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If Africa is to adapt to climate change, it will need a solid knowledge base. Photograph: Julien Behal/PA

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Climate change is one of the defining issues of our time, and Africa is the most vulnerable continent to its impact. A crucial determinant of the continent's future is how well adaptation strategies are developed and implemented throughout the region. Adaptation is knowledge intensive, and there is an urgent need for improved access to relevant and usable knowledge to support new initiatives.The growing awareness of the impact of climate change has resulted in a large number of agencies, organisations, research institutes, and political bodies seeking to understand the patterns of vulnerability and how to adapt. While much information exists on successfully adapting to climate change's effects, it is often fragmented and difficult to access for those who need it. In African countries, there are still significant barriers and constraints to adaptation efforts.The gaps in knowledge include how to conduct climate change impact assessment and vulnerability analysis, finding and implementing suitable policies and plans for improved resilience, experimenting through pilot projects, demonstration of successful initiatives, full scale implementation, and monitoring and evaluation of adaptation strategies that have been undertaken.Adapting to climate change by sharing informationAccess to relevant and up to date technical information is a better base for efficient and targeted policies. More information strengthens institutions, which in turn make the policies, laws and regulations better fitted to prepare for future challenges. Many lessons have been learned and it is time to more effectively use the knowledge that has been built through experience and scientific analysis. Successful adaptation strategies require custom-made solutions to local and regional challenges. When such information is lacking, it is more difficult to prepare for and react to climate change induced threats and crisis. There is an urgent need for access to relevant knowledge and technical resources, as well as the capacity to utilize these resources where they are needed.A continental knowledge platform for AfricaThe Africa Adaptation Knowledge Network (AAKnet) is a platform that aims to build a shared knowledge base to help build an innovative community, to enhance adaptive actions through sharing lessons, knowledge and information. The ministers also recognised the growing dialogue on climate change adaptation that bridges the continent by formally highlighting a conference attended by nearly 800 participants including farmers, development professionals, policymakers, private sector leaders amongst many. The First Africa Food Security and Adaptation Conference, held in Nairobi on 20 and 21 August 2013 clearly demonstrated the link between adaptation and food security, and the resulting conclusions and recommendations from the conference were endorsed and supported by the ministers.The African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (Amcen) also took a bold step forward and adopted a decision to "recognize and support the Africa Adaptation Knowledge Network as the continental network for coordinating, facilitating, harnessing and strengthening the exchange of information and knowledge for climate change adaptation." A cohesive network to facilitate adaptation expertise has long been overdue.Amcen recently took place in Gaborone, Botswana. The conference endorsed the AAKnet as a tool for building and spreading knowledge on adaptation to climate change. The Amcen is a permanent forum for African ministers of the environment. This year the conference had a special focus on climate change.The main objectives of the network are to improve coordination, facilitation, harnessing and strengthening of the exchange of information and knowledge. An important aspect is also to contribute to building new alliances to enhance collaboration and innovation. Harmonising and aggregating knowledge in usable packages tailored for addressing particular climate risks will make the information easier to adapt by the decision makers. The scientific and assessment activities lay the foundation for AAKnet's policy support and capacity building work.ConclusionAddressing climate change needs an approach where concrete experiences and strategic thinking in navigating the issues becomes the core of decision making. Harnessing and aggregating knowledge for adaptation could therefore be a crucial key to unleashing the adaptation potential for Africa. Harnessing knowledge for adaptation will continue to be a tall order if there is no convening platform. That's why a political commitment to streamlining adaptation expertise via the Africa Adaptation Knowledge Network was a much needed advance. With this opportunity now having the political backing, practitioners should utilise the platform to its fullest potential to engage in scientific and data exchange, share practical adaptation actions, learn about the experiences of others and best practices and locate available experts.

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