News in brief
Global Framework for Climate Services at COP 16 / Greenhouse Gases Reach Record Levels / Ozone: two-way link with climate change / More coral reefs under threat from climate change / UN Secretary-General at MeteoWorld / WMO dignitaries on United Nations Global Sustainability Panel
The United Nations (UN) climate change talks in Cancun, Mexico, from 29 November to 10 December continued to work towards an agreement on further steps to respond to the climate challenge.
As in the past, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) participated in the conference, known as COP 16 (the 16th session of the Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change).
WMO’s focus is on the intensive work underway to build the Global Framework for Climate Services, as decided by World Climate Conference-3 in 2009, to facilitate information to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
Scientific and technical information is the pillar for sustainable decision-making on climate change issues, as well as to reduce vulnerability to extreme weather events. WMO monitors climate change indices over land, ocean and in the atmosphere, as well as changes in the atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, aerosols, ozone and other substances.
National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHS) (many of which were represented at COP 16) contribute to WMO networks of systematic observations to monitor the current climate, project the future climate, and better understand climate impacts.
See the box below for WMO’s message on climate for COP 16. See also www.wmo.int/COP16 for the summary of WMO at COP 16.
The main greenhouse gases have reached their highest levels recorded since pre-industrial times, according to WMO’s annual “Greenhouse Gas Bulletin”. Global warming may lead to even greater emissions of methane from Arctic areas.
Total radiative forcing of all long-lived greenhouse gases increased by 27.5 per cent from 1990 to 2009 and by 1.0 per cent from 2008 to 2009, reflecting the rising atmospheric burdens of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. (Radiative forcing is the balance between incoming and outgoing radiation. Positive radiative forcing tends to warm the Earth’s system.)
“Greenhouse gas concentrations have reached record levels despite the economic slowdown. They would have been even higher without the international action taken to reduce them,” said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud.
He added that “potential methane release from northern permafrost, and wetlands, under future climate change is of great concern and is becoming a focus of intensive research and observations.”
Carbon dioxide, the single most important anthropogenic gas in the atmosphere (after water vapour), contributes 63.5 per cent to the overall global radiative forcing.
Methane, the second most important greenhouse gas, contributes 18.1 per cent.
Since 1750, it has increased 158 per cent, due to emissions from cattle-rearing, rice agriculture, fossil fuel exploitation and landfills. Such human activities now account for 60 per cent of methane emissions. The remaining 40 per cent are from natural sources such as wetlands.
While stable from 1999 to 2006, atmospheric methane has risen from 2007 to 2009. The likely cause was higher-than-average Arctic wetland methane emissions, due to exceptionally warm temperatures in 2007 and heavy precipitation in tropical wetlands in 2007 and 2008.
Rapid warming and melting of the permafrost has the potential to release large quantities of methane into the atmosphere, which would likely contribute further to global warming.
Northern permafrost contains large reservoirs of organic carbon and methane clathrates (a form of water ice with a large amount of methane).
Among other greenhouse gases, nitrous oxide contributes 6.24 per cent. Sources include the oceans, biomass burning, fertilizer use and various industrial processes. Globally averaged nitrous oxide in 2009 was 19 per cent higher than the pre-industrial era.
Halocarbons account for 12 per cent. Some halocarbons, previously used as refrigerants, solvents and spray can propellents, are decreasing slowly as a result of international action to preserve the ozone layer. However, the alternatives are potent greenhouse gases that last longer than carbon dioxide, and their use is increasing rapidly.
WMO’s Global Atmosphere Watch Programme coordinates observations of these atmospheric gases through a network of stations in over 50 countries, including high in the Andes and Himalayas. The data are archived and distributed by WMO’s World Data Centre for Greenhouse Gases, hosted by the Japan Meteorological Agency.
This year’s Greenhouse Gas Bulletin is the sixth in the series.
The ozone layer that protects life from the sun’s harmful rays has been saved from additional losses, thanks to the successful Montreal Protocol of the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer, according to a report launched on the UN International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer on 16 September.
Written and reviewed by some 300 scientists, the report is an executive summary of the first comprehensive update in four years. Published by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the full report will be available in early 2011.
Many of the substances that deplete the ozone layer are also potent greenhouse gases. In 2010, the reductions of ozone depleting substances as a result of the Montreal Protocol, expressed in CO2-equivalent emissions amounted to about 10 gigatonnes per year. This is five times larger than the target of the first commitment period (2008-2012) of the Kyoto Protocol.
