As countries work towards implementing National Adaptation Plans (NAPs), National Meteorological and Hydrological Services can take advantage of climate services and their potential to support sustainable development benefits. Once equipped with improved weather, water and climate information, countries can make better, informed decisions in sectors sensitive to climate and thus give rise to both substantial economic benefits and sustainable development (WMO, World Bank, USAID, Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery, 2015). This can not only save lives and preserve assets, but also enhance safety, agricultural productivity and water security. The effective development and use of climate services can serve as a valuable aid to decision-making in many economic and social sectors.
Climate services: What do they provide?
Climate services provide science-based and user-specific information relating to past, present and potential future climates and address each sector affected by climate at a global, regional and local level. These services obtain high-quality data on temperature, rainfall, wind, soil moisture and ocean conditions from national and international databases, as well as maps; risk and vulnerability analyses; assessments; and long-term projections and scenarios.
Depending on users’ needs, these data and information products may be combined with non-meteorological data on agricultural production, health trends, human settlement in high-risk areas, infrastructure and other socio-economic variables. Climate services transform the data and information they have collected into customized products such as projections, trends, economic analyses and services for different user communities in order to help individuals and organizations make decisions. Climate services should not only functionally access and effectively respond to users’ needs, but also appropriately engage users. Such services help to ensure that user communities make climate-smart decisions and that climate information is disseminated in an effective manner that lends itself more easily to practical action.
For example, climate services that provide comprehensive information can empower farmers to fine-tune planting and marketing strategies, allow authorities to prepare more effectively for disaster risks such as droughts and heavy precipitation, and enable better management of water resources. In addition, they can help public health services to plan vaccine and prevention campaigns in order to limit outbreaks of climate-related diseases like malaria and meningitis. Activities such as these contribute to appropriate adaptation planning in a changing climate.
There are various ways that climate services can be provided, including:
- directly accessible climate databases, with the option to download specific data sets as required;
- published climate data statistics – for example, in tabular and map formats online;
- directly accessible climate products, such as rainfall intensity-frequency-duration data and maps;
- targeted climate products, such as El Niño updates, made available through subscriber services and smartphone applications; and
- targeted products delivered through appropriate media.
The role of climate services in adaptation: the example of Malawi
Malawi faces important climate change risks. The most significant changes will be in rainfall patterns and rising temperatures. By the latter half of the century, the country is expected to experience a rise in average temperature of 3–5 °C (EAD, 2016). Malawi is particularly exposed and vulnerable to climate-related disasters caused by floods, droughts, storms and strong winds. The intensity and frequency of such events have been increasing in recent decades due to climate change and factors such as population growth, urbanization and environmental degradation. On average, droughts and prolonged dry spells have cost Malawi roughly 1% in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) annually and have led to a 1.3% increase in poverty (EAD, 2015). In 2015 alone, devastating floods resulted in over 170 deaths and the displacement of 246 000 people as well as extensive damage to crops, livestock and infrastructure.
Despite the scale of such disasters, activities implemented in Malawi by the Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS) Adaptation Programme in Africa have, by strengthening the link between the National Meteorological and Hydrological Services and the user community, helped people prepare for and better respond to flooding. This Programme is a multi-agency initiative involving WMO and partner agencies, implemented with funding from Norway. It is helping to develop user-driven climate services for disaster risk reduction, food security and health.
Thanks to the Programme, seasonal forecasts issued by the Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services are now downscaled to the district level, bringing weather and climate information to the “last mile” — that is, to local inhabitants and disaster managers in the vulnerable districts of Zomba, Nsanje, Lilongwe and Salima. The reach of climate information dissemination has expanded to include SMS and community radio. The Programme also works with Red Cross volunteers, who support Civil Protection Committees in getting information directly to communities by going door to door and talking to people. Climate information now reaches a total of 4 436 farmers thanks to intermediaries who received training through this Programme.
The in-country GFCS Team has also engaged the NAP Task Team of Malawi to establish a link between climate services and the NAP process. Climate services provide key information regarding current and future climate risks, which is fundamental in identifying adaptation options for Malawi. It will be particularly important to obtain accurate information on the key climate stressors that can affect the most vulnerable communities, including heavier and less predictable rains, changes in growing and planting seasons, heat waves and prolonged dry spells.