Saturday, September 5, 2009

World Climate Conference Launches Global Climate Services Effort

By Cheryl Pellerin

Geneva - Global leaders, climate scientists and experts from sectors such as water, agriculture and health finished their work here September 4 at the third World Climate Conference, launching an effort that will help people better understand and adapt to a rapidly changing planet.

The Global Framework for Climate Services, agreed upon by more than 2,000 conference attendees, will strengthen the production, availability, delivery and application of science-based climate predictions and other services.

It will also establish a mechanism for working with communities and other climate-information users to create useful products, and through training and education build capacity in developing countries to produce and apply their own climate services.

"I'm very excited with this conference," said Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), during a September 3 press briefing.

"I believe that today will be remembered as the day that climate services were officially born," she added. "Just as we depend on all sorts of weather services, soon - if we are successful in our efforts - we can expect a range of science-based climate predictions and services. (See "Adaption to Climate Change Focus of Meeting in Geneva").

CLIMATE SERVICES

Within four months, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) will convene a task force of high-level independent advisers who will consult with governments, partner organizations and other interested parties before recommending elements of the framework.

Some of the elements are already in place and will be strengthened, including the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS) and the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP).

GCOS, established in 1992, is an international, operational system of buoys, sensors, aircraft and satellites that monitor the climate system's physical, chemical and biological properties and its atmosphere, ocean, land, water and ice components. It is co-sponsored by WMO, UNESCO's Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), the U.N. Environment Programme and the International Council for Science (ICSU).

The WCRP was established in 1980 by WMO and ICSU and since 1993 has been co-sponsored by the IOC. It was formed to determine the predictability of climate and the effect of human activities on climate. Its efforts have made it possible for climate scientists to monitor, simulate and project global climate with unprecedented accuracy.

Two of the elements are new - a climate services information system will create information, products, predictions and services and a user interface program will develop ways to bridge the gap between climate information being developed by climate scientists and the practical information needs of users.

As the framework is developed, it will provide the kinds of services people need to adjust to a changing climate.

"Imagine farmers being able to determine what to plant and where based on drought forecasts three to five years out," Lubchenco said to the WCC-3 delegates September 3.

"Imagine," she added, "coastal communities able to plan for sea-level rise and storm intensity ... coastal planners or water managers able to ensure the availability of water for drinking, energy production, agriculture and many other uses ... public health officials being ready for - or even being able to avoid - outbreaks of malaria based on longer-term precipitation forecasts."

CLIMATE CHANGE IN AFRICA

As a result of the meeting in Geneva, African officials responsible for meteorology announced September 4 that they will meet March 15-19, 2010, for the first time to discuss ways to strengthen weather, climate and water information for decisionmaking. The meeting will be organized by WMO and the African Union.

The African continent is especially vulnerable to climate change. Already, the number and magnitude of natural hazards are increasing in the face of a warming climate system. All sectors in Africa are affected, from agriculture, water and food security to health and forestry.

African national meteorological and hydrological services have an important role to play in evaluating and monitoring climate change, WMO Assistant Secretary-General Jeremiah Lengoasa said during the WCC-3 meeting, and their early warnings on natural hazards are essential to help prevent natural disasters.

The major challenge in Africa lies in the availability of climate data and processing capacity," Ali Mohamed Shein, vice president of Tanzania, told delegates September 3. "Meteorological and hydrological services in the region require expansion and modernization of observation networks, an up-to-date telecommunications system to exchange relevant data products, and processing and prediction tools."

The African ministerial meeting will address the contribution of the national meteorological services to efforts by African governments to develop measures to adapt to climate change.

More information about the World Climate Conference-3