By Geoff Hughes
Freelance Writer and Editor
With the recent launch of a high-level taskforce report, the World Meteorological Organization moves the Global Framework for Climate Services one step closer to reality. The taskforce proposes a Framework that focuses on meeting user needs in the development and implementation of both adaptation and mitigation measures in response to climate change, and that delivers the scientific knowledge and skills necessary to accomplish those tasks.
The report lays out a timetable for the development and implementation of the Framework, offers two governance options, identifies immediate implementation priorities, specifies the principles to be adopted in implementing the Framework and appeals to the international community to commit to invest ÛÏon the order of US$ 75 million per yearÛ to establish and sustain the Framework.
The immediate implementation priorities focus on capacity-building in developing countries. The report specifically proposes projects that link users and providers of climate services, build national capacity in developing countries and strengthen regional climate capabilities. The report also identifies four priority sectors ÛÒ agriculture, disaster risk reduction, health and water.
The central idea guiding the implementation of the Framework is that it should serve those most in need of climate services. Its defining principles state, among other things, that:
Û¢ The primary goal is to improve climate services for all countries;
Û¢ Priority should go to capacity-building in climate-vulnerable developing countries;
Û¢ Governments, as the primary providers of climate information, should have a central role in its management;
Û¢ The Framework should promote the free and open exchange of climate data while respecting existing data policies.
The idea for the Framework took shape at World Climate Conference-3, held in Geneva, Switzerland, in late 2009. The Expert Segment of the Conference engaged climate scientists along with providers and users of climate services in a discussion of the essential elements of a global framework for climate services. Finding that the present capabilities for providing effective climate services fell short of meeting current and future needs, the Expert Segment called for the strengthening of those essential elements.
In the Conference Declaration, the Heads of State and Government, Ministers and Heads of Delegation noted the findings of the Expert Segment, and decided ÛÏto establish a Global Framework for Climate Services to strengthen the production, availability, delivery and application of science-based climate prediction and services.Û
The Taskforce report builds a Global Framework for Climate Services on the foundation of several findings that emerged from its consultations and analysis:
Û¢ Climate services do not exploit all that is known about climate and do not meet all present and future needs of users, particularly in the developing and least developed countries that are the most vulnerable;
Û¢ Providers of climate services do not interact with users sufficiently, and fail to target their services to user needs. Users do not have access to the expert advice and support necessary to help them select and apply climate information properly;
Û¢ Existing capabilities for climate observations provide a reasonable basis for strengthening climate services, but the commitment to sustaining high-quality observations across the entire climate system is inadequate. Enhancements to existing networks are necessary, particularly in developing countries. Restrictions concerning the sharing of, and access to, relevant data are impediments to progress;
Û¢ The provision of climate services that can inform decision-making is not keeping pace with the rapid advancement of our understanding of climate. The ability to predict climate and to help users incorporate the inherent uncertainty of climate prediction into their decision-making remains inadequate;
Û¢ The current capacity of many users is insufficient to enable them to meet the challenges and seize the opportunities of climate change.
The proposed Global Framework for Climate Services comprises five components — a user interface platform; a climate services information system; an observations and monitoring function; a research, modelling and prediction service; and an overall capacity-building element embracing the others. The figure below, taken from the Taskforce report, depicts the Framework.
The user interface platform, which the report describes as ÛÏthe most novel and least developed part of the Framework,Û is intended to provide users, researchers and providers of climate services with the opportunity to interact in a way that maximizes the usefulness of climate services and leads to the development of new and improved applications. The report advocates for workshops, conferences, surveys and userÛÒprovider reviews to ensure the continuous improvement of the system.
The role of the climate services information system is to provide the climate information that users need while adhering to the procedures and restrictions imposed by the proprietors of the information. The report notes that the current systems may have developed without regard for the needs of climate services users, and suggests that an examination of current capabilities occur early in the implementation phase. Based on concerns about limited access to climate information, some countries support the development of a new intergovernmental agreement on climate data protection.
The purpose of the observations and monitoring component is to ensure the generation of the climate observations necessary to meet the needs of climate services users and providers. The report recognizes the contributions of the Global Climate Observing System, and urges close collaboration with that group and others to identify and bridge existing gaps in data —oceanographic, atmospheric, biological and socio-economic. The efforts to bridge data gaps may include data rescue and the conversion of historical, paper-based records to electronic formats.
