|Volume 60(1) – 2011
Climate services: Reaching the most vulnerable
Q. What motivated you to accept the role as Co-Chair of the Taskforce for the Global Framework on Climate Services?
Jan Egeland: Climate change, coupled with the radical rise in natural disasters, is one of the greatest challenges facing humankind. Bringing life-saving information to those who need it most is vital. To help pioneer an initiative that will bring information about how climate will change and the dangers and opportunities it will bring is very motivating. It is a fantastic opportunity to do good.
Q. What are the priorities for climate services?
Jan Egeland: Getting climate information to those who need it most – the poorest and the most vulnerable – is absolutely the greatest priority.
Q. You’ve spent many years in leadership positions in humanitarian affairs. What are the greatest needs for climate services in this area?
Jan Egeland: I’ve seen too many times how hundreds of thousands of lives can be lost, and millions of people devastated, by extreme weather events. These are more and more frequent, and affect more people, who are more exposed.
The greatest injustice on our watch is that those who did the least to cause climate change are the first and hardest hit. We need to rectify this. Bringing climate information to the most vulnerable and enabling them to act is very important.
Q. What are the greatest challenges to achieving this?
Jan Egeland: There are two great challenges. Getting the right information out to the right people in time for them to prepare is the first. Having sufficient resources to act is the second. I remember vividly as the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator that we had information at an international level showing that there would be yet another year of drought in the Sahel. But nomadic communities there did not get the information. If they had, they would have slaughtered their livestock and brought it to markets to get money for their meat. Instead, the animals suffered and the communities were devastated by the drought.
Q. That case highlights the importance of outreach.
Jan Egeland: Yes, there has to be a strong partnership among global, regional and national levels to downscale information. There has to be enough national capacity to receive and understand information from the United Nations and non-governmental organizations, so that action can be taken in four priority areas: agriculture, health, water management and disaster reduction.
Q. How do we get there?
Jan Egeland: With a modest investment of US$ 75 million per year over the next ten years, supplemented by existing national investments in meteorology, we can upgrade regional and national capacity for climate users, in areas such as research and observing systems. Over the course of 10 months in 2010, we in the Taskforce visited China, India, the USA, Germany and other places. We were always very impressed by how many countries made advances in developing and disseminating climate information. The status available in China, for instance, should be the status of all developing countries. The Chinese have excellent weather and climate information that is disseminated all over China, and to neighbouring countries. Through science, organization and investment, all countries should have similar access.
Jan Egeland: Yes. Many countries won’t have the capacity to have supercomputers and global modelling to predict seasonal, yearly and two-year patterns. They need to plug into a global framework to obtain this information. There are half a dozen countries that have virtually no capability to provide services, and another 64 countries that need a serious upgrade, as they do not reach what the Taskforce considered to be a basic minimum level of climate service capability.
That’s why we need to reinforce existing regional centres with global modelling capacities. Four new centres and four upgraded centres would fill gaps in the existing system.
For observing stations, we are concerned that vital Global Climate Observing System stations are not regularly reporting, and so have proposed that funds be found to restore the reports from 100 surface stations and 10 upper air stations.
Governance and coordination mechanisms are also needed to enhance what exists and what will be developed.
We need to connect the dots by using what is already available. We must get information to those who need information, don’t get it and don’t have the capacity to receive and interpret the information.
Q. In closing, what message would you like to share?
Jan Egeland: I’m an optimist. I think that advances in science can and will be more justly shared around the world in the next few years, and that we will see the fruits of these advances: fewer people dead from hunger, fewer crops dried up, more epidemics prevented, more water harnessed. The world should not let this opportunity go by.
The Taskforce I co-chaired with Mahmoud Abu-Zeid of Egypt was unanimous in its conclusion. We saw compelling evidence that climate services can and should be available in the next four to eight years to those who need them most.
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