Key findings, ozone and ultraviolet radiation
Many chemicals that deplete the ozone, such as CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons), once present in products such as refrigerators and spray cans, have been phased out. Demand for replacement substances called HCFCs (hydrochlorofluorocarbons) and HFCs (hydrofluorocarbons) has increased. Many are powerful greenhouse gases.
The ozone-hole issue demonstrates the importance of long-term atmospheric monitoring and research, without which ozone destruction would have continued unabated and might not have been detected until more serious damage was evident. The Montreal Protocol is an outstanding example of collaboration among scientists and decision-makers that has resulted in the successful mitigation of a serious environmental and societal threat.
Human activities will continue to change the composition of the atmosphere. WMO’s Global Atmosphere Watch programme will therefore continue its crucial monitoring, research and assessment activities to provide scientific data needed to understand and ultimately predict environmental changes on both regional and global scales.
Coral reefs, the “tropical rainforests of the ocean,” are facing unprecedented threats from climate change, including damage from increasingly severe tropical cyclones, bleaching events and ocean acidification. About 20 per cent of the original area of coral reefs has been lost, with a further 25 per cent threatened in the next century. Concerted international action is needed to ensure their long-term survival, according to a new report.
The report “Climate, Carbon and Coral Reefs” by WMO and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity was launched at the Tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Nagoya, Japan.
The report says vulnerable coral reefs must be made more resilient through a coordinated ecosystem approach. This entails commitment, financial investment and partnerships among different actors, including NMHSs.
Tropical coral reefs cover about 0.2 per cent of the world’s ocean, contain about 25 per cent of marine species and are worth an estimated US$ 30 billion annually to the global economy in terms of coastline protection, tourism and food. For the past two decades they have been under siege from a growing global threat: increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
High CO2 emissions lead to ‘double trouble’ for coral reefs. First, the trapping of heat in the atmosphere leads to ocean warming which can cause extensive coral bleaching events and mass mortalities. The global devastation of coral reefs from record warming of the sea surface in 1997-1998 was the first example of what is likely to occur in the future under a warming climate. Second, high CO2 levels lead to ocean acidification which reduces the ability of the coral reefs to grow and maintain their structure and function.
Coral reefs are some of the most species-rich habitats in the world, and they are also among the most sensitive to our current high-emission path.
The report recommends:
The new report calls for financial and technical development assistance to protect coral reef ecosystems. Cross-institutional research programmes should be strengthened to investigate how coral reefs tolerate increased temperature; the frequency and extent of coral bleaching events; and biological and meteorological variables relevant to bleaching, mortality and recovery.
More capacity-building is needed to help communities mitigate the impact of coral bleaching, the report says. It also calls for education of the public and policymakers on how important coral reef systems are for the environment and the economy, and the consequences of their destruction.
On 30 October, MeteoWorld pavilion, part of the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai, China, received its 809 856th visitor: United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
“Weather, climate and ecosystems are quintessential global issues,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a message. “They cross borders, affect us all, shape almost every aspect of our lives — from the places we live to the food we eat and the jobs we have... Now more than ever, we need better information and tools to help us strengthen resilience and adapt to adverse consequences.”
The UN Secretary-General visited the pavilion in the company of World Meteorological Organization Secretary-General Michel Jarraud and Zheng Guoguang, Administrator of the China Meteorological Administration.
MeteoWorld ran from May through October. It was the first-ever meteorological pavilion in the 159-year World Expo history. The award-winning pavilion demonstrated how WMO and National Meteorological and Hydrological Services help communities prepare for extreme weather and water events, climate variability and climate change, and better equip cities to deal with severe storms and other hazards.
MeteoWorld was been a joint initiative of the World Meteorological Organization and the China Meteorological Administration, in partnership with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Group on Earth Observations, the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites, and the Association of Hydro-Meteorological Equipment.
Alexander Bedritskiy, President of WMO, and Guoguang Zheng, Administrator of the China Meteorological Administration are members of the High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability launched by the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
The panel aims to set out a blueprint for sustainable growth and low-carbon prosperity. The report is scheduled to be issued at the end of 2011, ahead of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio 2012), and the annual meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Also on the panel is Cristina Narbona Ruiz, Spanish Ambassador to the OECD and former Spanish Minister of the Environment. She is also a member of the High-level Task Force for the Global Framework for Climate Services set up by the WMO Secretary-General.
Contact: MeteoWorld Editor - WMO ©2008 Geneva, Switzerland