Carnegie Mellon University
September 09, 2022

Team creating tool to support climate resilience and development across sub-Saharan Africa

Dan Carroll

Professor Paulina Jaramillo of Engineering and Public Policy (EPP) is part of a team that has been granted $5.5 million by the Rockefeller Foundation to accelerate economic development and promote climate resilient infrastructure investment across sub-Saharan Africa. Over the 3-year project, the team will create a novel digital platform using new research, publicly available data sets, satellite data, and machine learning techniques. The platform will provide communities with an unparalleled tool for analyzing developmental conditions across the agricultural, energy, and transportation sectors. Policymakers will gain cross-sector insight for prioritizing and sequencing infrastructure investment to address community vulnerabilities and promote economic development, a focus of Jaramillo’s research.

“Historically, development efforts have targeted dispersed, seemingly unconnected, projects—some organizations, for example, have primarily focused their investments on building the physical infrastructure to provide energy,” said Jaramillo. “However, infrastructure assets could be underused without efforts to support communities to use energy productively. This project will help identify interdependencies across sectors that support economic development and human well-being. Understanding these interdependencies would inform holistic development plans and help allocate resources more efficiently.”

Jaramillo’s work takes a multi-disciplinary approach to research related to climate change, environmental sustainability, energy transitions, and development. She recently served as lead coordinating author on the transportation chapter climate mitigation report of the IPCC’s sixth climate assessment report, released in April 2022.

Jaramillo is a co-PI of e-GUIDE, a partnership between 5 institutions that seeks to transform the approaches used in the planning and operation of electricity infrastructure in developing regions. e-GUIDE has successfully harnessed AI to predict electricity consumption in Africa and measure productive energy use in Africa’s agriculture sector. For this new grant, the e-GUIDE team partnered with Atlas AI, a public benefit technology startup based in Silicon Valley. In collaboration with the Rockefeller Foundation, this new project will initially cover Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, and Uganda but is intended to grow to encompass other countries in the region.

“We are delighted for this support for Paulina’s important work in supporting stakeholders in Africa in guiding the growth and development of sub-saharan Africa,” said Department Head Peter Adams of EPP. “This grant is exemplary of the interdisciplinary and international spirit at the core of our research community.”

e-GUIDE and Atlas AI have also partnered with the Kigali Collaborative Research Centre (KCRC) in Rwanda to leverage KCRC’s research and innovation leadership in energy systems, data science, artificial intelligence, transportation, and climate change across Africa. The platform the team is developing as part of this grant is the result of thousands of hours of computation across petabytes of data covering electrification, agriculture, transportation, and human settlement activity. This effort is unprecedented compared to traditional sector-specific development data platforms, which often feature significant data sharing and analysis barriers.

The team identified four urgent issues that they intend to help policymakers address:

  • Africa’s carbon emissions represent less than 3% of global emissions, but it is expected to bear the brunt of the economic impact of climate change, according to the African Development Bank.
  • According to the World Bank, current efforts to build resilience to climate change in Africa’s food systems are effective but fall short when tackling the problem at scale.
  • Hundreds of millions of people lack access to safe, reliable electricity in sub-Saharan Africa, hindering many governments' in achieving development and climate resilience goals.
  • A lack of widespread data about Africa’s transportation infrastructure constrains investment into resilient solutions in a sector responsible for around a quarter of all global emissions.