The Paris Climate Agreement 2015 stipulates a requirement for “strengthening scientific knowledge on climate, including research, systematic observation of the climate system and early warning systems, in a manner that informs climate services and supports decision-making.” In response to this, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is developing an early warning system that could be put forward by the end of 2022.
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As predicted by the IPCC, extreme weather events are increasing, with some of the economically poorest countries suffering the most. Often there is either no system in place, infrastructures are not designed to deal with flooding and storms, or emergency responses have not had time to plan and prepare.
Early warnings and action save lives. We must boost the power of prediction for everyone and build their capacity to act.
United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres
The UN asked the WMO to put a new system in place so everyone on the planet has access to notification warnings within the next five years.
Why Technology Development is Required for Weather Warning Systems
Early warning systems have been around for centuries. Tribes in the Pacific, Africa, and the Americas watched the weather and the skies and taught themselves how to predict tsunamis and catastrophic events as best they could. They raised the alarm in villages or communicated to fishermen using drums or smoke.
Today, we live in a digital age where instant messages can be sent over vast distances. These have saved tens of thousands of lives.
Yet despite better technological warning systems, deaths in rural areas, in particular, are high.
Countries in southern Africa such as Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi were hit by cyclone Idai in 2019.
Strong winds and severe flooding killed over 1300 people and affected three million more. It was one of the worst tropical cyclones on record and is estimated to have cost more than $2.2 billion in damage. A total of $1 billion was related to infrastructure damage, which also makes it the costliest tropical storm in the South-West Indian ocean basin.
Oxfam reports that 20 million people are driven from their homes every year due to climate disasters, with developing countries the hardest hit.
Climate-fueled disaster is the number one driver of people’s displacement throughout the world. Around 80 percent of climate event displacements occur in Asia, home to a third of the world’s poorest people.
A climate water disaster or weather disaster has occurred every day for the past 50 years somewhere in the world.
Technology Development Frameworks for Weather Warning Systems
The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 was the first major agreement following the 2005-2015 Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA), providing member states with solid actions to protect development gains against risk disaster.
Sendai Framework works in conjunction with the Paris Climate Agreement, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development, the New Urban Agenda and UN Sustainable Development Goals, which is defined as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
The main concept of the UN Sustainable Development Goals is sustainability, brought to life by people like Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring, and widely regarded as a key founder of the modern environmental movement.
The Sendai Framework requires member states to self-report progress toward seven Sendai Framework Global Targets. This is measured against a set of 38 indicators, which determine progress and identify global trends in the reduction of risk and losses.
Frameworks provide robust plans on paper, but whether they work or not is shown through physical technologies that save lives and protect livelihoods and homes.
WMO Scheme Technology Development and Funding
The WMO scheme aims to put in place the technology that involves real-time monitoring of the atmosphere, which people can access in high-risk areas and remote areas of Central and West Africa, the Caribbean, and small island states in the Pacific.
The WMO estimates technology improvements and accompanying educational needs will cost around $1.5 billion, which is to be provided by the World Bank and Green Climate Fund.
How exactly the money will be spent will be unveiled at COP27 in Egypt in November 2022.
In recent years, several space technologies have been used, including satellite telecommunications, Earth Observation, and the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS).
Types of early warning system are classified by hazard and the level at which it is operated.
- Forest fires
- Pests and diseases
- Health hazards such as viruses
- Biological hazards such as locust outbreaks or algae blooms
- Severe weather inland or at sea, including hurricanes, cyclones, tornadoes, extreme temperatures, floods, or droughts
- Geological hazards such as tsunamis, earthquakes, landslides, and volcanic eruptions.
The level of operation could be:
- Community or local-level government
- National-level government
- Observatories, institutes, health or agricultural ministries
- Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWSNET) in place in the US, the European Meteoalarm, or other global systems operated by International organizations such as WHO and FAO.
Space Agencies have joined forces with astronomical groups and observatories to monitor extraterrestrial hazards and space weather, and, in recent times, a lot more on terrestrial weather. They commonly combine satellite imagery with relevant products to inform on weather warnings.
The European Copernicus Programme of the European Commission provides free satellite imagery from European Sentinel satellites. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) also provide free access to US satellite imagery to users worldwide.
There is a wealth of ‘free-to-use’ data information already available. However, its success depends on how the information can be delivered to those that need it and making sure it can be freely and readily accessed by communities, particularly in rural and remote areas.
References and Further Reading
Climate Change: Extreme weather warning systems for all ‘in five years’. (03.23.2022) McGrath.M in BBC news online (accessed 04.07.2022) https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-60847942
Paris Climate Agreement 2015 (Article 7, Para 7C) in UNFCCC online (accessed 04.07.2022) https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/english_paris_agreement.pdf
Early Warning Systems in UN Office for Outer Space Affairs UN-Spider knowledge portal (accessed 04.07.2022) https://www.un-spider.org/risks-and-disasters/early-warning-systems
Cyclone Idai in Wikipedia online (accessed 04.08.2022) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyclone_Idai
What is the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction? (2020-2022) In UNDRR online (accessed 04.08.2022) https://www.undrr.org/implementing-sendai-framework/what-sendai-framework
The 15 places most affected by extreme weather events in the last 20 years (01.02.2020) Chenel.T, Moynihan.Q in Business Insider France online (accessed 04.08.2022) https://www.businessinsider.com/places-most-affected-by-extreme-weather-events-2020-1?r=US&IR=T