Select Committee on International Development Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the World Meteorological Organization


  This paper focuses on the role of climate data in the context of sustainable development. It emphasizes the value of accurate atmospheric/climate data of long duration and continuity. The World Meteorological Organization has the responsibility, within the United Nations System, for observational data on climate including standardization of techniques, and data quality and record length. It has other responsibilities in important areas of climate services and application.


  Sustainable development is understood differently in different countries/cultures. The central idea, however, revolves around elevating the standard of living and, hand-in-hand, improving the quality of life in all regions of the world. Wealth creation through such measures as productivity increases and the equitable sharing of the wealth across society is at the heart of the first aspect. Environmental and social well-being, state of public health and education and availability of discretionary/leisure time are some of the issues that lie at the root of the second aspect.


  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which the WMO co-sponsors, concludes in its Third Assessment Report (2001) that human influence is seen in the temperature increase observed over the last 50 years. This has had some consequences such as floods, droughts, severe weather events, El-Nino phenomena. Projections by the IPCC indicate that if the causes of the warming trend continue unabated, the temperature at the end of the century would be between 1.4 to 5.8 deg C. This may be compared to the increase of about 0.6 deg C seen in the last 100 years. Thus, the projected rate is at least twice that observed in the recent past.

  Ecological and socio-economic systems are coping, fine-tuned, with the state of the current climate system (including the rate of temperature increase). If that system changes, and climate zones shift poleward/upward as a result of global warming, will the ecological/socio-economic systems have the necessary time and the resilience to adapt and survive? Yes or no, this has implications for sustainable development.


  The impacts of climate change will be distributed differently in different nations and differently among the different socio-economic sectors of a given nation.

  For example, in the current context of global warming, winter deaths due to cold waves could be lower than otherwise; currently-nonproductive lands may become productive in agriculture or as pastures in the marginal regions of the higher latitudes. Enhanced concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere may increase forest biomass. On the other hand, the character of the precipitation and water loss in a warmer world may lead to more floods in some regions and more droughts in other regions; vector-borne diseases may penetrate into regions where they do not do so now; water supply may be affected due to changed seasonality in run-off, quality, increased evapotranspiration and salinization due to salt water intrusion in a rising sea; summer deaths may increase due to added heat stress. Impacts thus could be positive or negative but occurring as they may be in different places and times on varying time and space scales, these are unlikely to compensate each other in the aggregate either within a nation or within a sector. The aggregate impacts would depend upon the magnitude, rate and regional distribution of climate change.

  There are potentials for conflict among nations. While the overall cereal supply in the world would be expected to remain little changed, the distribution of the regions of supply and demand would likely change from the current pattern. Coastal inundation and submersion of low-lying areas such as deltas may cause displacement of populations to other regions within the same country or into neighbouring countries, Traditional sharing of waters across political boundaries may be harmed if the supply and demand for quality water shifts. Conflicts, whose seeds are embedded in potential climate change, will not be helpful in meeting sustainable development goals nor will adverse impacts be.


  According to the IPCC, all ecological/socio-economic systems are sensitive to the state of the climate system. If adaptation is relatively easy in a system, it can be considered to be not so vulnerable. If adaptation is hard, time-consuming and costly, the system would be more vulnerable to climate change. Thus, vulnerability is a function of sensitivity and adaptive capacity.

  An understanding of the vulnerability of a system (such as agriculture, water supply, surface road network, catastrophic insurance) is necessary in order to judge its sustainability.

  Almost by definition, all poorer nations, having less adaptive capacity, are more vulnerable than their better-to-do neighbours. Even in a relatively well-to-do nation, the poorer segments of society are more vulnerable, the degree of vulnerability depending on their access to adaptation mechanisms and services.


  Between sensitivity and adaptive capacity, the two components of vulnerability, adapative capacity depends largely on such characteristics as the availability of financial resources, adequacy of human resources, institutional capability, public awareness and acceptance and access to methods and techniques for adaptation. Many subjective considerations enter into evaluating adaptive capacity.

  It is, however, possible to be more quantitative with respect to the sensitivity of a system and to estimate the response of the system in the physical/chemical/biological sense to climate change. The more quantitative one gets, the better the decision-making.


  Climate data have two major roles in estimating the response of a system to climate change. From past observed data, statistical relationships and models have been developed that can be used for future projections. The longer the data record and greater the accuracy of the data, the more reliable the statistical relationships/models are. Climate data need also to be projected (by using sophisticated climate prediction models) for the times into the future when the projections of the system response would be desired. The climate prediction and other models use past data for improving and verifying/validating their operation.


  The World Meteorological Organization has established unique networks of observing stations on the global and other scales for observing weather, climate, atmospheric composition and hydrological parameters. The observational methods are standardized, and the observations are fully quality-controlled, made at frequencies varying with the intended use and archived in World Data Centres. Large quantities of data pertain to the three-dimensional world and are exchanged in real time. They are used by the WMO in a diagnostic sense in enhancing the completeness, usability and efficiency of the network (through the Global Climate Observing System); they are also used in developing the afore-mentioned statistical relationships/models with other partners, and in studying climate phenomena (including feedbacks and uncertainties) to improve climate predictability (through the World Climate Research Programme).

World Meteorological Organization

May 2002

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