A defining characteristic of meteorology is its fundamentally global nature from both the scientific and operational perspectives, as was mentioned in the first article of this Bulletin. All countries therefore have a shared interest in collaborating, gathering and exchanging data that are necessary for the monitoring and prediction of weather and climate. All countries recognize this and agree with it in principle; yet international data exchange continues to be inadequate, especially in many developing countries. This article highlights some of the main reasons for this situation and provides a developing country perspective on the new WMO Unified Data Policy and its expected impact on capacity development and service delivery in these countries.
The importance of data exchange for developing countries: challenges and timeliness(by Daouda Konate)
The steady increase in climate-related natural disasters all over the world clearly points to a need for strengthening the international cooperation on systems and services that help save lives and protect property. The most essential elements are the systems established to acquire and exchange the observations needed for the global numerical models that are used to underpin monitoring and prediction of the Earth system. The ultimate responsibility for making the actual observations and for the initial link in the data exchange communication chain resides with the individual WMO Member State or Territory. However, per its Convention WMO has the responsibility for the fundamental task of coordinating and facilitating the design, implementation and operation of these systems. WMO’s main tools for this are its data policy (e.g. Resolution 40 (Cg-XII)) and its Technical Regulations.
Today, not all required Earth system observations are exchanged on a free and unrestricted basis by all stakeholders, due to various national data policies. Developing countries are faced with three major challenges when attempting to remedy the situation:
- A low level of investment in the observing network, resulting in a low spatial density of observations
- Concerns about free and unrestricted exchange of data leading to a loss of potential revenue that would otherwise have been an important, complementary source of funding, for example, for the maintenance of the observing network
- Insufficient resources for human and material capacity building needed to improve the provision of value added climate services.
These challenges can be explained in large part by the low level of financial resources allocated by the governments of developing countries to their observing and data exchange systems.
Many of us in the developing countries see a glimmer of hope in the new WMO Unified Data Policy, which represents a global commitment to supporting and strengthening the free and unrestricted exchange of data. One example is the mechanism implemented via the Systematic Observations Financing Facility (SOFF), which will be an important lever for providing technical and financial support to the implementation of free an unrestricted exchange of key observational data. We hope that the new data policy can enable similar capacity building initiatives along the entire value chain, including the collection, processing, archiving and production of data for climate services, and thereby help strengthen the resilience of all economic sectors of developing countries.
A full, free and open access to data as defined in the WMO Unified Data Policy will help us to optimize product quality and maximize the benefits of environmental monitoring in developing countries. The gaps in Earth system observations need to be filled through increased engagement between NMHSs and partner communities. Much mutual benefit will derive from such engagement. Thus, strong public-private partnership is important, as it can open new opportunities along the Earth system monitoring and forecasting value chain. In order to facilitate this, WMO encourages its Members to adopt or adjust requisite legislation and to create business models that for the implementation of public-private partnerships as called for in the 2019 Geneva Declaration. This will require commitment from all stakeholders to get involved and to support the WMO Unified Data Policy.
The importance of return flows to developing countries(by Agnes Kijazi)
Developing countries, including Least Developed Countries (LDCs), land-locked developing countries (LLDCs) and Small-Island Developing States (SIDS) and Territories, are among the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. This is due to diverse factors, including geography, location (in tropical and subtropical zones), limited resources and low adaptive capacity (Adejuwon et al., 2000; UN, 2009; WHO, 2018; IOM, 2019). Many of these countries already are experiencing increasing climate variability and the devastating impacts of climate change, especially from increasingly frequent extreme weather events. The situation is exacerbated by the huge infrastructure and capacity gaps for weather observation and monitoring, data processing, and weather forecasting and dissemination in developing countries that limit their ability to effectively provide quality weather, climate and hydrological services. Many also lack adequate resources to maintain and sustain the operations of the required infrastructure (WMO, 2021: Hydromet Gap Report).
In view of these circumstances, the time has come to take action to strengthen weather and climate service delivery capabilities in developing countries and to thereby assist in their effective adaptation to climate change (Hydromet Gap Report, 2021 pg 4&5). Urgent measures are called for to strengthen the entire meteorological value chain in developing countries (WMO, 2021 pg 4 &5). In support of this, the 18th World Meteorological Congress adopted Resolution 34, on the Global Basic Observing Network (GBON), which will require WMO Members to implement a minimum set of surface-based observing stations for which international exchange of observational data will be mandatory. This is a necessary step to ensure that the global Numerical Weather Prediction (NWP) systems that underpin all weather and climate services receive adequate observational input from all parts of the globe.
