Pathway to strengthen Systematic Observation of the Climate System and Early Warnings for All

In November, the Twenty-Seventh Conference of the Parties (COP27) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) agreed on decisions that set a clear path toward closing the global observing gap and strengthening efforts to provide the best available science for climate action. WMO, along with Parties to the Climate Convention, funding agencies and representatives from the scientific community, has been working actively to raise the profile of research and systematic observation within the Climate Convention itself as well as within the implementation of its Paris Agreement.

Best available science – who is responsible?

The recognition of the need for the best available science is not new. In fact, the Paris Agreement directly acknowledges that adaptation and mitigation should be based on and guided by the "best available science" and recognizes the need to strengthen scientific knowledge of climate, including the systematic observation of the climate system. However, so far, relatively little has been done to define who is responsible for this and what governments, funding entities and the scientific community will need to do to be able to deliver the best available science. Systematic observation of the climate system is an area that exemplifies the consequences of this lack of clarity.

Climate observations are vital: they have unequivocally shown that climate change is occurring, and they form the basis for the projections needed to support both climate change adaptation and action aiming to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions. However, the responsibility to provide these observations falls partly on the national meteorological services of individual countries and partly on the somewhat vaguely defined "scientific community". The implications of this are significant. Today, less than 10% of the basic weather and climate observations as per WMO Regulations and guidelines are provided by some of the poorest countries provide. Other related observations to support early warning systems and greenhouse gas monitoring often do not exist at all. This lack of data will limit the ability of some of the poorest countries to adapt to climate change. Underfunded national meteorological services and financially unsustainable observing systems have resulted in significant observing gaps. Today, there is an unacceptable disparity between the quality of climate information available for affluent, well-observed areas of the world versus those over poorer regions with correspondingly poor observational data coverage.

A turning point for systematic observation efforts

To respond to this, at COP27, a growing community of Parties to the Climate Convention, scientists and intergovernmental organizations made a concerted push for concrete action to close the observing gaps that currently limit our ability to provide the best available science. As a result, the Sharm-El Sheikh Implementation Plan (COP27 key outcome) includes an ambitious early warning and systematic observation package:

  • The 2022 Global Climate Observing System (GCOS) Implementation Plan. The Plan provides actions to meet and improve the observing requirements of the climate observing system and all Parties and relevant organizations are encouraged to work toward its implementation. It defines the universe of actors that must be involved and supported to deliver the required observations and proposes specific actions and means to measure progress. What remains to be seen and developed in the coming months is how the Parties and funding entities will turn the GCOS plan into action, including allocating specific funding and other resources to ensure implementation.
  • Early Warnings and Systematic Observations. Early warning and systematic observation made the headlines of the overarching cover decisions of the Climate Convention. The Early Warning for All Initiative will provide timely alerts against extreme weather and climate change to everyone on Earth within the next five years. It invites development partners, international financial institutions, and the operating entities of financial mechanism to provide support for the implementation of the Initiative. The agreed text of the cover decision also emphasizes the need to address existing gaps in the global climate observing system, particularly in developing countries. The prominence of systematic observation in the COP27 outcomes marks a milestone in WMO's long-standing efforts toward strengthening the systematic observation of the climate system, this time with more tangible results on what needs to be done and by whom.
  • Progress in providing dedicated financial support. The 57th session of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) noted with appreciation the progress in supporting systematic observation. SBSTA took particular interest in the development of the Systematic Observations Financing Facility (SOFF). It encouraged efforts to further strengthen support for sustained systematic observations of the ocean, cryosphere, land, biosphere and atmosphere. At COP28, countries will look forward to hearing about SOFF's progress and the overall progress of other funding mechanisms in addressing the global observing needs.

COP27 is a significant turning point that has given us reasons to be optimistic. It delivered a concrete plan (GCOS), acknowledged the need for providing dedicated, sustainable financing for systematic observation (exemplified by SOFF), and approved an action plan to deliver last mile socioeconomic benefits from systematic observation (Early Warning for All Initiative). It is now up to the Parties, funding entities and other actors to use this roadmap, to act on it and to demonstrate progress in delivering to everyone the best available science at COP28.

Global goal on observation

The growing recognition among the Climate Convention Parties that observations form the basis for all climate action has led to an emerging push for the development of a Global Goal on Observation under the UNFCCC. Many Parties were supportive of the idea during COP27.

Such a goal would build on WMO requirements analysis undertaken under the Rolling Review of Requirements and on the GCOS Implementation Plan. It would build on what WMO has done with Global Basic Observation Network (GBON) in terms of clear and quantitative performance expectations and metrics of success. However, rather than focusing solely on global numerical weather prediction, it would be extended to the full suite of application areas needed to support adaptation, mitigation and early warning services.

However, a Global Goal on Observation would need to be coupled with financial, technical and human resources for implementation for the reasons given above. Therefore, it is controversial for some of the wealthy countries. Discussions are expected to continue in the inter-sessional period and at COP28 in the United Arabs Emirates. Many are of the view that we will not have "systematic observation" of the entire climate system unless this issue is resolved.

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