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19 November 2013

 

Responding to Environmental Stressors of 21st Century

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A two-day technical conference “Responding to the Environmental Stressors of the 21st Century" focused on challenges posed by rising greenhouse gases, extreme weather events, pressures on the water cycle, pollution and an increasing urban-based global population.

The conclusions of the technical conference 18-19 November will feed into the 16th Session of the World Meteorological Organization Commission of Atmospheric Sciences.Both events, in Antalya, Turkey, are hosted by the Turkish State Meteorological Service.

The outcomes of the sessions will inform WMO decisions on investment in research and development to maximize scientific advances which can be transitioned into accessible services which benefit society. They will also guide WMO activities as it seeks to strengthen partnerships between different sciences such as hydrologists, weather and climate scientists, health managers, urban and energy planners.

“Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) is without a doubt an indication of the environmental stresses which will be characteristic of the early part of the 21st century, getting worse in the later parts of the century,” said WMO Deputy Secretary-General Jerry Lengoasa.

He said the devastation and high human toll inflicted by the typhoon in the Philippines highlighted the need for more integrated disaster risk reduction and improved communication of multi-hazard warnings in vulnerable coastal zones.

“In an era of rapid global change, humanity is experiencing new and evolving threats to sustainability. Many of these threats are related to a complex combination of weather, climate, water, and related environmental phenomena combined with a growing and urbanizing population,” said Mr Lengoasa.

Policies to minimize environmental risk and maximize benefits need to be based on sound scientific information about the atmosphere, its processes and potential impacts. This information will range from better long-term measurements and understanding of atmospheric composition to user-friendly weather and environmental predictions for the next few minutes as well as months and decades ahead, said Mr Lengoasa.

WMO programmes such as the Global Atmosphere Watch and its Urban Research Meteorology and Environment project and the World Weather Research Programme are tailoring their activities to facilitate global cooperation and turn the challenges into benefits. The Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS) spearheaded by WMO will provide an integrated platform for future progress, with initial priority being given to water management, food security, disaster risk reduction and health.

Themes at the technical conference included:

  • High impact weather and its socio-economic effects in the context of global change
  • Water: Modelling and predicting the water cycle for improved disaster risk reduction and resource management
  • Integrated Greenhouse Gas Information System to support policy-making
  • Aerosols: Impacts on air quality, weather and climate
  • Urbanization: Research and services for megacities and large urban complexes
  • Evolving technologies, including geoengineering

Concentrations of heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have once again reached a record high, according to WMO’s Greenhouse Gas Bulletin.

This is melting Arctic sea ice, which is further driving climate change and will impact not just on Polar regions but a much wider area in the northern hemisphere, said Michel  Béland, President of the Commission on Atmospheric Sciences.

Most of the additional energy is being absorbed in the oceans. The increase of carbon dioxide in the oceans is leading to acidification which will potentially impact the livelihoods of more than half a billion of the world’s poorest people who depend on the oceans for their livelihoods, said Mr.Béland.

Some 90 percent of carbon dioxide emissions are generated in urban areas, according to papers presented at the technical conference.

Environmental stressors due to climate change are compounded by population growth. By 2050 the urban population is expected to increase from 3.6 to 6.2 billion, or 66 percent of the world total, with growing numbers living in megacities.

“Most are situated in high risk areas along the shores. Typhoons and storm surges will affect them. There will be significant impacts if there is an increase in the strength and number of natural hazards,” said Mr Beland.

The growth of urban populations and megacities also necessitates closer interaction between water management, health (in view of the high impact of air pollution) and meteorological communities. This cooperation is now taking place within the GFCS.

 

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