From climate observations to predictions / Better climate information and tools for water resources management / Climate change and food security in South Asia / Detecting possible nuclear explosions / Monitoring Antarctic ozone
The first 20 years of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) celebrated its 20th anniversary in Geneva on 31 August 2008. The commemorative ceremony was attended by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, local Geneva dignitaries and a number of special guests who have played an important role in the IPCC over the past 20 years, including current and previous Executive Heads of the parent organizations and members of the IPCC Bureau.
The ceremony took place in conjunction with the opening of the IPCC’s 29th plenary session, at which the Chairman, Rajendra Pachauri, was re-elected for a second term. Mr Pachauri has held the position since 2002.
The IPCC was established by WMO and the United Nations Environment Programme in 1988 to assess, on a comprehensive, objective, open and transparent basis, the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant to understanding the scientific basis of risk of human-induced climate change, its potential impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation.
WMO and the National Meteorological and Hydrological Services of its 188 Members are the principal providers of the scientific and technical information underpinning IPCC assessments.
The IPCC, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, originated from the First World Climate Conference organized by WMO in 1979. While it is widely recognized today that human activities are modifying climate at an increasingly alarming rate, such was not the case in 1976, when WMO issued the first authoritative statement on the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the potential impacts on the Earth’s climate.
The intensive scientific work which followed led to the co-establishment in 1988 of the IPCC by WMO and the United Nations Environment Programme.
The IPCC First Assessment Report was released in 1990 and provided guidance for the Second World Climate Conference in the same year. It also gave a boost to the negotiations that resulted in the adoption of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the establishment in 1992 of the Global Climate Observing System to facilitate the availability of systematic observations needed for authoritative climate change studies.
The IPCC Fourth Assessment Report was published in 2007. Its key messages served as the basis for international mobilization that culminated in December 2007 at the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali. Efforts are ongoing to achieve appropriate agreements extending beyond the Kyoto protocol and to define long-term strategies.
Climate change and decision-making
Today, WMO is focused on providing better information and tools to guide decision-makers in adapting to expected climate changes for societal benefit. World Climate Conference-3 (WCC-3) will be held in Geneva from 31 August to 4 September 2009. It will bring together providers and users of climate predictions in order to enhance climate-resilient decision-making (see also the August 2008 edition of MeteoWorld).
Of paramount importance is capacity-building in the natural disaster risk reduction activities of developing countries, in particular in the use of early warning systems. The Least Developed Countries, Small Island Developing States and other vulnerable nations will be among those hit earliest and hardest by the impacts of climate change on water resources, food security and health, in particular in Africa. While they are clearly among those least responsible for the climate change issue, these countries have insufficient resources to prepare themselves against the inherent adverse effects.
As well as progress in the field of climate prediction, WCC-3 will lead to concrete results in terms of improved intersectoral coordination and social and economic fields, in particular natural disaster prevention.
To address the needs of decision-makers, WMO has taken action to promote the provision of climate information to develop adaptation strategies for various sectors at the national and regional levels and to ensure that these strategies are reflected in national development plans.
Key sectors such as agriculture, energy, tourism and health will be among those most affected by the impact of climate change on water resources, for example, reduced water availability, a deterioration in water quality, increased runoff and an increase in the salinization of groundwater as a result of sea-level rise. Mainstreaming climate change in decision-making processes will therefore be central to all development and poverty alleviation efforts.
The anticipated increase in climate variability due to climate change is likely to result in severe floods, droughts and cyclones, thereby having an adverse effect on the global efforts being made to meet the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. Adaptation efforts will have to encompass current and anticipated climate variability.
There is a need to update land and water resources development strategies and economic planning through approaches such as integrated water resources management, integrated flood management and watershed management. In view of competing demands and the need for intersectoral planning, water resources managers require accurate and reliable climate information, which is not always readily available.
WMO has launched an appeal for funding to set up hydrological information systems that can provide timely, accurate and comprehensive water resources information. There is a growing need for wider international exchange of hydrological data and products and capacities of developing countries must be strengthened in this area.
Among the many challenges to be met is access to water by societies which have increasing demands. Water resources will be affected by the decrease in groundwater, in particular in rural areas, on small islands and in regions that depend on water from snowmelt and glaciers, which represent one-sixth of the world’s population. Drinking-water intakes in many cities may be adversely affected by lower flows or sea-level rise. Mortality rates for water-borne diseases, such as cholera or malaria, will increase in the wettest and driest scenarios.
Because of precipitation variability, there is a need to develop and optimize the use of irrigation in food production. At the local level, the use of irrigation in agriculture may present additional challenges linked to variations in spatial and temporal streamflow distribution. Furthermore, the economic and social pressures envisaged for the coming decades may further increase the competition for water resources between food production and other agricultural sectors, including that of the growing production of biofuels. Hydroelectricity, a renewable energy source, will be increasingly affected by changes in river discharge.
Home to 1.52 billion people—22 per cent of the world’s population—South Asia is predominantly agricultural. More than two-thirds of its peoples reside in rural areas. Despite improvements in national food security over the last three decades, some 284 million people are still undernourished, and 43 per cent of the world’s population living here have to survive on one dollar per day.
Rural population density at 1.89 persons/ha is higher than in any other developing region and has resulted in severe pressure on natural resources. Future impacts of climate change and the means to adapt to them are therefore of paramount interest to the countries of South Asia.
