The World Meteorological Organization has convened a special session of its Congress in order to strengthen policies to meet the explosive growth in the demand for weather, climate, water, atmospheric and ocean services. This is necessary in view of rapid climate, environmental and demographic change and the increasing frequency and impact of extreme weather.
The Extraordinary World Meteorological Congress will specifically focus on key priorities including water, a comprehensive new data exchange policy and a reinforced, better-funded global observing system. In view of the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it will also discuss the operation and maintenance of systems during extreme events/global crises and the ongoing reform of WMO structures.
The Congress, which takes place virtually from 11 to 22 October mid-way through the traditional four-year cycle, was opened by Alain Berset, Head of the Federal Department of Home Affairs of Switzerland.
Minister Berset said the ongoing refinement of weather-, water- and climate-related data and improved risk management mean that we are now better able to cope with the impact of extreme events such as those experienced this summer.
Weather4UN, a pilot project led by MeteoSwiss and supported by the Swiss Federal Council, is a key component of the WMO Coordination Mechanism which aims to improve the coordination of meteorological-data production and transmission within the UN system and for humanitarian organisations around the world. As a result of this initiative, early action can be taken and people will be better protected from extreme weather events.
Thanks to funding from the Swiss government and other Members, WMO has been able to increase support to the UN humanitarian network, with seasonal predictions, outlooks for El Niño/La Niña events and forecasts of high impact weather like tropical cyclones, said WMO Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas.
“Disasters are hitting both developing and developed countries,” said Prof. Taalas, citing this summer’s extreme rainfall deadly flooding in Germany and other central European countries and the record-breaking heat in Canada and northwestern USA.
“In both cases we could demonstrate the clear links between these extreme events and climate change,” said Prof. Taalas.
The number of disasters increased by a factor of five between 1970 and 2019, driven by climate change, more extreme weather and improved reporting. But, thanks to improved early warnings and disaster management, the number of deaths decreased almost three-fold.
To meet the challenges, WMO and the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction are stepping up coordination.
“International cooperation runs like a thread through the work of WMO,” said Mami Mizutori, the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction and head of UNDRR. "Nowhere is this more apparent than the provision of state-of-the art early warning systems," she said. But she voiced concern that more than half WMO members lack early warning systems, especially in countries that can least afford disaster losses.
Water stress, water-related hazards and water quality pose ever greater threat to society today. Since 2000, flood-related disasters have risen by 134% compared with the two previous decades. The number and duration of droughts also increased by 29% over this same period. In 2018, 3.6 billion people had inadequate access to water at least one month per year in 2018. By 2050, this is expected to rise to more than five billion. But management, monitoring, forecasting and early warnings are fragmented and inadequate and investment is insufficient.
The Extraordinary Congress is therefore due to adopt a WMO Vision, Strategy and Action Plan for Hydrology.
This envisages that “By 2030 a cooperative global community is successfully addressing the growing challenges related to hydrological extremes, water availability and quality, and food security, by advancing operational hydrology through enhanced science, infrastructure, capacity-building and related services, in the context of sustainable development and enhanced resilience. »
A draft WMO Water Declaration stresses the need for stronger action and for more integrated policies on water and climate change, as provided for by a new Water and Climate Coalition.
The Hydrological Assembly, an open committee of Congress, will discuss these and other related topics and provide its recommendations to Plenary.
WMO has promoted free and unrestricted exchange of weather, climate and water data – the foundation of our knowledge about the atmosphere and the climate system - since 1873 and has created a global standardized network.
The basic principles of this exchange are articulated in WMO’s data policy. WMO is now updating and expanding the scope of its data policy in response to the continued growth in demand for meteorological data products and services from all sectors of society. The need for this update is further exacerbated by continued gaps in data sparse regions, by transformative changes in data, science, and technology, and by the rapid growth of private sector capabilities and activities in meteorology.
The responsibilities of National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs) have expanded beyond the traditional weather, climate and water activities. WMO data policy must therefore evolve to accommodate areas such as atmospheric composition, oceans, cryosphere and space weather.
The proposed data policy update will help the WMO community strengthen and better sustain monitoring and prediction of all Earth-system components, with massive socioeconomic benefits as a result. It will lead to additional exchange of all types of environmental data, which in turn will enable all WMO Members to deliver better, more accurate and timely weather- and climate-related services.
Global Basic Observing Network
Many developing countries, especially in Africa and Small Island Developing States, continue to struggle with providing a sufficient amount of observational data to adequately support weather and climate services. These gaps in the observational system have a negative impact on accuracy of model products underpinning early warning services globally and especially in the data sparse regions.
The Global Basic Observing Network (GBON) – the detailed specifications of which will be discussed by the World Meteorological Congress starting this week – represents a new approach in which the basic surface-based observing network is designed, defined and monitored at the global level.
Once implemented, GBON will improve the availability of the most essential surface-based data. This will have a direct positive impact on the quality of weather forecasts and information that will help to improve global public safety and well-being.
In order to realize this, additional investment and capacity development will be needed for many developing countries. WMO is working closely with the international development and climate finance communities to facilitate this.
Systematic Observations Financing Facility
The Systematic Observations Financing Facility (SOFF) will support countries to generate and exchange basic observational data.
It will provide technical and financial assistance in new ways – applying internationally agreed metrics (the requirements of the Global Basic Observing Network) - to guide investments, using data exchange as a measure of success, and creating local benefits while delivering on a global public good.
WMO President Gerhard Adrian urged WMO’s 193 Members to “embrace the challenge.”
“Our collective decisions during these two weeks will ensure WMO is better equipped to respond to societal needs and provide more effective services,” he said.