The WMO Strategic Plan 2020–2023 (WMO-No. 1225), adopted in 2019, also lays out a vision of a world in which all Members, particularly the most vulnerable, will be resilient to weather, climate and water related shocks by the year 2030. To realize this vision, access to high quality and improved weather, climate and hydrological products and services needs to be broadened and increased for all stakeholders. This will allow for better planning of government-led adaptation measures and will support informed decision-making towards improving resilience and productivity across all economic sectors. In this manner, WMO will also assist government in achieving the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Paris Agreement of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030 (WMO, 2019).
The WMO Strategic Plan 2020–2023 has defined five long-term goals with objectives for addressing specific capacity gaps across the full meteorological value chain:
- Enhancing meteorological observing and modelling systems by embarking on an integrated Earth system approach to monitoring and prediction
- Enhancing data availability, data management and data processing by integrating Earth system data from various domains to improve forecasts (long-term goal 2)
- The rapid transfer of new scientific knowledge to operational use, thereby leading to improvements in weather, climate, hydrological and related environmental services
- Address key services delivery challenges by improving the accessibility, timeliness, reliability and applicability of meteorological information.
Achievement of these goals will enhance the quality of services and help ensure the availability of essential weather, climate and hydrological information and services to all stakeholders, including governments, the business sector and citizens (WMO-No. 1225).
The strengthening of the international data exchange supporting the generation of high-resolution NWP products will be a particularly important milestone. This will create a two-way data flow between main stakeholder groups: On one side the National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs) and other providers (including space agencies) of observational data who will share core observational data and should also share recommended data. On the other side, the global NWP centres who will use the shared observational data to run global models that produce high resolution analysis and prediction datasets for both weather and climate services.
From a developing country perspective, we welcome the fact that the new WMO Unified Data Policy calls for high-resolution NWP data products to be shared and made accessible to all WMO Members on a free and unrestricted basis. This will be useful to improve forecasts and other weather and climate services to stakeholders. Satellite data products provided by the space agencies will be useful not just for assimilation into NWP models and for research purposes, but may also be used to support verification at national, regional and global levels.
Another issue that will have to be addressed in optimizing the value chain is enhancing the capability of developing countries to continuously monitor their end-to-end forecast production system. Developing and maintaining operational verification systems that focus on quality control of data and verification of NWP model output that comes out of the exchanged data sets could achieve this.
In recent years, impact-based forecasting and warnings have become the norm in supporting decision-making by users. However, certain elements in the provision of impact-based forecasting still remain subjective. Improved understanding and modelling of hazard and impacts is needed in order to complete the last mile in the full meteorological value chain, hence the importance of return flows to developing countries.
Data coverage from SIDS and their EEZs in particular(by Arona Ngari)
Observational data coverage from many Small Islands Developing States (SIDS), especially those in the Pacific, is very poor and is relentlessly deteriorating. Monitoring data collected by WMO indicate that the situation in certain areas may soon reach a stage where the number of observations can no longer sustain meaningful meteorological services.
Pacific SIDS, in particular, have very large Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) that in some cases cover millions of square kilometres, areas for which they have, amongst others, the responsibility to provide observational data. These SIDS are facing enormous difficulties in gathering data over their EEZs, and in maintaining the robust communication systems required to transfer the data.
The lack of observational data from these areas is a matter of significant concern – and not only for the SIDS themselves, where it has a significant negative impact on the quality of model output used for climate analysis and weather prediction. It is also a matter of concern to the entire global community, since it impacts the quality of monitoring and prediction data everywhere.
It is a major economic burden for SIDS to operate NMHSs with even fairly basic levels of service delivery capabilities. In fact, for some very small, fragile island economies, an NMHS is impossible to sustain based on local resources alone. This situation is exacerbated by the fact that many SIDS are exposed to a range of disasters related to natural phenomena such as tsunamis, tropical cyclones, floods and others. The most recent report (WG1,AR6) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) indicates that these threats will not diminish in the future.
Three initiatives undertaken by WMO offer possibilities to cater these shortfalls for SIDS and thereby also address some of the main the issues raised in the SAMOA Pathway. The first is Global Basic Observing Network (GBON), which will help improve the quality of monitoring and prediction data over SIDS and their EEZ. The second is the Systematic Observations Financing Facility (SOFF) which will provide the necessary support to SIDS to enable them to implement and operate their GBON contribution. The third is the new WMO Unified Data Policy which will allow all Members to fully benefit from these capabilities.
