A major new proposed financing initiative to close the increasing gaps in the global observing system, which underpins all weather forecasts and early warnings, has received overwhelming support from the international community.
The Systematic Observations Financing Facility, or SOFF, seeks to provide technical and financial assistance to countries to generate and exchange basic observational data. This is critical for improved weather forecasts and climate services needed to boost resilience to more extreme weather and to adapt to climate change impacts.
A successful first Funders Forum on 24 March underscored the groundswell of support for the creation of SOFF, with declarations from leaders of the United Nations and development and climate finance agencies in the Alliance for Hydromet Development, as well as beneficiary countries and the meteorological community.
As a priority, the SOFF will support Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States which face the most serious shortfalls in observations. This has knock-on effects for the rest of the globe as it undermines the quality and reliability of global forecasts. Investments to close gaps in data-sparse regions will have disproportionately high returns, with a potential 1:25 returns.
“At the moment there are severe gaps in the observing system, especially in Africa, Caribbean, Pacific Islands and in some parts of Latin America. This means that the quality of the early warning services is poorer and has a negative impact on weather forecasts worldwide,” Prof. Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization, told the Funders Forum.
“I am convinced that SOFF is of critical importance for the improvement of weather and climate services for the potential beneficiary countries a s well as for the global community, that means to support the protection of life and properties of all human beings as well the environment,” said WMO President Gerhard Adrian.
Alliance for Hydromet Development
Spearheaded by WMO, creation of the SOFF is a commitment and priority of the Alliance for Hydromet Development, which is a coalition of major climate anddevelopment finance institutions. The launch is planned for the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in November 2021.
Science and data are at the heart of the fight against climate change,” said Dr Kristalina Georgieva, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund. “Better data means better forecasts and stronger Early Warning Systems. For the IMF, better weather data will underpin our work to boost economic growth and financial stability across our membership as we scale up our work on climate change. In the new climate economy weather data is economic data and sharing this information is absolutely vital,” she said in a video message.
Leaders from beneficiary countries were also outspoken in their support.
Frank Bainimarama, Prime Minister of Fiji, said that SOFF would save lives in vulnerable countries and support disaster readiness and disaster resilience through more advanced early warning systems. Since 2016, the island nation has been hit by 13 serious tropical cyclones, including Cyclone Winston which was the strongest in the history of the southern hemisphere.
“We are calling on our development partners to back this facility. The benefits of the data it collects and the work it supports extend well beyond the Pacific. It supports a greater global campaign to build a more resilient world,” he said in a video message.
The virtual event was attended by more than 130 participants from 50 countries and institutions. It was chaired by Johannes Linn in his capacity as SOFF Global Facilitator. Mr Linn previously chaired replenishment consultations for several international organizations, including most recently the replenishment of the Green Climate Fund.
Global Basic Observing System
Observational data is critical to the quality of weather forecasts and climate analyses. Global numerical weather prediction is the basis on which all weather and climate services are built, and it requires a constant supply of observations from around the world. Ground-based observations—collected by surface-based weather stations and weather balloons—are a core part of this.
“Unfortunately, the network of surface-based observations today is not sufficiently advanced, especially in developing countries. And yet, observations in these areas of the world are most precious and are well worth investing in.” stated Dr Florence Rabier, Director General of the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF).
ECMWF estimates that an investment in the observing system in French Polynesia would offer benefits up to 50 times greater than investing in France.
The SOFF seeks to accelerate progress towards full implementation of the Global Basic Observing Network (GBON), whose concept was approved by the World Meteorological Congress in 2019. GBON is based on an agreement by which the basic surface-based weather observing network is designed, defined and monitored at a global level.
Statements of support from beneficiary countries:
H.E Mr. Sonam P. Wangdi, LDC Chair and Secretary, National Environment Commission, Royal Government of Bhutan: The persisting weather and climate data gaps in our countries are increasing our challenges to act effectively and proactively on adaptation and building resilience. Closing the gap in providing essential weather and climate observations in our countries is a priority and requires dedicated, predictable and long-term financial and technical support. We urge the international community to mobilize the resources required for its (SOFF) speedy establishment.
