Guest Article #85

How Climate Services Can Help Countries Adapt to Climate Variability and Change

The Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS) was launched in 2009 by the World Climate Conference – 3 as a global partnership of governments and organizations that produce and use climate services[1]. This initiative of the United Nations system seeks to facilitate global access to continuously improved climate services in the four priority sectors of agriculture and food security, disaster risk reduction (DRR), health and water by the end of 2017. The objective for end-2021 is to facilitate access to improved climate services across all climate-sensitive sectors.

As a next critical step, the World Meteorological Congress will hold its first-ever extraordinary session in Geneva on 29-31 October 2012 to decide on the Framework's implementation plan, governance model and rules of procedure.

Climate services take advantage of the significant improvements that have been made in climate prediction and in climate change scenarios. Useful predictions of whether the next season, year or decade is likely to be warmer or colder, or drier or wetter, than average, including at the regional and country levels, are increasingly available. These scientific advances rest on research into large-scale and long-term processes, such as land-cover change, ocean temperatures and currents, and greenhouse gas emissions. Key inputs are observations of today's climate, records of past climates, and computer-based scientific modeling of climate processes.

As a result, seasonal to multiyear climate forecasts and predictions can now be used to generate actionable information for decision-making on all climate-sensitive sectors. A growing number of countries are building on their experience in weather forecasting to customize climate information and target it to specific users. These climate services make it possible to incorporate science-based climate information and prediction into planning, policy and practice to achieve real benefits for society.

Climate services often involve integrating climate information with information from other sectors. This requires close collaboration between agencies and experts from different fields. The resulting information must then be presented in user-friendly formats so that policymakers, planners, investors and vulnerable communities can prepare in advance. For example, when presenting information in the form of probabilities, climate service providers take special care to communicate the concept of probability to people who may be generalists or specialists in other fields. They also ensure that the information they generate is easily accessible, whether via open websites, the public media or dedicated delivery channels.

To succeed in expanding the scope and impact of climate services, the Global Framework will be driven by the needs of users. Lessons learned from existing climate services make it clear that engaging the health, water, disaster and agriculture communities requires supporting their existing priorities and work plans for addressing the climate risks to these sectors. Climate service providers also need to respond to the very specific needs of the distinct user groups within these broad sectors. National capacity building is also essential to ensuring that people fully understand the climate products and can apply climate information effectively.

The GFCS actively encourages a broad exchange of views about how to tailor climate services. It advocates interdisciplinary collaboration between government agencies, private companies and research institutions, and it promotes collaborative problem-solving and “learning from others”. Building trust with other sectors will encourage data sharing and make it easier to assemble multidisciplinary datasets and products.

GFCS also advocates for dependable funding to sustain national monitoring and information infrastructure, from satellites and weather centres to databases and trained personnel. Long-term operating and maintenance costs also need to be secured. Unless governments invest in climate prediction and information and in capacity development, it will not be possible to ensure the delivery and use of climate services, which are urgently needed by the people and communities who are the most vulnerable to climate impacts. GFCS aims to maximize the efficiency of these investments and make it easier for funders to assess the needs of climate service users and providers and to see results and returns on their investments.

The GFCS is an ambitious initiative. Its success will be measured by its ability to establish an effective and sustained global partnership, strengthened national and regional climate services, and empowered people around the world to adapt and respond to the impacts of climate variability and climate change. Individuals, organizations and governments concerned about improving humanity's ability to adapt to climate variability and climate change are invited to contribute to this effort.

[1] See guest article by Michel Jarraud, titled "Climate information and services for decision-making," published on Climate Change Policy & Practice in October 2009 []