All life depends on a healthy planet, but the interwoven systems of atmosphere, oceans, watercourses, land, ice cover and biosphere, which form the natural environment, are threatened by human activities. Moreover, while a fragile environment becomes more vulnerable to natural disasters, the natural disasters also degrade the environment in a pernicious circle of causes and effects.
The observational data of weather, climate and the atmosphere that are collected through the WMO networks of observing, data-transmitting and forecasting systems keep policy-makers informed of the state of the environment so that they are in a better position to prevent its further degradation.
The natural environment suffers, for example, from lack of precipitation for extended periods and uncontrolled land use, leading to desertification. It is estimated that one-third of the Earth’s surface and one-fifth of the world’s population are threatened by desertification. WMO therefore directs its attention to the aspects of climate variability and change which impact the environment.
WMO is the recognized, comprehensive source of unique global systematic observations on the state of a wide variety of geophysical phenomena, datasets and long-term archives, and scientific and technical expertise in support of policy advice on various critical environmental issues.
Biodiversity (the variety of life on Earth and the natural patterns it forms) helps keep the global environment working. Polluted air, depleted or contaminated water, degraded soil and urban growth are all threats to biodiversity. Rising ocean temperatures are responsible for the widespread bleaching of coral reefs, which support vast populations of marine life and are also an important tourist attraction. El Niño events are particularly critical.
Ecosystems such as wetlands, forests and lakes are an important part of the natural regime of a river. They are a buffer between river and terrestrial ecosystems and play an important role in storing or attenuating floodwaters. It is necessary therefore to ensure they remain healthy. Structural flood-management interventions cannot fully control extreme flood events beyond the design standard and may have adverse impacts on the natural environment.
Stratospheric ozone protects plants, marine life, animals and people from solar ultraviolet radiation, which is harmful for life on Earth. Chlorofluorocarbons and other anthropogenic chemicals are responsible for the destruction of ozone
An essential activity of National Meteorological and Hydrological Services is to monitor long-term changes in atmospheric greenhouse gases, ultraviolet radiation, aerosols and ozone, and to assess their consequent effects on people, climate, air and water quality and marine and terrestrial ecosystems. Another important activity is monitoring the atmospheric and water transport of dangerous particles in the wake of a volcanic explosion or an industrial accident. WMO observational data are used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its assessments of climate climate change, its potential impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation.