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CLIMATE CHANGE: Survival Means Anticipating and Adapting

Stephen Leahy

GENEVA, Sep 8 2009 (IPS) - Imagine being able to know months in advance when and where floods or droughts may occur. That is what over 150 countries participating in the third World Climate Conference, which concluded last Friday in Geneva, pledged to achieve through the creation of a Global Framework for Climate Services.

“Today is a landmark day for making climate services available to all people,” said Michel Jarraud, secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), convener of the conference, told over 2,000 climate scientists, sectoral experts and decision-makers.

“Climate services” is the long-distance cousin to weather services or weather forecasting. New technology and better climate science has opened the window to very long range forecasting of climate events like droughts weeks and months in advance.

This year, scientists were able to anticipate unprecedented flooding of the Red River Valley in the United States Midwest months in advance, enabling local communities to prepare and avoid the worst consequences, said Jane Lubchenko, a noted ecologist, administrator of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and head of the U.S. delegation.

“Imagine farmers able to determine what to plant and where, based on drought forecasts three to five years in the future, or coastal communities able to plan for sea level rise and storm intensity,” Lubchenco told IPS.

The proposed Global Framework for Climate Services will “strengthen production, availability, delivery and application of science-based climate prediction and services”.

It will include a Global Climate Observing System, a World Climate Research Programme and climate services information systems and interface. This is largely about capacity-building in developing countries and delivering information in a usable form for decision-makers at all levels, from officials to farmers.

A task force will conduct 12 months of consultations and determine how to implement such an ambitious project. Those recommendations will be reviewed and a plan for implementation adopted at the next WMO congress in 2011.

“Improving development and delivery of climate services will be crucial to future food security,” said Lubchenco.

This is particularly true because climate change is altering the climate system by trapping more heat energy. This means farmers and others can no longer rely on past experience or historical knowledge to anticipate growing conditions for the next or future seasons.

“Society will need information tools to adapt as the climate will continue to be variable and to change notwithstanding steps taken to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases,” said Jaarud.

Implementing the Global Framework goes beyond climate negotiations in Copenhagen this December to reach a new global treaty to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, he said.

Climate change is well underway, so even if emissions were reduced to zero today, “The global community has to address the need for adaptation measures, particularly in the most vulnerable regions of the world,” Rajendra Kumar Pachauri, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and co-winner of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, told delegates.

Once again, Pachauri reminded high-level decision makers that in order to achieve the 2 degrees Celsius target, global greenhouse gas emissions must peak by 2015 and then sharply decline. And he stressed the huge co-benefits of emission reductions for health, agriculture, employment and energy security.

“Climate change could spell widespread economic disaster,” said Ban Ki-moon, secretary-general of the United Nations, who spoke at the WCC-3 High-Level Segment after a visit to the polar ice rim north of the Norwegian island of Svalbard.

Failure to agree to a new climate treaty in Copenhagen that reflects what science says is needed will mean this generation and future generations will pay a high price, Ban said.

Toke Talagi, the premier of the small Pacific island nation of Niue, expressed deep frustration and alarm that world leaders from the major economies are ignoring the plight of small island states.

“We are in a time of crisis,” Talagi told delegates.

“Climate services and funding for adaption may come too late for our sinking islands” threatened by sea level rise and stronger storms, he said.

Niue and the Alliance of Small Island States want the developed world to commit and act to cut emissions by 40 percent by 2020. The closest to this target is European Union’s commitment to 20 percent reductions.

Instead the major economies are “ignoring the science and trying to make Mother Earth give a little more,” Talagi said. “We must make the right decisions in Copenhagen. Climate change transcends boundaries and respects no one.”

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