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Press Conference by World Meteorological Organization: Global trends in climate change and desertification

Providing insight to current global trends in climate change and desertification, a leading expert at the World Meteorological Organization warned of increasing temperatures and rainfall variability over the next several decades. 

Speaking to journalists at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Dr M.V.K. Sivakumar, Chief of the Agricultural Meteorology Division at WMO, said there was a clear linkage between the rise in global temperatures, the emission of greenhouse gases and desertification, adding that:  “We are seeing an enormous amount of warming, and the projections are that the warming is likely to be around a 0.2% increase per decade over the next several decades”.   

Climate change, he added, primarily resulted from human-made activities and greenhouse gases emissions resulting in land degradation, an increase in temperature and a variability in precipitation.  In certain parts of the world precipitation was likely to decrease, especially in the arid regions of the world, whereas in the northern hemisphere there was a likelihood that the precipitation would increase. 

Looking at the projections of the world’s population reaching 8.2 billion by 2020, from the current 6.3 billion figure, and the fact that only 11% of the earth’s total land surface was prime land, the world was in store for a “major problem” given the current trends of temperature variability and precipitation. 

In terms of the impacts of climate change, when there was an increase in temperature and rainfall variability one of the major results was the impact on soil properties and processes, he explained.  In lower latitudes there was a likelihood of greater variability of precipitation thereby impacting crop productivity.  In terms of temperature increases the major impact on crops was that the minimum temperatures were going to be much more variable than the maximum temperature resulting in lower crop productivity. 

As a result of the current trends, warming would be the greatest over land in the higher northern latitude, Dr. Sivakumar said.  This warming, coupled with variability in precipitation, would have a greater impact in terms of drought with negative consequences for crop productivity.  The amount of water available, including for irrigation, was also of great concern. 

Africa, parts of Asia and Latin America were the most affected regions by these phenomena, he said.  In Africa, most of the crops were rain fed with an average rainfall variability between 25 and 30%; given the climate change projections this variability would increase and farmers who were used to receiving rainfall anywhere between 300 to 600 millimeters per year would now need to prepare for greater rainfall variability and learn how to adjust.  In Latin America, climate change was expected to lead to salinization and desertification of agricultural lands.  Northern Brazil, in particular, was expected to be affected drastically.  In southern Europe higher temperatures and frequent droughts would reduce water availability.  The recent forest fires and heat waves in Greece were testament to these trends.

WMO’s role was to observe climate and water systems to understand these trends in order to provide information to all sectors impacted by climate change and variability, he said.  The agency had been working closely with agronomists and land managers in various countries to provide them with the necessary information needed to improve their land management practices.   Additionally, WMO had organized training courses on drought preparedness and drought management in different parts of the world to enhance the community’s understand of these occurrences. 

In response to a limited understanding about these phenomena among farming communities, the WMO recently began a new initiative known as “Roving Seminars on Weather, Climate and Farmers” through which farmers received firsthand information from experts and shared feedback, Dr. Sivakumar said.   Such programmes had been organized in Ethiopia, India and Colombia. 

“In least developed countries, one of the major problems is that farmers were often isolated; they do not have ready access to information that farmers elsewhere in developed countries had”, he added.  “This initiative was to provide access to information and bring the meteorological services, agricultural agencies, and others together to provide greater awareness to communities who are affected by climate change, but also to the services who have to provide this information to these communities”.

Recalling the last Conference of Parties (COP) to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) in Nairobi in 2005, Mr. Sivakumar said the participants at that gathering had asked the WMO to arrange an international workshop on climate and land degradation to provide a better understanding about the various climatic factors that resulted in these phenomena.  As a consequence, an international workshop was organized in Arusha, Tanzania in December 2006 out of which a book was produced.  That book, he added, was to be launched next Wednesday, 5 September, at the eight session of COP to the UNCCD taking place at Madrid from 3 to 14 September.  The COP will also feature a ministerial round table on climate change and desertification on 12 September. 

Responding to a question on land management responses, Dr. Sivakumar, underlining that climate situations varied greatly from place to place, said there was a need to understand and conserve available resources.  In many parts of the world, conservations aspects, in both land and water, was very critical both now and for the future.  Innovative land management largely implied conserving soil. 

In response to a question about land degradation projections, he said currently agricultural growth rates were stagnating.  This fact coupled with growing rates of populations posed enormous problems.  Additionally, marginal lands, which should not be cultivated, were being cultivated, thus aggravating the situation further.  “Without the right land management practices these situations will worsen”, he added. 

WMO is the United Nations’ authoritative voice on weather, climate and water


For more information please contact:
Ms Carine Richard-Van Maele, Chief, Communications and Public Affairs, WMO.
Tel: +41 (0)22 730 83 15.

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