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WMO Statement at the Gambia Climate Change Forum


M. Jarraud
World Meteorological Organization
(Kololi, The Gambia, 6 October 2008)


Distinguished Representatives of International and National Organizations,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I wish to express the appreciation of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) as well as my own appreciation to The Gambia, for the kind invitation made through H.E. the Hon. Momodou Cham, Secretary of State for Forestry and the Environment, to be present today at this key forum being held on the "smiling coast of West Africa". I would like to seize the opportunity to thank you for the exceptional cooperation established since The Gambia became a Member of WMO on 2 October 1978, as well as for the contributions to WMO's Programmes and activities through The Gambia's Department of Water Resources. 

I am pleased to note that the main objectives of this Forum are to enhance awareness on the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Report 2007/2008, the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which WMO co-sponsors with UNEP, and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Bali Action Plan, since the three issues are indeed relevant to WMO's mandate.

Excellency, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Systematic instrumental observations by the National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs) of WMO's 188 Members, made in some cases as far back as 1861, underscore the rising tendency in globally averaged surface temperatures, which have increased by about 0.6°C over the last century. Over the period since 1976, this increase was roughly three times larger that over the past 100years.  In particular, the 1990s were the warmest decade and 1998 was the warmest year.

The natural composition of the atmosphere is also changing. Proxy records indicate that for over 160,000 years, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) only varied by 1-3%, whereas from about the beginning of the nineteenth century it has increased by more than 33%.  WMO’s Global Atmosphere Watch (GAW) observing network, which monitors the chemical composition of the atmosphere, shows that the present atmospheric CO2 concentration is unprecedented over the past 420 000 years, with more than half of this increase occurring since 1950.

During the recent decades, an unprecedented number of extreme weather events, such as floods and droughts, have contributed to significant loss of life and property. Record-breaking droughts and high-temperature events had serious impacts on many countries and regions, especially in Africa. Flooding affected several regions during 2007; for example, in February last year Mozambique experienced the worst flooding in six years, whereas torrential rains in Sudan caused flash floods during June and July of the same year, leaving about 200,000 homeless. In July 2008, intense rains in Liberia caused the worst flooding on record in Monrovia, which lasted for several weeks.

These critical events call for actions to be taken in increasing our climate variability and change monitoring capabilities. Through the NMHSs of its Members, WMO promotes the development of global observation networks required to provide appropriate weather, climate and water information in support of their disaster risk reduction and mitigation activities. WMO sponsors authoritative scientific research on these vital issues through its programmes, as well as through the programmes that WMO shares with partner organizations. Moreover, WMO contributes to adaptation-supporting activities by implementing such methods and tools as the Regional Climate Outlook Forums (RCOFs) and by strengthening capacity-building in developing countries.

The potential impacts of climate variability and change on water resources demand special attention, particularly in Africa. Analyses of historical data show a notable decrease in annual average precipitation over the past 30 to 40 years, especially in the equatorial and tropical regions. The largest negative trend in the annual precipitation was registered over Western Africa and the Sahel, although it is not a simple matter to discriminate between climate change impacts and those of land use. It is however reasonable to anticipate that higher temperatures and increased rainfall variability will increase the demand for irrigation water and that population growth and economic development will signify further water demands. The health implication of water sanitation is an additional consideration, since insects and diseases tend to thrive in a warmer environment. WMO supports the water resources management capabilities of West Africa through its World Hydrological Cycle Observing System (WHYCOS), in particular the Niger HYCOS and Volta HYCOS components.

Several West African economies depend critically on agriculture for subsistence. Rainfall is especially variable in the semi-arid and sub-humid regions, which considerably influences agricultural productivity. Current farming practices were developed in response to this reality, but changes in the climate will signify increased risks to agricultural productivity and food security in these regions, where annual rainfall has decreased by 20 to 40% over half a century. The implications are that the most suitable areas for agriculture, the length of the growing season and the yield potential are expected to decrease, especially along the margins of the arid and semi-arid areas. A comprehensive adaptation strategy across a wide range of agro-ecosystems would considerably assist West African planners and the local communities in dealing more effectively with the projected impacts of climate variability and change.

Excellency, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The UNDP Global Human Development Report, which was officially launched in your country in March2008 by Her Excellency Dr Ajaratou Isatou Njie-Saidy, Vice President of the Republic of The Gambia on behalf of the President, His Excellency Dr Alhagie Yahya Jammed, provides a clear diagnosis that the UN System must act promptly and in partnership to "deliver as one" in response to the pressing needs of a developing world which is already experiencing the impacts of a changing climate. In particular, the UNDP Report cites WMO's initiatives and underscores the need to substantially expand the African region's meteorological observation and infrastructure capacity.

Established in 1873, the International Meteorological Organization (IMO) that was responsible for international cooperation in meteorology from its creation in 1873 became WMO in 1950 and, one year later, a specialized agency of the United Nations System. Today, WMO is the authoritative voice of the UN System in weather-, climate- and water-related issues. While it is now generally accepted that human activity is modifying climate at an increasingly alarming rate, this was not immediately recognized in 1976 when WMO issued the first authoritative statement on the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the potential impacts upon the Earth's climate.