The main determinant of agricultural production in South Asia is seasonal variation of precipitation and temperature. Droughts, floods, frost-freezes and heatwaves stress both crops and livestock. It is the changing frequency of these events due to climate change that is the main concern. Improved weather and climate information can assist agricultural communities in making better decisions. WMO is therefore seeking to establish a climate change information network for South Asia that would provide the means to share and communicate information, data and science on climate change and on monitoring tools and methodologies, analysis techniques, data management and verification tools.
Climate is a crucial factor in formulating sustainable development strategies, and therefore has an overarching and cross-cutting role in efforts to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). It is essential to help countries reduce climate-induced risks that might oppose the achievement of the MDGs notably in terms of poverty reduction and food security.
Climate change has multi-dimensional impacts on agro-ecosystems in South Asia, including increases in temperature, declines in freshwater availability, sea-level rise, glacial melting in the Himalayas, increased frequency and intensity of extreme events, and shifting of cropping zones. They all impact agriculture and the related food sector, as well as the general economies, societies and environment.
Agriculture is a bearer, a contributor as well as a mitigator, of climate change. Small landholders (<2 ha) and resource-poor, subsistence farmers predominate in the region and contribute to carbon dioxide emissions. The per capita land area is <0.1 ha in many countries in South Asia and is rapidly decreasing because of conversion of land to non-agricultural uses, soil degradation and continued population growth. The serious problems of soil degradation and desertification are likely to be exacerbated by climate change through accelerated erosion, fertility depletion, salinization and acidification. Subsistence agriculture, characterized by low productivity and extractive farming, is extremely vulnerable to climate change. The latter may constrain attainment of food production targets in South Asian countries.
The International Symposium on Climate Change and Food Security in South Asia (Dhaka, Bangladesh, August 2008) identified several key recommendations, knowledge gaps and opportunities for the design of programmes aimed at minimizing short- and long-term vulnerability of the region to climate change (see box below).
The ability to detect the location of possible nuclear explosions has been significantly enhanced following the entry-into-operation on 1 September 2008 of a joint system for real-time response under the cooperation between WMO and the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO).
By applying a technique called atmospheric transport modelling, the three-dimensional travel path of a radionuclide particle is backtracked from where it was detected by a monitoring station to the area where it may have originated. This process is called source region attribution. Similar methods, although less sophisticated than those employed today, were already used in April 1986 by Swedish experts to attribute the radioactive cloud over Sweden to the Chernobyl reactor catastrophe.
With the contribution of WMO’s high-quality global meteorological data and data-processing and predictions by a number of its operational meteorological centres, CTBTO will be able to considerably improve its calculations for radioactive particles detected by one of the 80 radionuclide stations of the CTBTO International Monitoring System.
In the next step, referred to as data fusion, the results of atmospheric transport modelling are compared to the data harvested through the other verification technologies (the so-called waveform technologies: seismic, hydro-acoustic and infrasound). The synergy of both allows for a much more accurate location of a potential nuclear explosion. The more precisely the verification system can determine the location of a possible nuclear explosion at this point, the greater the chances are of a subsequent on-site inspection finding concrete evidence of a recent nuclear test.
CTBTO will be able to send requests for assistance in the case of suspicious radionuclide detections directly to nine Regional Specialized Meteorological Centres/National Meteorological Centres of WMO’s Global Data-processing and Forecasting System. These centres, which specialize in atmospheric transport modelling, will then submit their calculations to CTBTO as fast as is technically feasible—and within 24 hours at the latest.
Cooperation between CTBTO and WMO dates back to 2000. Annual atmospheric backtracking exercises between CTBTO and WMO centres have taken place since 2003; the next one is scheduled to take place within the next few months. In addition, unannounced system tests will be carried out every quarter.
WMO has been involved in international efforts for monitoring nuclear tests since the 1990s, when negotiations on the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty within the UN Conference on Disarmament were still ongoing. By offering the use of its Global Telecommunication System for data exchange, as well as simulating the performance of various proposed radionuclide sampling networks for the Treaty verification regime with archived weather analyses, WMO facilitated the great advances toward designing what later became the model for the current International Monitoring System.
This activity contributes to WMO’s Strategic Plan, in particular in disaster risk reduction and cooperation with international organizations.
First Antarctic ozone bulletin of 2008
WMO issues bulletins containing information on the state of the ozone layer in the Antarctic at approximately two-week intervals from August to November. They are based on data provided by WMO Members which operate ozone monitoring stations in the southern hemisphere and satellites to observe ozone globally.
The first issue of the 2008 WMO Antarctic ozone bulletins has been published and is available online (pdf).
It states that ozone depletion is currently close to the 1979-2007 average and somewhat later than last year.
As the sun returns to the Antarctic after the polar night, it is expected that ozone destruction will speed up. It is still too early to give a definitive statement about the development of this year’s ozone hole and the degree of ozone loss that will occur. This will, to a large extent, depend on the meteorological conditions. Indications so far are that the 2008 ozone hole will be smaller than in 2006 but larger than in 2007.
WMO and the scientific community use ozone observations from the ground, from balloons and from satellite, together with meteorological data to keep a close eye on the development during the coming weeks and months.
Contact: MeteoWorld Editor - WMO ©2008 Geneva, Switzerland