Hon. Tanguy Gahouma-Bekale Chair of the African Group of Negotiators: The climate crisis is severely threatening the economic growth of our continent. We, the African Group of negotiators, strongly welcome the creation of the Systematic Observations Financing Facility that will create benefits for all beyond Africa.
Hon. Dr. Aubrey Webson, UN Ambassador for Antigua and Barbuda, AOSIS Chair: We must invest in better weather observations systems right across the SIDS regions. We are strong advocates for the Systematic Observations Financing Facility.
Hon. Pearnel Charles Jr. Minister of Housing, Urban Renewal, Environment and Climate Change, Jamaica: The Systematic Observations Financing Facility is a critical tool. It’s a tool that countries will utilize to ensure that we increase our capacity for sustainable development and strengthen climate resilience. All sectors stand to benefit from this very important tool. All sectors, particularly agriculture, tourism which rely heavily on weather data.
Carlos Eduardo Correa, Minister of Environment of Colombia: The current gaps in weather and climate information data are affecting countries' capacities to act and increasing the challenges of providing early warnings and information that save lives and protect our economies. Colombia welcomes the international efforts to create the Systematic Observations Financing Facility and urges development partners to mobilize the necessary resources to make this initiative a reality.
Gilberto Silva, Minister for Agriculture and Environment of Cabo Verde: We are facing a major challenge guaranteeing scientific information with quality and regularity which is essential for preventing and reducing risks in various sectors of human activity and for food safety. We must be pragmatic and innovative in mobilizing resources, investing in partnerships and initiatives such as SOFF. SOFF has already earned the confidence of us African ministers responsible for meteorology and climate in the ministerial declaration adopted at the fifth session.
Vincent Timbindi DABILGOU, Minister of Transport, Burkina Faso: Recognizing the value of the data generated by our local networks for local and global forecasting capacities and therefore for the benefit of citizens of all countries, we strongly urge bilateral and multilateral partners to accelerate the creation of the Systematic Observations Financing Facility (SOFF), to help the most vulnerable countries to fill the gaps in basic meteorological observations.
Statements of support from Hydromet Alliance leaders
Juergen Voegele, Vice President, World Bank: Despite recent improvements in information from satellites and the weather modeling, there is poor and even declining availability of essential ground-based observation data. The SOFF will support countries to meet their global commitments to generate and exchange basic observational weather data with a focus on the least developed countries and small island developing states.Y
Yannick Glemarec, GCF Executive Director: SOFF will support LDCs and SIDs to close critical gaps in their weather observation systems by acquiring and exchanging observational weather data. This will enable countries to better prevent, prepare for and respond to the increasing physical risk of climate change
Bruno Carrasco, Asian Development Bank Director General: Increased investments are needed in surface-based observation systems especially in parts of Asia and the pacific where data is sparse. The Systematic Observations Financing Facility will greatly improve early warning systems and data gathering.
Achim Steiner, UN Development Programme Administrator: Vulnerable communities are amongst the hardest hit. To help address this they need access to the very best of technology to adapt to the effects of climate change and to reduce risk. SOFF will provide access to high quality weather forecasts, early warning systems, and climate information and ultimately it will help to strengthen adaptation and resilience across the globe.
David Beasley, Executive Director, World Food Programme: One of the many different factors driving global hunger today, climate extremes, are one of the most predictable. So let’s work together to help vulnerable communities be better prepared for them.
Inger Andersen, UNEP Executive Director: This initiative will support countries in overcoming financial and capacity constraints to generate and exchange observation data on weather and on climate. That will improve both local and global capacity to predict impacts of the three planetary crises: the climate crisis, yes, but also the nature and biodiversity crisis, and indeed the pollution crisis.
Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, Global Environment Facility CEO: At its heart, the Facility is addressing a critical need that we all recognize. We need to scale up and support long term global cooperation and partnership to strengthen climate resilience of the most vulnerable.
Mafalda Duarte, Climate Investment Funds CEO: Only by taking the pulse of our entire planet delivers the accuracy to predict the risks and future impacts climate change may bring, allowing us to react with the appropriate response.
Dr. Bandar M.H. Hajjar, Islamic Development Bank President: SOFF will enable the provision of more effective support to our member countries. Having access to the highest quality climate information for forecasts, weather and climate phenomena, including extreme weather events, is crucial.