The development of core climate prediction tools and products and the promotion of climate services in research agendas are the responsibilities of the research, modelling and prediction component. This role extends to collaboration with the World Climate Research Programme and the larger research community on such issues as the promotion of model data standards and interoperability; the development of guidance on uncertainties and other limitations of climate products; and the improvement of climate prediction information on the scales of concern to decision-makers.
The capacity-building component appears to be less an organizational unit, and more a concept spread throughout the Framework. The report recommends that the Framework respond to the capacity-building needs of users through the user interface platform, taking advantage of regional climate outlook forums, major demonstration projects and programs of national authorities. Specialist technical and development organizations, coordinated by the Framework secretariat, would implement some of the capacity-building work, and the Framework would encourage the sharing of knowledge and experience among climate professionals.
In developing its recommendation for governance options for the Global Framework for Climate Services, the high-level taskforce embraces the ÛÏcommon principlesÛ of efficiency, transparency, accountability, flexibility, equitability and participation. The taskforce also expresses the conviction that high levels of interest and support from governments, together with strong involvement of user representatives and sector agencies at the highest levels of governance and implementation, are crucial to the success of the Framework.
Recognizing that the Framework is unlikely to conform to conventional organizational models, the taskforce recommends that the Global Framework for Climate Services reside within the United Nations System. As support for this recommendation, the report argues that the global scale of climate change and the relationship between climate change and sustainable development imply the need for international coordination, and that the use of existing multilateral mechanisms makes sense in light of the central role of governments in the Framework. The report also notes the potential synergy that may be achieved by close association with other United Nations System entities.
Two options emerge from the taskforce deliberations: Option A would create an intergovernmental board within the United Nations System. Option B would develop a joint board hosted and convened by an existing United Nations agency. The taskforce recommends the consideration of these two options, while recommending the adoption of Option A.
In developing Option A, the taskforce drew lessons from the organizational schemes of three existing groups — the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission and the Group on Earth Observations. Option A calls for the intergovernmental board to be established under the co-sponsorship of a United Nations agency, and names the World Meteorological Organization as the sponsor preferred by several countries and by the taskforce, and as the organization in the best position to host the small secretariat that would support the work of the board. The intergovernmental board would meet in plenary sessions, and follow the World Meteorological Congress decision-making processes.
Option B would establish a joint board comprising relevant United Nations System entities and reporting to the United Nations System Chief Executives Board. The Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization would convene the joint board, and WMO would host the secretariat. The participation of governments would occur in the intergovernmental assemblies of the member entities ÛÏvia the introduction of specific agenda items concerning the Framework. The officers of the participating entities would then represent the decisions of their assemblies in the deliberations of the joint board.Û
Both options contemplate detailed committee structures and extensive linkages with existing programs. According to the report, the advantages of Option A include independence and a high profile for the Framework as well as direct accountability to governments. But the report also notes that an intergovernmental board would not only take longer to implement, but would also require more resources and more effort on the part of governments. Conversely, the advantages of Option B are that it is less expensive and could be implemented faster. The major drawback of Option B is the challenge of ÛÏobtaining coherent and timely government direction from the many disparate intergovernmental processes concerned.Û
The first target date for the implementation of the Framework is the end of 2011, by which time the taskforce proposes the completion of a detailed implementation plan in line with the decisions of the World Meteorological Congress and in keeping with the recommendations of the high-level taskforce report. This implementation plan would then be considered by the first intergovernmental plenary meeting of the Framework board, assuming the selection of Option A. The proposed timetable includes no provision for the selection of Option B.
The taskforce anticipates the completion of organization-building by the end of 2013. By this date, the secretariat would be established, along with the management and committee structures and programs necessary to begin work on implementation priorities.
The next date on the timetable is the end of 2017, by which time a communications system and committees for each Framework component is to be active, and the Framework is to have facilitated access to climate services in the four priority sectors. The taskforce identifies targets of spending at least US$ 150 million on development projects, and involving at least five United Nations entities. In this same time frame, some party is to have completed a mid-term review of the implementation of the Framework, but the report does not specify the party.
The last date specified on the timetable is the end of 2021. By this date, the taskforce expects the Framework to have facilitated access to climate services across all climate-sensitive sectors, to have spent at least US$ 250 million on projects and to have involved at least eight United Nations entities in the work.
The World Meteorological Congress to be held in Geneva, Switzerland, from May 16 through June 3, 2011, will consider the taskforce report and decide what actions to take.
Geoff Hughes is a policy analyst, editor and writer with expertise in climate change. He has recently joined Earthzine as an Associate Editor for Environmental Policy. He lives near Geneva, Switzerland, where he writes and edits for international organizations.