Recently, scientists, academics, policymakers and stakeholders convened in New York to create a pilot program including dozens of global NGOs — from meteorological organizations, to government planners and relief agencies — to combine resources to form a global network to enhance access to climate information.
By creating a web-based solution for the delivery of so-called climate services — meteorological and weather forecasting climate data — policy-makers are aiming to facilitate mitigation and adaptation processes around the globe. In an address to the International Conference on Climate Change Services at Columbia University (ICCS), Jeffery Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, described a plan for the collaborative creation of an online resource with relevant, accurate, and easily understood forecasts with the goal of streamlining weather and climate related decision making and policymaking processes.
Maarten Van Aalst, Director of the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre (RCRCCC) said that early warning systems are crucial to providing cost-effective, targeted disaster relief. Anticipating health crises “can be much cheaper than flying in after the disaster.” Research done by the RCRCCC indicates that for every dollar invested prior to a disaster saves up to $4 in disaster management spending.
The ability to predict seasonal and climate-related disease vectors prevalent in Africa such as malaria or meningitis would be a key public health victory. Similarly, the ability to predict drought induced crop-loss or the severity of monsoon rains would also be a crucial step-forward.
Citing the weather related destruction and climate variability of the La Niña weather phenomenon, Ana Maria Loboguerrero, consultant to the National Planning Department of Colombia, described the havoc wreaked by extreme weather in Colombia to MediaGlobal in stark quantitative terms, “The emergency caused by this phenomenon has affected more than 3.3 millions of Colombians, 1,000 roads, 1 million hectares of crops, 2,300 schools, 560,000 students, and 371 health care centers. In addition, 450 Colombians have died, 73 have disappeared, 1.4 millions of animals have been displaced, 13,000 household have been destroyed, and 440,000 have reported damages.”
Loboguerrero underscored the importance of improving climate services delivery, “A good system for disaster preparedness, supported by our national climate service, will be of extreme relevance in order to reduce the damages for a population that in most cases is the most vulnerable one.”
Many challenges impede the delivery of climate information in both developed and developing countries. Climate data is complex. The climate modeling process produces long-term, global predictions based on current and historical meteorological data. In order to provide adequate decision making tools for policymakers the data must first be ‘downscaled’ — that is distilled into chunks of regional and national level data. Simultaneously, satellite data must be integrated with data taken from ground instruments to provide accurate data inputs for the models.
Patricia Ramirez, Director of Meteorology and Climate at the Regional Committee for Hydraulic Resources, University of Costa Rica (CRRH), expressed enthusiasm for the collaborative approach. “Enhanced capacity for downscaling could be achieved,” Ramirez told MediaGlobal. “Through the partnership envisioned,” leading to “better capacities to help foster climate resilience development in a Region.”
According to Sachs, a properly designed climate services partnership must be accessible to multiple user groups. The online user interface for the climate prediction site “should be able to respond to UN agencies, national governments, regional organizations, and not least, doctors, farmers, and others on the ground who all have increasing access to the Internet.” Such broad web-based access to climate data would allow country level and regional decision making to quickly assess climate threats and to improve disaster response efforts.
As policymakers, climate services providers, and country-level decision makers continue to improve the communication and delivery of climate related data, disaster response management will undoubtedly save lives and avert economic and environmental catastrophe. The inaugural ICCS represents a key attempt to close the gap between the technical output from climate models, and successful implementation and communication of the findings. Working groups were formed at the initial ICCS, and further development of these ideas is ongoing. The second International Conference on Climate Services will be hosted by the Climate Service Center in Hamburg, Germany in September 2012.