From Global to Regional to National: Building Operational Climate Services

Building support for climate services at the national level

The Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS) has already succeeded in building effective partnerships at the global level. Governments, with support from United Nations and other international organizations, are collaborating to advance the concept of climate services, attract funding and launch projects. The next step is to make the GFCS a reality at the national and local levels in order to bring it closer to the end-users of climate predictions, information and advice. This can best be achieved through country dialogues and frameworks that lead to operational climate services. The GFCS seeks to advance this process through a series of regional workshops on climate services at the national level.
Regional workshops allow experts to meet with their counterparts from neighbouring countries to debate shared problems and needs. By ensuring a critical mass of experts from such diverse sectors as meteorology, climate research, public health, disaster risk, water resource management and agriculture, they can produce highly enriching discussions. These discussions pave the way for the next critical step: national dialogues that lead directly to demand-driven operational services.
The first regional workshop on climate services at the national level was held in Bangkok in October 2012. This event focused on the least developed countries in Asia and was sponsored by WMO, the Asian Development Bank, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN, and the Thai Meteorological Department. Over 50 experts from nine countries and from regional and global organizations participated.
The second regional workshop was held in Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago, in May 2013 and attracted some 70 participants from the provider and user communities in 20 countries. It was also organized by the WMO, this time in conjunction with the Caribbean Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology (CIMH) and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), with financial support from FAO, the State Meteorological Agency of Spain (AEMET) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The next workshops will be organized for the Latin American and South Pacific regions.

Shared issues and concerns

The Bangkok and Port of Spain workshops highlighted a number of issues that are probably relevant to all regions. To start with, credible climate services must be underpinned by good science and research. Thanks to intensive scientific research, remarkable advances have been made in seasonal forecasting for many regions (particularly the tropics), and there is growing confidence in long-term climate change predictions.
To advance seasonal forecasting and build regional capacity, WMO is promoting the establishment of Regional Climate Outlook Forums (RCOFs). Given the limited resources of developing countries, the forums focus mostly on applied research. RCOFs serve two main purposes: they strengthen networking amongst regional climate experts as well as the users of climate forecasts (if the users cannot understand or apply the forecasts, they have little value), and over time they will improve the accuracy of regional seasonal forecasts. RCOFs have now been established in over 10 regions, including the Caribbean, south-eastern Europe and Southern Africa. They are a critical component of the GFCS and to the development of operational climate services.
Research depends on data, and concerns about the quantity and quality of data are universal. Obtaining, managing and disseminating data can be expensive. It may be necessary to identify useful datasets that need to be rescued from loss and decay. Data issues can be usefully discussed at the regional level.
The question of how to maximize limited resources may also lend itself to regional solutions. Centres of excellence, for example, may be more easily supported at the regional level than at the national level. Regional coordination could also be useful for ensuring that the GFCS is aligned with the many other global frameworks and structures that the UN and others have established to support sustainable development.
Regional workshops allow participants to explore gaps, capacity development and strategies for engaging stakeholders. They offer the opportunity to share good practices and success stories for providing and using climate services. They can explore how National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs) and other climate service providers can best communicate highly technical information to experts in fields that are equally technical and have their own highly specialized vocabularies. Workshop participants can also exchange ideas on how to engage high-level government officials, potential funders, the press and other audiences with compelling messages and stories that raise awareness about how climate services can contribute to sustainable development (see box).

Communicating GFCS  and climate services

National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs) communicate regularly about weather and extreme events; as a result, they have increased visilibity and widespread public awareness of the value of weather services. Climate service providers will want to duplicate this success in the domain of climate variability and change. The challenges to achieving this are many: climate services are not as mature as weather services; climate is experienced less directly than weather; climate predictions are more complex than weather predictions; and climate tends to involve longer term strategic responses that can be more difficult to evaluate. Communications and outreach are therefore vital for raising climate literacy and convincing people of the many benefits provided by climate services.
The communications strategy for the Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS) seeks to engage governments, UN agencies and other partners in building a cross-cutting, multidisciplinary framework. It also aims to inform the potential users of climate services about the impressive progress in climate science, the operational services and products made possible by this progress, and the benefits that communities and socio-economic sectors are already reaping from climate information, predictions and advice.
WMO and others actively promote the GFCS via the web, workshops, presentations, publications, articles, press outreach and social media. In October 2012 the Extraordinary Session of the World Meteorological Congress adopted the communications strategy, which can be found on the GFCS website.

The GFCS brand

Branding is a useful tool for ensuring a strategic and coherent approach to outreach. A brand can be defined as how people perceive or respond to a product, service or organization – they trust it, or they do not; they want to use it, or they do not. In the case of the GFCS, the brand, or identity, is the sum of all the Framework’s attributes. This includes the visual identity – the logo and the common look and feel of the GFCS website and publications.
More important is the perceived added value or attributes of the GFCS brand that differentiate it and make it unique from all others. The GFCS is a government driven, UN-wide, interdisciplinary partnership that provides access to state-of-the-art science and applications, responds to both climate variability and change, supports national priorities, assists governments to build national and regional climate services, and empowers users to apply climate services to solve real problems. These are the values that attract people to the GFCS brand.
Compelling stories and messages are essential for bringing the GFCS brand to life. The GFCS Office has already collected a number of case studies from governments and organizations and presented them in “Climate ExChange,” a 250-page book with over 100 authors, published by WMO and Tudor Rose in October 2012. As climate services mature it should be possible to tell better and better “human interest stories” about how specific services are helping particular people or communities to address urgent problems. Gathering and sharing stories that convey the human impact of climate and climate services is important for the entire GFCS community.

