Early warning systems will be alerting everyone on Earth about extreme weather, which is increasing in frequency and intensity due to climate change, within the next five years according to an ambitious new United Nations target announced to mark World Meteorological Day on 23 March. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has tasked the WMO to lead the early weather system effort and to present an action plan to achieve this goal at the next Conference of Parties (COP27) to the United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Egypt in November.
“Human-caused climate disruption is now damaging every region. The most recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change details the suffering already happening. Each increment of global heating will further increase the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events,” said Mr Guterres. “We must invest equally in adaptation and resilience. That includes the information that allows us to anticipate storms, heatwaves, floods and droughts,” said the UN chief.
One-third of the world’s people, mainly in least developed countries (LDCs) and small island developing states (SIDS), are not covered by early warning systems. The situation is worse in Africa where 60% of people lack coverage. “This is unacceptable, particularly as climate impacts are sure to get even worse,” said Mr Guterres.
“Early warnings and action save lives. To that end, today I announce the United Nations will spearhead new action to ensure every person on Earth is protected by early warning systems within five years. I have asked the World Meteorological Organization to lead this effort and to present an action plan at the next UN climate conference, later this year in Egypt,” Mr Guterres said in a video message to the World Meteorological Day ceremony. Appropriately, the theme of the World Meteorological Day was Early Warning and Early Action.
“We must boost the power of prediction for everyone and build their capacity to act. On this World Meteorological Day, let us recognize the value of early warnings and early action as critical tools to reduce disaster risk and support climate adaptation,” said the UN Secretary-General
Climate change is already very visible through more extreme weather in all parts of the world. We are seeing more intense heatwaves and drought and forest fires. There is more water vapor in the atmosphere, which leads to extreme rainfall and deadly flooding. The warming of the ocean fuels more powerful tropical storms and rising sea levels increase the impacts.
Over the past 50 years (1970-2019), a weather, climate or water-related disaster has occurred on average every day – taking the lives 115 people and causing US$ 202 million in losses daily, according to a 2021 WMO report on disaster statistics.
The number of recorded disasters increased by a factor of five over that 50-year period, driven by human-induced climate change, more extreme weather events and improved reporting. Thanks to better warnings, the number of lives lost decreased almost three-fold over the same period because of better weather forecasts and proactive and coordinated disaster management.
WMO Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas accepted the task assigned to WMO by the UN Secretary-General. He acknowledged that “The growing number of disasters due to climate change is endangering implementation of many Sustainable Development Goals. It is growing more important to invest in climate adaptation. One of the highest returns of investments is reached by improving weather, water and climate early warning services and related observing infrastructures. There is a need to invest US$ 1.5 billion during the coming five years to improve the quality of the services and related infrastructures especially in the LDC and SIDS countries.”
The 2019 Global Commission on Adaptation flagship report “Adapt Now” found that Early Warning Systems provide more than a tenfold return on investment – the greatest of any adaptation measure included in the report. The report also found that just 24 hours warning of a coming storm or heatwave can cut the ensuing damage by 30% and that spending US$ 800 million on such systems in developing countries would avoid losses of US$3–US$ 16 billion per year.
The Glasgow Climate Pact (agreed at the COP26 in November 2021) emphasizes the urgency of scaling up action to enhance adaptive capacity, strengthen resilience and reduce vulnerability to climate change. It also urges developed countries to urgently and significantly scale up their provision of climate finance, technology transfer and capacity-building for adaptation.
The Government of the United Kingdom, which was president of COP26, and the Egyptian Government, which will preside over COP27 in Sharm-El-Sheikh, recently renewed calls on developed countries to follow through on their commitment to at least double their climate finance for adaptation to developing countries by 2025. The aimis to achieve a balance between funding for adaptation and mitigation.
Following on from Mr Guterres’ announcement, WMO will convene key agencies, Members and groups already active in the field of Hydromet and Risk Informed Early Warning capacity development to build on the excellent existing efforts and create a global plan by COP27.