future is dominated by a rapidly increasing urban population with complicated demographic, economic, political, spatial and infrastructural transitions. This creates complex climate vulnerabilities of critical consequence in the co-dependent city-regions.
Climate change substantially complicates the trajectories of African development, exacerbated by climate information that is poorly attuned to the needs of African decision makers. Critical gaps are how climate processes interact at the temporal and spatial scales that matter for decision making, limited institutional capacity to develop and then act on climate information, and inadequate means, methods, and structures to bridge the divides. Current modalities in climate services are largely supply driven and rarely begin with the multiplicity of climate sensitive development challenges.
There is a dominant need to address this disconnect at the urban scale, yet climate research in Africa is poorly configured to respond, and the spatial scale and thematic foci are not well attuned to urban problems. Most climate-related policies and development strategies focus at the national scale and are sectorally based, resulting in a poor fit to the vital urban environments with their tightly interlocking place-based systems.
Response: FRACTAL's aim is to advance scientific knowledge about regional climate responses to anthropogenic forcings, enhance the integration of this knowledge into decision making at the co-dependent city-region scale, and thus enable responsible development pathways.
We focus on city-region scales of climate information and decision making. Informed by the literature, guided by co-exploration with decision makers, we concentrate on two key cross-cutting issues: Water and Energy, and secondarily their influence on food security. We work within and across disciplinary boundaries (transdisciplinarity) and develop all aspects of the research process in collaboration with user groups (co-exploration).The project functions through three interconnected work packages focused on three Tier 1 cities (Windhoek, Maputo and Lusaka), a secondary focus on three Tier 2 cities (Blantyre, Gaborone and Harare), and two self-funded partner cities (Cape Town and eThekwini).
Work Package 1 (WP1) is an ongoing and sustained activity operating as a learning laboratory for pilot studies to link research from WP2 and 3 to a real world iterative dialogue and decision process. WP1 frames, informs, and steers the research questions of WP2 and 3, and so centres all research on needs for responsible development pathways of city-region systems.
WP2 addresses the decision making space in cities; the political, economic, technical and social determinants of decision making, and seeks to understand the opportunities for better incorporation of climate information into local decision making contexts.
WP3, the majority effort, focuses on advancing understanding of the physical climate processes that govern the regional system, both as observed and simulated. This knowledge grounds the development of robust and scale relevant climate information, and the related analysis and communication. This is steered explicitly by WP1's perspective of urban climate change risk, resilience, impacts, and decisions for adaptation and development.
The project will frame a new paradigm for user-informed, knowledge-based decisions to develop pathways to resilience for the majority population. It will provide a step change in understanding the cross-scale climate processes that drive change and so enable enhanced uptake of climate information in near to medium-term decision making. The project legacy will include improved scientific capacity and collaboration, provide transferable knowledge to enhance decision making on the African continent, and in this make significant contribution to academic disciplines.

Planned Impact

FRACTAL aims to fundamentally alter how African cities include climate change in development planning, in a context with no direct historical precedent. This is critical given that the interests of the majority urban population place an inviolable demand (with substantial regional dependencies) on water, energy and associated infrastructure. FRACTAL recognizes that supply-driven climate information (e.g. IPCC) is having limited impact in real world decision making, largely due to messages of limited relevance or robustness at the scales and for the contexts of decision making.

We directly address this inadequacy through increased understanding of regional climate information and informed by co-exploration with decision makers. FRACTAL seek s to bring fundamental changes in key decision pathways (around water, flooding and energy) to increase the resilience of city-regions. This will leave a legacy of new knowledge, capacity and learning exemplars in 5 city-regions from which Africa can build. FRACTAL will provide an essential counterpart and balance in a landscape where the majority of climate development actions have non-urban, sectoral or rural foci.

There are four groups of beneficiaries:
a) Policy and decision-makers in government, resource management and infrastructure from local officials (case-study cities) to national-scale line Ministries which oversee urban development and the planning of infrastructure and regional services. These benefit through: co-generation of information and policy guidelines; new frameworks for incorporating climate change information in the context of multiple stressors and competing agendas; deep co-learning benefits led by researchers embedded in city governments; peer-to-peer relationships that lead to learning opportunities amongst the city partners; written materials generated by the project.
b) International and regional development institutions. The project will present research findings to guide development organizations and funders who are important contributors to development and adaptation trajectories. This will be strengthened by leveraging existing networks, ie the consortium's IPCC/WCRP/SASSCAL/Future Earth presence.
c) Academic disciplines and research communities in Africa and internationally. A publication strategy will place papers in disciplinary journals and the work will be disseminated at major conferences. Academics from under-capacitated African universities will benefit through the production of research, teaching tools and supporting publications. New inter-institutional relationships will foster the establishment of critical research capacity within the region to initiate key research agendas. Collaboration with the international community provides much needed reverse flows of knowledge, giving African researchers valuable entry to participate in research governance on the international scale (WCRP, IPCC, etc.).
d) Society. While largely an indirect process, this grouping has potential to receive the largest impact and benefit. By operating in the placed-based context of the majority of the population, FRACTAL can help steer development to enhance the quality of life and human security of large sections of society, as well as protect the economic system through both enabling opportunities and managing the very high risk of maladaptation with its attendant costs, damages, and inefficiencies. Informed city governance can lead to greater awareness and understanding in the voting population which can introduce major shifts in how nations choose to respond to climate change. Likewise, by changing the policy environment new opportunities for economic engagement are created.

Lastly, a significant cross-cutting impact is the building of trust relationships, dialogue and learning between and within these communities, which fosters growth potential as adaptation increasingly adopts a policy-first approach (versus a science-scenario-first approach).


10 25 50

publication icon
Crowhurst D (2020) Evaluation of Evaporation Climatology for the Congo Basin Wet Seasons in 11 Global Climate Models in Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres

publication icon
Gaupp F (2017) Dependency of Crop Production between Global Breadbaskets: A Copula Approach for the Assessment of Global and Regional Risk Pools. in Risk analysis : an official publication of the Society for Risk Analysis

publication icon
Marthews T (2019) The Impact of Human-Induced Climate Change on Regional Drought in the Horn of Africa in Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres

publication icon
Taylor C (2018) Mesoscale rainfall patterns observed around wetlands in sub-Saharan Africa in Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society

Description REACH
Amount £15,000,000 (GBP)
Organisation Government of the UK 
Department Department for International Development (DfID)
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2015 
End 09/2022
Description UKSA IPP
Amount £2,000,000 (GBP)
Organisation UK Space Agency 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2016 
End 03/2019
Description DFID-REACH Panellist: Water Security in Africa 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact 150 people from Ethiopia, Kenya, Bangladesh attended a conference of which this panel was a component
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description Geographical Association Annual Pilgrim Lecture (to sixth formers) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact ~100 students from the region attended and participated in a discussion afterwards. I also held a session to demystify Oxbridge applications afterwards which was well attended.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
Description REACH Conference DFID 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Chaired panel discussion on Future Climate for Africa at DFID-REACH conference on Improving Water Security for the Poor. Engagement with senior civil servants from DfID, ministers and other policymakers from Ethiopia, Kenya, Bangladesh.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.reachwater.org