National outreach

While the outreach activities for the GFCS started with engaging governments and organizations at the international level, they must increasingly focus on reaching out at the regional and national levels. It is now vital to engage partners in national frameworks and to energize the end-users of climate services. The aim should be to promote climate literacy and a general understanding of climate services, including amongst politicians, high-level officials responsible for national budgets and development, and potential funders. In this way, NMHSs can open the door to dialogues for defining the specific service needs of users in priority sectors.

Plan ahead

To be effective, national outreach should not be treated as an add-on or an after-thought. Instead, communications should be integrated from the start into all activities that support climate services. Preparing a written plan in advance is a useful way to think through the brand, messages and stories that should be promoted. Priority audiences (such as private-and public-sector end users, the media, potential partners, funders) should be identified and multiple communications tools and channels (web, press, etc.) should be exploited.
Generic messages could include: climate science and prediction are now mature enough to support operational services; climate services provide actionable information and predictions; climate-smart decision-making will improve lives and livelihoods, etc. To the extent possible, messages at the national level should be more specific and targeted.
Other considerations for effective outreach include: recognize that many potential users may not be familiar with the basics of climate variability and change, let alone what is meant by “climate services;” messages and stories should be simple, positive, relevant to daily life and expressed in non-technical language; and climate services should be linked when possible to other government priorities and campaigns and to current events (storms, droughts, launches of the IPCC assessment reports, etc.).

As these brief suggestions demonstrate, outreach is rather simple – even if it is not always easy. A key challenge is having the capacity, staff skills, time and funding to pursue effective outreach. While an upfront investment is clearly required, the pay-off in terms of attracting political and financial support and educating users ensures that outreach will more than pay for itself.

Climate-smart health services in the Caribbean

Regional workshops can also explore sector-specific climate services in greater detail. Participants can complete a survey of currently available and used climate services and make a list of the additional ones that are needed. They can identify specific gaps, capacity development needs, institutional arrangements, priorities, and next steps.
For example, at the Caribbean workshop climate and health experts brainstormed about issues that many said they had never before addressed. They identified dengue as a common regional concern. Dengue is prevalent throughout the Caribbean in the rainy season. Effective early warning systems are needed to advise vulnerable populations about the behaviour they should adopt to minimize the risks of a pending outbreak. The health authorities need climate services that combine seasonal rainfall, temperature and humidity forecasts in order to predict a dengue outbreak. This information needs to be communicated well in advance so that health officials can roll out an appropriate outreach campaign.
Other Caribbean priorities areas for climate services to support public health are respiratory track infections, diarrhea and gastroenteritis, and injuries from natural disasters. In addition to the three climate parameters already cited, these three areas will require, respectively, the provision of information on dust transported from the Sahara Desert; climate change information, for example, on ocean warming; and data and forecasts on extreme events. Continued research is vital to a better understanding of the link between climate and these various public health concerns. Long-term historical meteorological and climate data from the NMHSs – preferably computerized, in a format that health experts can understand, and transmitted in a timely manner – are also vital for mapping health risks.
To achieve all this, a regular dialogue between health ministries and NMHSs is essential. Even with the best will in the world, initiating and sustaining such a dialogue can be a challenge. People are absorbed by their day-to-day work and have limited resources. Ideally, a person or organization will be tasked with facilitating the dialogue and coordinating the sharing of data and information between national agencies. (The intervention of policy-makers may sometimes be required to improve data sharing.) Other issues that could be addressed through a national framework could include the translation of research papers and data products from other languages used in the region. The end result of the dialogue should be the mainstreaming of climate services into operational health services.

A road map for national action

The Asian and Caribbean regional dialogues have already proven their value. The next step towards national frameworks for operational climate services will be to organize national dialogues that bring together experts from climate-sensitive sectors.
These dialogues will develop national coordination mechanisms for nurturing partnerships and networks of climate service users and providers. The resulting climate services should be designed to address each country’s specific challenges and user needs. They should be action oriented and should solve real problems. The national dialogues will help users to define their needs so that service providers can respond to them. National consultations will also enable the participating institutions and partners to agree on their respective roles and mandates. Effective governance mechanisms for the national frameworks will ensure that all partners work towards shared goals and avoid unwanted overlaps and gaps. They will also make it possible to identify capacity development needs and a common approach to international funders.
In addition to involving experts from relevant sectors, these national dialogues can start to engage the high-level political officials who make decisions on resources and budgets. To do this, the promoters of climate services may need to translate climate impacts into financial and development impacts – to speak the language of development planners. They must convince the politicians that ignoring climate risks will damage key economic sectors, such as tourism, agriculture or coastal development, and thus the overall national economy. A sign of their success in creating this new paradigm will be the day when the Finance Ministry reviews the Water Ministry’s strategic plan and without prompting asks: how does your plan address climate risks?

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