Memorandum submitted by the World Meteorological
This paper focuses on the role of climate data
in the context of sustainable development. It emphasizes the value
of accurate atmospheric/climate data of long duration and continuity.
The World Meteorological Organization has the responsibility,
within the United Nations System, for observational data on climate
including standardization of techniques, and data quality and
record length. It has other responsibilities in important areas
of climate services and application.
Sustainable development is understood differently
in different countries/cultures. The central idea, however, revolves
around elevating the standard of living and, hand-in-hand, improving
the quality of life in all regions of the world. Wealth creation
through such measures as productivity increases and the equitable
sharing of the wealth across society is at the heart of the first
aspect. Environmental and social well-being, state of public health
and education and availability of discretionary/leisure time are
some of the issues that lie at the root of the second aspect.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,
which the WMO co-sponsors, concludes in its Third Assessment Report
(2001) that human influence is seen in the temperature increase
observed over the last 50 years. This has had some consequences
such as floods, droughts, severe weather events, El-Nino phenomena.
Projections by the IPCC indicate that if the causes of the warming
trend continue unabated, the temperature at the end of the century
would be between 1.4 to 5.8 deg C. This may be compared to the
increase of about 0.6 deg C seen in the last 100 years. Thus,
the projected rate is at least twice that observed in the recent
Ecological and socio-economic systems are coping,
fine-tuned, with the state of the current climate system (including
the rate of temperature increase). If that system changes, and
climate zones shift poleward/upward as a result of global warming,
will the ecological/socio-economic systems have the necessary
time and the resilience to adapt and survive? Yes or no, this
has implications for sustainable development.
The impacts of climate change will be distributed
differently in different nations and differently among the different
socio-economic sectors of a given nation.
For example, in the current context of global
warming, winter deaths due to cold waves could be lower than otherwise;
currently-nonproductive lands may become productive in agriculture
or as pastures in the marginal regions of the higher latitudes.
Enhanced concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere may
increase forest biomass. On the other hand, the character of the
precipitation and water loss in a warmer world may lead to more
floods in some regions and more droughts in other regions; vector-borne
diseases may penetrate into regions where they do not do so now;
water supply may be affected due to changed seasonality in run-off,
quality, increased evapotranspiration and salinization due to
salt water intrusion in a rising sea; summer deaths may increase
due to added heat stress. Impacts thus could be positive or negative
but occurring as they may be in different places and times on
varying time and space scales, these are unlikely to compensate
each other in the aggregate either within a nation or within a
sector. The aggregate impacts would depend upon the magnitude,
rate and regional distribution of climate change.
There are potentials for conflict among nations.
While the overall cereal supply in the world would be expected
to remain little changed, the distribution of the regions of supply
and demand would likely change from the current pattern. Coastal
inundation and submersion of low-lying areas such as deltas may
cause displacement of populations to other regions within the
same country or into neighbouring countries, Traditional sharing
of waters across political boundaries may be harmed if the supply
and demand for quality water shifts. Conflicts, whose seeds are
embedded in potential climate change, will not be helpful in meeting
sustainable development goals nor will adverse impacts be.
According to the IPCC, all ecological/socio-economic
systems are sensitive to the state of the climate system. If adaptation
is relatively easy in a system, it can be considered to be not
so vulnerable. If adaptation is hard, time-consuming and costly,
the system would be more vulnerable to climate change. Thus, vulnerability
is a function of sensitivity and adaptive capacity.
An understanding of the vulnerability of a system
(such as agriculture, water supply, surface road network, catastrophic
insurance) is necessary in order to judge its sustainability.
Almost by definition, all poorer nations, having
less adaptive capacity, are more vulnerable than their better-to-do
neighbours. Even in a relatively well-to-do nation, the poorer
segments of society are more vulnerable, the degree of vulnerability
depending on their access to adaptation mechanisms and services.
Between sensitivity and adaptive capacity, the
two components of vulnerability, adapative capacity depends largely
on such characteristics as the availability of financial resources,
adequacy of human resources, institutional capability, public
awareness and acceptance and access to methods and techniques
for adaptation. Many subjective considerations enter into evaluating
It is, however, possible to be more quantitative
with respect to the sensitivity of a system and to estimate the
response of the system in the physical/chemical/biological sense
to climate change. The more quantitative one gets, the better
Climate data have two major roles in estimating
the response of a system to climate change. From past observed
data, statistical relationships and models have been developed
that can be used for future projections. The longer the data record
and greater the accuracy of the data, the more reliable the statistical
relationships/models are. Climate data need also to be projected
(by using sophisticated climate prediction models) for the times
into the future when the projections of the system response would
be desired. The climate prediction and other models use past data
for improving and verifying/validating their operation.
THE WMO IN
The World Meteorological Organization has established
unique networks of observing stations on the global and other
scales for observing weather, climate, atmospheric composition
and hydrological parameters. The observational methods are standardized,
and the observations are fully quality-controlled, made at frequencies
varying with the intended use and archived in World Data Centres.
Large quantities of data pertain to the three-dimensional world
and are exchanged in real time. They are used by the WMO in a
diagnostic sense in enhancing the completeness, usability and
efficiency of the network (through the Global Climate Observing
System); they are also used in developing the afore-mentioned
statistical relationships/models with other partners, and in studying
climate phenomena (including feedbacks and uncertainties) to improve
climate predictability (through the World Climate Research Programme).
World Meteorological Organization