Aug 31, 2009

Adaptation to Climate Change Focus of Meeting in Geneva

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For the first time since scientists determined unequivocally that the planet is warming, experts who collect and analyze climate data and those who manage the world’s land and water resources will meet to decide how to help each other adapt to a changing climate.

( – Washington — For the first time since scientists determined unequivocally that the planet is warming, experts who collect and analyze climate data and those who manage the world’s land and water resources will meet to decide how to help each other adapt to a changing climate.

At the third World Climate Conference ( WCC-3 ) in Geneva, August 31-September 4, some 1,500 policymakers and resource managers — the end users of climate forecasts — from more than 150 countries will join with scientific experts to begin the hard work of translating science into practical steps that people can use to adapt to a changing climate.

“Part of what we’re doing at the meeting is thinking about what end users need,” Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ( NOAA ) and head of the U.S. delegation to WCC-3, told “Is it data, is it technical assistance, is it analysis and prediction, is it better communication of what’s known, is it decision-support tools? It’s probably all of that … but what are the priorities, what are the most urgent needs?”

The problem is that climate data is often highly technical. Data that come in from satellites, ocean buoys and other devices are not routinely processed into an understandable format that resource managers or city planners can use to decide how high to build bridges or where to place a water treatment plant. The WCC-3 is addressing the need to help data collectors and information users talk to each other about climate services.

The World Meteorological Organization ( WMO ) and its international partners organized the conference to define climate services. The focus will be on climate predictions on a time scale of days to 50 years in the future ― seasonal to multidecadal ― for adapting to climate variability and change.

“It’s not enough for scientists to say, ‘What do we think the users need?’” Lubchenco said. “It’s critically important for the users to help define what they need and how they need it.”


The first World Climate Conference, sponsored by WMO, was held in Geneva in 1979. Three international climate organizations arose from this scientific meeting. One of these, formed in 1988 by WMO and the United Nations Environment Programme, was the Nobel-Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which convenes scientists from around the world every five years or six years to assess the state of the climate.

The Second Climate Conference was held in Geneva in 1990. Meeting participants issued a strong statement highlighting the risk from climate change. Developments here also led to the creation of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, an international environmental treaty created in 1992, and the Global Climate Observing System, a network of climate and related observations.

Now, from the third meeting in Geneva, expected outcomes include a better understanding of the scientific and practical issues involved in developing climate services and agreement on a way to create a new global framework for climate services.

Such a framework would include a renewed commitment to maintaining and improving networks of satellites, buoys and other Earth-observation devices that monitor conditions in the oceans and atmosphere. It would also promote the open availability of climate data to anyone who wants it.

“We’ve been fortunate in the weather world that the [international] exchange of vital weather information, which is coordinated by the WMO, has worked pretty well,” Richard Rosin, senior adviser for climate research at NOAA’s Climate Program Office, told

“We need to make sure that’s also the case with climate data,” he added. “The United States has always urged the full and open exchange of weather data, and we’ll be making a strong case in Geneva for the free and open exchange of climate data.”


Through these and other components, the framework will seek to build capacity in developing countries that will be hardest hit by climate change, helping them apply climate data to the sectors that climate change most seriously affects – water, agriculture, health, transportation, tourism and energy.

WMO, NOAA and similar agencies already offer training to scientists who staff international meteorological services. At the NOAA National Weather Service Hydrometeorological Prediction Center in Maryland, for example, several “international desks” train visiting scientists on a range of computer models, weather products and analysis and forecasting techniques. The center has trained 90 meteorologists from more than 33 African nations, Rosin said.

WMO regional climate outlook forums are active in several parts of the world and routinely provide real-time regional climate forecasts and training to help reduce climate risks.

But as part of the global framework to be launched in Geneva, a new World Climate Services System could support these efforts and find more unified ways to build such capacity in developing countries and around the world.

“The United States will be an active partner in this,” Lubchenco said. “We have a lot to share but we also have a lot to learn. We’re viewing this very much as a partnership with the international community.”

More information about WCC-3 is available at the conference Web site.

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