New Global Framework for Climate Services should strengthen preparedness

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More than 2,000 climate experts and decisionmakers from 155 countries have established a Global Framework for Climate Services—“to strengthen production, availability, delivery and application of science-based climate prediction and services.”  The Declaration creating the Framework adopted at last week’s World Climate Conference-3 (WCC-3) in Geneva calls on the Secretary General of the World Meteorological Organization to convene a meeting of WMO member states for creating a task force to address and report on actions needed to implement the Framework by 2011.  This is a step in the right direction, and should be supported by the Obama administration, with the condition that it be accountable to stakeholders and decisionmakers and responsive to their needs for information, and embrace the overall goal of strengthening preparedness for climate change impacts worldwide. 

post by Anne Polansky

Nature news reports that a new global climate service “will face a host of scientific and political hurdles,” with some countries nervous about disclosing data that could compromise national security or commercial interests.  The scientific hurdle is primarily a matter of decreasing the uncertainties associated with predicting climate fluctuations for specific regions and specific seasons and years in the decade ahead.  Most climate models and projections address global trends over longer periods of time, e.g, a century or more. 

These are the specifics of the Declaration adopted last week:

The Secretary General of the WMO is requested to convene within four months of the adoption of the Declaration an intergovernmental meeting of member states of the WMO to approve the terms of reference and to endorse the composition of a task force of high-level, independent advisors to be appointed by the Secretary-General of the WMO with due consideration to expertise, geographical and gender balance.  Within 12 months of the task force being set up, it will, after wide consultation with governments, partner organizations and relevant stakeholders, prepare a report that will include next steps for developing and implementing the Framework. The WMO Secretary-General will then circulate the report to WMO Members for consideration at the WMO Congress in 2011 with a view toward the Framework’s implementation.

Michael MacCracken—Chief Scientist for Climate Change Programs with the Climate Institute and the first director of the USGCRP coordination office—commented on the plans for a global climate service (paraphrased from an email exchange with CSW):

The impacts of climate that people notice is mostly a result of what they experience day-to-day, namely the weather and near-term climate fluctuations (caused by conditions such as an El Nino affecting surface temperatures in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean). Most people do not directly notice how they are being impacted by the long-term changes in climate, even though the Earth’s climate provides the context in which the weather occurs, making climate change the important issue that it has become.

Scientists are more intensively investigating changes in the higher order statistical aspects of the climate as the global climate changes.  They are seeking to understand the links between what we know about longer term climate change (i.e., global warming) and how this will affect the weather.  For example, planners will need to know if heat waves and extreme weather events, such as hurricanes and violent storms, will become more frequent and intense, and where they will be most likely to occur in a changing climate.  Obviously, being able to anticipate and plan for significant changes in weather extremes is critical for securing the safety and well-being of us all. 

Tying together the longer term consequences of climate change with weather forecasting, including extreme weather (e.g., droughts, hurricanes, flooding rains) is the urgent task at hand.  The scientific community refers to this challenge as “seamless prediction,” meaning the ability to apply computer modeling and other scientific tools to understand both weather and climate on all time and space scales.  Such a capability will enable us to see the interrelationships among climate change impacts and consequences, adaptation and mitigation options, and the implications of public policies for society in a climate-disrupted world. 

Any climate services effort, domestically or internationally, should be tested against its ability to provide information and forecasts that are credible, authoritative, useful, relevant, and timely—in other words, trusted and helpful to people and businesses in their everyday lives.  Experts and lay people alike will need to have sufficient confidence in the state of knowledge being communicated to them in ways they can use.  The challenge for the scientific community is to build statistically sound bridges between long-term climate trends, medium-term climate fluctuations, and short-term weather.  Planners will be need to know, for example, how much sea level rise is likely to take place in particular coastal areas over the next 10, 50, and 100 years.  Water managers need to know how much precipitation to expect in the short and the longer term. 

In my view, current plans for NOAA’s climate services need to span a wide range of time intervals and to involve broad collaborations with other agencies.  I think it would be helpful for OSTP [the Office of Science and Technology Policy] to establish an interagency coordinating body comprised of representatives from federal agencies and departments responsible for the various economic and resource sectors being impacted by and responding to weather and changing climate.”

Our view is that the risk and potential consequences of climate disruption driven by human activities, and the urgent need to put effective response strategies in place, should be the primary focus of any climate services effort, domestic or international.  The gravity of this risk has not been effectively communicated to the public, and the warning that arises from the science community’s assessment of the implications of climate disruption is not really being heeded.  The global implications of unchecked climate change pose a threat and create a need for preparedness that is just as real and compelling as the threat of terrorism, if not more so.  It’s time that the US acknowledged this reality and acted accordingly. Actively supporting, participating in, and promoting a well-designed international climate service could be one significant piece of an overall approach to the problem.  A strong “climate services” capability can be one element of an overall preparedness strategy for a climate-disrupted world. 

For more background information and extensive quotes from notable scientists and policymakers, see the various press releases from the WMO:

08/25/09: GOVERNMENTS TO TAKE DECISIVE ACTION FOR CLIMATE ADAPTATION AT WORLD CLIMATE CONFERENCE-3

08/31/09:  WCC-3: WORKING TO MAKE CLIMATE SERVICES AVAILABLE TO ALL

09/03/09:  WORLD CLIMATE CONFERENCE – 3 ESTABLISHES A GLOBAL FRAMEWORK FOR CLIMATE SERVICES

08/04/09:  AFRICAN MINISTERS RESPONSIBLE FOR METEOROLOGY TO MEET TO STRENGTHEN CLIMATE SERVICES

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