GCOS conference promotes climate observations

GCOS conference promotes climate observations

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Published

14 March 2016

The Global Climate Observing System (GCOS) organized a conference on Global Climate Observation: the Road to the Future on 2-4 March where the producers and users of climate observations and other stakeholders discussed the current monitoring of the Essential Climate Variables (ECVs). Held in Amsterdam at the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, the conference also highlighted possible new areas for ECVs. (See here and here to learn more about ECVs.)

The discussions provided a key input into the new GCOS Implementation Plan being prepared for the next conference (COP 22) of the United Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which will be held in in Morocco next November. The GCOS conference was opened by WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas and brought together some 150 experts from 40 countries, with around the same number observing through the live stream.

Supporting the UNFCCC and IPCC

Climate observations are essential for understanding the complexities of the global climate system. Indeed, virtually all breakthroughs in understanding climate have been driven by observations. Observations provide critical benchmarks for testing and further developing the ability of science to make predictions using models.

In his opening address to the conference, WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said that "The Paris Climate Agreement calls for strengthening scientific knowledge on climate, including research, systematic  observation of the climate system and early warning systems, in a manner that informs climate services and supports decision-making."

While the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that the human influence on the climate system is clear, it also notes that there are gaps in the current global climate observing system on which this statement is based. There is also an increasing need for more detailed climate observations to support adaption planning. This is why it is crucial to make further progress towards a fully implemented, sustainable, global observing system for climate.

Since 1992, GCOS has been responsible to the UNFCCC for ensuring a sustained, long-term and reliable system for monitoring the global climate. An important aspect of this is the definition of ECVs, which are critical to scientists’ understanding of the climate. ECVs also support the work of the IPCC, as well as many other international organizations and programmes.

Improving understanding and communications

One conference session explored how the current ECVs are able to improve the understanding of the global cycles of water, energy and carbon. To fully understand Earth`s climate, scientists will need more information about these climate relevant cycles. Another session invited users from diverse areas to discuss, for example, to what extent GCOS should focus on biological factors. They found that many ECVs defined by GCOS already address ecological and biological aspects of the climate, but that so-called “slow variables” describing biological processes are currently parameterized rather than monitored. 

The session on how to improve communication of climate science included discussions of planetary vital signs for managing climate change. The question was raised whether climate science should start to use possibly better indicators than the global temperature average to communicate the rate and extent of climate change, for example, sea level rise, ice extent and ocean acidification.

The detailed programme, uploaded talks, presented posters and the video record of the conference are available from the conference website.

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