June 2008

WMO’s role in greenhouse-gas research and observations

By Yukitomo Tsutsumi*


Global-scale observations of atmospheric chemistry and physical property are carried out in order to obtain comprehensive understanding of current state and future projection of the Earth system. There is growing recognition that it contributes to proper addressing of global environmental issues such as global warming. Moreover, there are some phenomena on Earth system change that cannot be revealed by short-term observations. To detect these phenomena, a systematic and long-term observation is necessary.

The monitoring of spatial and temporal variations of global greenhouse gases is essential to reduce risks associated with global warming with adequate mitigations and adaptations. For that purpose, current states of greenhouse gases are required as fundamental information for effective environmental conventions such as the Kyoto Protocol. Furthermore, since human beings do not fully understand natural carbon cycles, unexpected phenomena might cause greenhouse gas variations might occur in the future (e.g. the possible positive climate-carbon cycle feedback). Monitoring greenhouse gases is, therefore, also important for early warning of such unforeseen and maybe irreversible incidents.

The Kyoto Protocol*

The Kyoto Protocol is an international agreement linked to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The major feature of the Kyoto Protocol is that it sets binding targets for 37 industrialized countries and the European community for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. These amount to an average of 5 per cent against 1990 levels over the five-year period 2008-2012.

The major distinction between the Protocol and the Convention is that, while the Convention encouraged industrialized countries to stabilize GHG emissions, the Protocol commits them to do so.

Recognizing that developed countries are principally responsible for the current high levels of GHG emissions in the atmosphere as a result of more than 150 years of industrial activity, the Protocol places a heavier burden on developed nations under the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities.”

The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in Kyoto, Japan, on 11 December 1997 and entered into force on 16 February 2005. 180 nations have ratified the treaty to date. The detailed rules for the implementation of the Protocol were adopted at COP 7 in Marrakesh in 2001, and are called the “Marrakesh Accords.”

* Text courtesy of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change


A number of countries and organizations conduct observations of greenhouse gases. However, an accurate global picture of greenhouse gases cannot be drawn from results of individual observation only. For the global monitoring of greenhouse gases, the following observation conditions on network stations are required:

  • Uniformity of purpose;
  • Continuity of observation;
  • Standardization of observation scale and procedures;
  • Uniformity of data quality and adequate precision for detecting long-term variations;
  • Centralization of measurement data and relevant observation data.

Consequently, individual measurement results become comparable with each other, which enables us to monitor global variations of greenhouse gases properly.



The Global Atmosphere Watch (GAW) of WMO coordinates global environment observations including those of greenhouse gases by participating laboratories. GAW establishes expert groups and central facilities (Central Calibration Laboratory, Quality Assurance and Science Activity Centre, World Calibration Centre, World Data Centre) to meet the above observation conditions and they support and coordinate individual observation. Those activities are harmonized and promoted by the GAW Strategic Plan. Through these mechanisms, the systematic and sustained observation of greenhouse gases is conducted globally by the GAW observation network. As a result, global researches and analyses are performed to produce outcomes such as those contained in the WMO Greenhouse gas bulletins. The global observations and research conducted by GAW play an essential role for the long-term monitoring of global greenhouse gases.

GAW has been identified as a major component of the comprehensive network of the Global Climate Observing System for carbon dioxide and methane that supports the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. GCOS is co-sponsored by WMO, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Council for Science. GAW also supposrts the Global Earth Observation System of Systems in line with the theme report of the International Global Observing Strategy on Integrated Global Atmospheric Chemistry Observations. Furthermore, countless scientific results obtained from GAW observations are contributing to many scientific assessments such as the assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.



* Senior Coordinator for GAW, Atmospheric Environment Division, Japan Meteorological Agency






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