WMO calls for better use of climate science

Friday 11th Nov 2011 by theWeather Club

Scientific progress has laid the basis for more effective policies to combat and manage drought and desertification. The challenge of climate change means it is imperative to translate that science into action, according to the World Meteorological Organization.

Food security and water are among the top priority areas singled out by a new Global Framework on Climate Services currently being developed by WMO and its U.N. and humanitarian partners. It aims to boost the availability, timeliness and relevance of climate information to all countries and all communities, especially the most vulnerable. For instance, there have been big advances in the accuracy of regional and national seasonal forecasts, but all too often this information does not reach those who need it most, such as subsistence farmers who have to decide on the planting of crops or the rearing of livestock. The Framework aims to rectify that with a permanent platform to link providers of climate information with the users, among others.

“The new Global Framework for Climate Services will be an important tool in the struggle against drought and land degradation,” said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud. “The Framework will contribute to more integrated drought management policies which embrace pro-active disaster risk reduction rather than reactive crisis response as is currently the case. We are confident that its benefits will filter down to all levels of society.”

Mr Jarraud outlined the plans for the new Framework during the High-Level Segment of the Tenth session of the Conference of the Parties of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) in Changwon, Republic of Korea. He addressed a Roundtable entitled “Harnessing Science Knowledge for combating desertification, land degradation and drought: The path to improvement”. WMO works closely with UNCCD to combat with drought and desertification. The two organizations, along with the U.S. National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration, are organizing an International Symposium on Integrated Drought Information Systems in Morocco in November 2011. This will feed into a High-Level Meeting on National Drought Policies in March 2013.

WMO and UNCCD are also developing an Integrated Drought Management Programme with the Global Water Partnership to provide policy and management guidance through the globally coordinated generation of scientific knowledge and best practices sharing on drought risk management. Although many nations have effective disaster risk reduction strategies for floods and tropical cyclones, droughts are often dealt with in a reactive, crisis-driven way. In order to prevent repeat occurrences of the humanitarian tragedy afflicting the Horn of Africa, there is a need for integrated drought policies which include drought risk assessment, monitoring, prediction and early warning, as well as drought risk reduction, mitigation and response. Droughts have become more common over the past two decades, and there is a real need for national and regional drought policies.

Future Projections

In his presentation to the UNCCD Roundtable, Mr Jarraud made the following points:

Even without the recent climate change concern, land degradation is especially critical as only around 11% of the global land surface feeds a population of some 7 billion.

The picture is even grimmer if we include the cumulative effects (since 1750) of greenhouse gases from human activities (fossil fuel burning & land use).

The Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projects various scenarios exhibiting warming as high as 2.4 to 6.4 °C by the end of the century, as well as increased precipitation at high latitudes and diminishing rainfall in subtropical regions, so the drought-affected areas are expected to increase accordingly.

The IPCC report also anticipates an increase in the magnitude and frequency of natural hazards which, coupled with sea-level rise, have harsh implications for human settlements in coastal mega-deltas.

According to these projections, in different areas there might either be augmented land degradation, due to drought, or increased soil erosion, owing to enhanced rainfall.

A similar reasoning applies to water resources, which are also inextricably related to climate change. Annual average river runoff and water availability are projected to increase by 10-40% at high latitudes and in some wet tropical areas, and to decrease by 10-30% over dry regions at mid-latitudes and in the subtropics. As a result, river basins which were once the cradle of our civilization might become infertile.

Therefore, by altering the familiar spatial and temporal patterns of temperature, rainfall, solar radiation and winds, climate change will contribute to exacerbate desertification, so societies should recognize that historic/ traditional knowledge can often no longer be accepted as a valid indicator of the future.

So in essence the message of the summit is actually quite simple. We have the science, lets sart puttng it to better use.