For the first time, a delegation from Djibouti has come to campus to meet with the Yale Climate & Energy Institute as part of a joint initiative to study and model climate in East Africa.
As the preliminary step towards building what both sides called a “sustainable international partnership,” the three-day meeting brings together experts from Yale and representatives from Djibouti, including the nation’s minister of higher education and research, to develop the region’s first high-resolution climate model. The YCEI-Djibouti climate project plans to rely on this model to generate effective forecasts that can be used to devise solutions to the region’s environmental and economic issues. Coordinated by Ethan Chorin ’91 and his firm Perim Associates, which provides expert services to governments and companies regarding the Middle East and Africa, the involved parties claimed this project is part of Djibouti’s larger aspirations to become a regional leader in environmental resilience as well as Yale’s goals of greater involvement in Africa.
“The plan is to do high-resolution climate modeling for the future [in Djibouti], which will come with a projection of 100 years from now,” said Mark Pagani, director of the YCEI and professor of geology and geophysics. “The data gathered can then be used to run forestry, agricultural, and economic models as well as to understand epidemiology, showing future impacts of the climate on the behavior of the area.”
Pagani added that the concept of a high-resolution climate model, which is focused on region-specific predictions, has already been discussed and developed for the Northeast region of the United States, although this is the first time that a similar project will be launched in East Africa.
Pagani also commented that the project comes with important political implications.
“Recently, in the last couple of months, there have been published accounts of relationships between drought and the conflict in Syria,” he said.
Nabil Mohamed Ahmed, Djibouti’s minister of higher education and research, stressed the importance of the YCEI partnership to the country’s development. He added that Djibouti has ambitious plans to alleviate problems like drought and poverty, to emphasize the country’s environmental conditions in addition to its national security, and to emerge as a leader in East Africa through promoting projects and partnerships like this one.
“What we would like to do is to build a win-win project through partnerships with well-known universities like Yale and to collect data through models that will help Djibouti reduce the effects of climate change,” Mohamed said. “Djibouti is a very small country, so we can try everything. There are currently many new projects underway. My vision is to think big, start small and scale fast.”
Chorin echoed Mohamed’s confidence in the long-term benefits of this partnership.
As a francophone country surrounded mostly by English speakers, Djibouti intends to strengthen its position through collaborations with American institutions, Chorin explained. He added that fruitful outcomes from Djibouti’s planning could bring significant benefits to its neighboring countries.
“My perspective on Djibouti is that things can be done there relatively quickly and effectively because of its size and its visionary leadership. Situated in a fragile and strategically important region, their success can make a big difference,” Chorin said. “All the pieces seem to fit together right now.”
And considering University President Peter Salovey’s expressed interest in expanding Yale’s influence in Africa during his 2013 inaugural address, members of the Yale team are excited about this opportunity, School of Forestry & Environmental Studies professor Marian Chertow said.
In the address, Salovey drew attention to effort on the part of Yale’s top administrators to establish partnerships with African institutions, increase student recruitment from the continent and develop research and scholarship on African issues.
The East Africa Environmental Risk and Opportunities Summit, which will be hosted in Djibouti from May 2 to May 4, will gather the scientists, the private sector, the public sector and a team from the YCEI to further discuss issues and potential solutions to environmental and economic challenges in the region.