WMO Unified Data Policy as enabler of data exchange for developing Members(by Arlene Laing)
The WMO Unified Data Policy promises to be of enormous benefit for developing Members. Developing countries already now receive far more data free of charge than they provide – data that they would not be able to provide for themselves. This is actually true for all WMO Members, even the very wealthiest, since no single Member can on its own gather all the data that it needs for monitoring and prediction. Everyone benefits when data are shared, and thereby made available to clever and innovative individuals and organizations all over the world, who can experiment with it and develop improved ways to use it. For example, freely available global reanalysis data and global climate model output have allowed developing countries with endemic vector-borne diseases to correlate certain environmental conditions with the risk of epidemics, which has enabled better-informed public health decisions. A review of relevant studies for Africa is found in Githeko et al. (2014) and Thomson et al. (2018). The developed countries that provide the global reanalyses and model data are not themselves directly affected by this problem, and they would therefore have been unlikely to explore and develop this particular use of their data.
The Caribbean, one of the most hazard-prone regions of the world, is already experiencing warmer surface temperatures and is vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change. Effective disaster risk reduction and climate adaptation require integrating data from multiple sectors and across national borders, and this drives the need for a data policy that enables effective data sharing. These considerations served as the impetus for a session entitled “Data availability for effective policy-making and decisions” at the 11th Meeting between the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and Associated Institutions and the UN System, held on 20–21 July 2021. At the event, the Caribbean Meteorological Organization (CMO), a specialized agency of CARICOM, noted the WMO’s role in coordinating data exchange globally and emphasized the public good of the WMO’s policy – demonstrated over many decades. CARICOM Member States were reminded of the benefits of the WMO data sharing policy, which supports many sectors. Of particular importance is the sharing of real-time data for the safety of transportation by air and sea, which is critical to tourism, the primary economic driver of many Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in the Caribbean and Pacific regions.
It has been shown that data from developing countries in the tropics are critical to ensuring the efficacy of global weather models and better forecast skill in the mid-latitudes, where most global NWP centres are located. For example, the positive impact of more radiosonde observations over West Africa propagated downstream to have a positive impact on weather forecast skill over Europe (Faccini et al. 2009, Agusti-Panareda et al. 2010). Additionally, dropsonde observations in the poorly observed Tropical Eastern Pacific led to improved global forecasts (Solomon and Compo 2016). Therefore, there are incentives for observations to be provided by the SIDS and for the SIDS to receive, in return, the outputs from the global models to aid in their decision-making and societal development. The WMO Unified Data Policy is the vehicle that enables the exchange of these critical data.
Researchers in the developing world also benefit from the free exchange of data through the WMO Unified Data Policy. For example, climate variability and climate change studies are based on data provided freely by WMO Members to researchers. The Climate Studies Group at Mona, The University of the West Indies, for example, led studies showing that a 1.5 °C increase in global mean temperature is a tipping point for climate impacts in the Caribbean (Taylor et al. 2018). Those results have helped to shape national, regional, and international understanding of vulnerability to climate change and guided policy at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP) and the International Panel for Climate Change (IPCC), helping to bolster the perspective of developing countries.
The value of data is in its use for better decision-making, enabled when data are accessible in a manner that is appropriate for customized decision-making timelines. For most Caribbean SIDS, the density of their land surface observation networks meets the requirements of the GBON, and they mainly need support to keep their data transmitting to the global centres. What is extremely valuable to Caribbean SIDS is to have more marine observations, products and services, especially to better monitor tropical cyclones, to support the “blue economy” and to contribute to the UN Decade of Ocean Sciences for Sustainable Development. It is hoped that initiatives such as the SOFF, will support the deployment and sustainability of marine observations for Caribbean SIDS.
In order to address the many concerns of developing WMO Members and to help realize the vision for the WMO Strategic Plan improving the international exchange of Earth system data, as stated in the WMO Unified Data Policy (Resolution 1 (Cg-Ext 2021)) , is a much-needed first step. The implementation of the policy will facilitate access to high-resolution NWP products and other model data that will support NMHSs of developing countries to provide high quality and improved services. These services will support better decision-making for the benefit of both present and future generations.
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Agnes Kijazi, Permanent Representative to WMO for United Republic of Tanzania, WMO Third Vice President
Daouda Konate, Permanent Representative to WMO for Cote d’Ivoire, President of WMO Regional Association I (Africa)
Arona Ngari, Permanent Representative to WMO for the Cook Islands
Arlene Laing, Permanent Representative to WMO for the British Caribbean Territories, Member of the WMO Executive Council