In the late 1990s the WMO, National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs), regional institutions and other international organizations initiated an innovative process known as the Regional Climate Outlook Forums (herein referred to as Forums). These Forums bring together national, regional and international climate experts, on an operational basis, to produce regional climate outlooks based on input - climate predictions - from all participants. By bringing together countries with common climatological characteristics, the Forums ensure consistency in the access to, and interpretation of, climate information. Through interaction with users in the key economic sectors of each region, extension agencies and policymakers, the Forums assess the likely implications of the outlooks on the most pertinent socio-economic sectors in the given region and explore the ways these outlooks could be used by them.
Today, the core concept of the Regional Climate Outlook Forums remains unchanged - the delivery of consensus-based, user-relevant climate outlook products in real time through regional cooperation and partnership - however, the implementation has been tailored to meet the local conditions. The process, pioneered in Africa, typically includes the following components:
- Meetings of the regional and international climate experts to develop a consensus for the regional climate outlook, typically in a probabilistic form
- The Forum itself, involving both climate scientists and representatives from the user sectors, for the identification of impacts and implications and the formulation of response strategies
- A training workshop on seasonal climate prediction to strengthen the capacity of the national and regional climate scientists
- Special outreach sessions involving media experts, to develop effective communications strategies
Each Forums also review impediments to the use of climate information as well as experiences and successes in the use of the past climate products issued by the specific Forum in order to enhance sector-specific applications. These Regional Climate Outlook Forums are followed by national forums to develop detailed nationally-scale climate outlooks and risk information, including warnings for communication to decision-makers and the public.
The Forums have facilitated regional cooperation and networking, and have demonstrated the benefits of sharing climate information and experience. Close interaction between the providers and users of climate information and predictions has enhanced feedback from the users to climate scientists, and has catalyzed the development of many user-specific products.
In many regions, the users that will benefit from the Forum contribute to its organization and to the breadth of the sessions, thus ensuring the applicability to meeting user needs. Typically, the Forums attract practitioners and decision-makers from sectors such as:
- Agriculture and food security
- Water resource
- Energy production and distribution
- Public health
- Disaster risk reduction and response
- Outreach and communication
Other sectors such as tourism, transportation, urban planning, etc. are increasingly involved.
Based on the needs of specific sectors, specialized, sector-oriented outlook forums, such as the Malaria Outlook Forums (MALOFs) in Africa, are being held in conjunction with Regional Climate Outlook Forums.