In 1979 WMO organized the First World Climate Conference, as a result of which WMO and UNEP jointly established the IPCC in 1988. The First World Climate Conference also led to the establishment of the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) by WMO with partners. The Second World Climate Conference followed in 1990, calling for the establishment of a climate convention which ultimately resulted, in 1992, in the development of the UNFCCC. In addition, it led to the establishment of GCOS by WMO and partner organizations, to facilitate the availability of systematic observations needed for climate change studies. Therefore, through its own programmes and those shared with other organizations, WMO has been the principal provider of the scientific and technical information underpinning the scientific assessments that are available to us today.

At the end of 2007 the IPCC approved its Fourth Assessment Report, which states with increased confidence that some weather events and extremes will become even more frequent, more widespread and/or more intense during the 21st century. While important uncertainties still remain, the overwhelming global scientific consensus is that the Earth’s atmosphere is warming at an increasing rate and that most of this warming is very likely due to human activities, in particular the burning of fossil fuels and agricultural practices. It is also recognized that, while these changes are just beginning, their impacts will intensify in the coming decades and that some of their effects will include:

- Higher average surface temperatures, with large regional differences;
- Rising sea level, due to the thermal expansion of warmer water and to the melting of land ice;
- Increased variation in wind and precipitation patterns, leading to more frequent and severe floods and droughts;
- Increased frequency and intensity of a number of extreme weather events.

Moreover, statistics for the last 50 years indicate that extreme hydrometeorological events have accounted for about 90% of all natural disasters. However, while natural hazards cannot be avoided, appropriate capacity building can indeed assist societies to significantly reduce death and destruction in adapting to climate variability and change.

On account of its global nature, climate change will especially impact on the poorest countries, which are also the most vulnerable since they have limited capabilities to adapt to a changing environment. Accordingly, the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and other vulnerable nations will be among those hit earliest and hardest. While these countries are clearly among those least responsible for generating the climate change issue, they have very few resources to prepare accordingly. All vulnerable countries should be empowered to use early warning systems appropriately within their natural disaster risk reduction activities, as a contribution to their sustainable development. Providing appropriate capacity building to the most exposed developing countries is therefore a moral obligation of the international community.

The impacts of climate variability and change upon human and natural systems will also pose vital challenges to world peace, as the Norwegian Nobel Committee has recognized in awarding the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize to the IPCC, “for its efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about human-induced climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures needed to counteract its effects”. Together, adaptation and mitigation are two essential and complementary pillars to meet these challenges, although additional actions will be needed: financial, technological, and the key contributions of the NMHSs of WMO's Members, since their observations, products and services shall be crucial to the successful formulation and implementation of the response strategies, policies and measures, and to the evaluation of the progress being achieved.

WMO considers the UNFCCC to be the basis for future climate change debates and actions and with this focus, WMO participated in the “United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali”, which was held in December 2007 and included the thirteenth Conference of the Parties (COP-13) to the UNFCCC and third Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of Parties to the Kyoto Protocol. In Bali the delegations succeeded in honoring the UN Secretary-General’s call for a “breakthrough”, an agreement on a two-year process – or “Bali roadmap” – to finalize at COP-15 in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December 2009, with a post-2012 regime when the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period expires. It is now up to all stakeholders to take action in ensuring successful outcome.

WMO’s vision underscores the need to advance rapidly both in the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions and the adaptation to the local effects of climate change. Let me stress that the costs of coping with a changing climate, particularly in the developing countries, will be much more manageable if appropriate actions are undertaken as soon as possible and monitored continuously thereafter, on the basis of trustworthy observations and authoritative scientific research.

Recognizing that every social, economic and environmental sector is sensitive to climate variability and change, WMO supports policy formulation and decision-making in these sectors, in particular through partnerships in climate activities and by promoting further development of decision-support tools and capacity building in climate-related risk management. I would like to inform you that from 31 August to 4September 2009, WMO will hold with partner organizations a third World Climate Conference (WCC‑3) in Geneva, under the overall theme of "climate prediction and information for decision making".

Excellency, Ladies and Gentlemen,

In closing, I wish to congratulate The Gambia for organizing this forum, which provides an outstanding opportunity to enhance the awareness on the vital climate change issue. WMO has always made every effort to facilitate the involvement of scientists from developing countries and to increase the contributions of the NMHSs to the mission of the UNFCCC, the formulation of national strategies and the adoption of adaptation measures. The UN “System-wide Coherence on Climate Change” initiative has outlined the mechanisms for inter-agency collaboration and identified the key focus areas and roles, including those of WMO, especially in support of the future UNFCCC process and the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report.

In 2000, UN Members adopted the Millennium Declaration as a renewed commitment to human development, including the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), each with quantified targets and indicators for actions to improve the livelihood of impoverished sectors. However, the impacts of climate change will tend to offset progress being made to meet the MDGs by 2015, particularly in terms of food security, the sustainability of water resources and human health.  As the specialized agency of the United Nations System with a mandate in weather, climate and water, WMO is committed to the UNFCCC process, its principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and capabilities, and the objective for a post-2012 framework signaled by the Bali Action Plan and Road Map.

If humanity were unable to reach a propitious agreement, climate change has the potential to overwhelm our adaptive capacities within the coming decades. However, it is encouraging to note that key stakeholders have recognized the urgency of addressing the climate change issue which WMO has been announcing with mounting concern since 1976. WMO perceives this juncture as an opportunity to advance in sustainable development and international cooperation. Some changes are unavoidable, but it is not too late to prevent them from becoming an even more serious threat to our common future.

Thank you.


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