The impact of UK overseas aid on environmental protection and climate change adaptation and mitigation

Written evidence submitted by the Met Office

1. The environmental stresses of climate change will be felt worldwide, but most severely in developing countries. These areas are already more vulnerable (to flood and drought in particular) especially where a large share of the economy and livelihood is dependant on weather sensitive activities such as agriculture.

2. Food, water and energy - essential for human survival - are already in short supply in many parts of the world and population growth and changing weather patterns may exacerbate the problem. The impacts of climate change are likely to widen the poverty gap with developed countries by worsening inequalities in health systems, as well as access to adequate food, clean water and other resources. The change in availability of water in particular will have far-reaching socio-economic consequences:

· Countries least well-equipped to deal with flooding, water shortages and valuable agricultural land turning to desert could be major flashpoints for conflict;

· Long-term drought could cause huge migration leading to subsequent security issues;

· Changing weather patterns will force a change in agricultural practices;

· The largest coastal agricultural land areas at risk of flooding from sea level rise lie on the world's major river deltas, particularly on the Asian sub-continent;

· More than 17 million Bangladeshis live in areas that could be flooded by rising sea levels;

· There could be large decreases in water availability across west Asia, the Middle-East, Central America and the Mediterranean and Amazon basins;

· Climate change may already be a contributory factor to conflicts in Africa .

3. Climate science expertise, however, is concentrated mainly in developed countries. Although expertise in many developing countries is now starting up, often through collaboration with developed countries, climate science and climate modelling is complex and good training is therefore essential, especially in awareness of uncertainties in climate predictions. The Met Office Hadley Centre’s PRECIS and RCOF programmes and the UK Voluntary Cooperation Programme are examples of developed country expertise and tools being transferred to developing countries:

Regional Climate Outlook Forums (RCOF)

4. Predictions of the quality of the upcoming rainy season are a key component in preparing food security outlooks, particularly in Africa where rain-fed agriculture predominates. The Dfid funded Regional Climate Outlook Forums have been running for around ten years and are held in advance of the main rainy seasons in Africa and other countries. They are key mechanisms for producing and disseminating seasonal outlooks.

5. At the RCOFs, climate experts from countries in the region and experts from international prediction centres convene to compile a range of prediction information into a single agreed outlook for the region. The Met Office was instrumental in the setting up of RCOFs in Africa in the late 1990s, and in the last two years, with funding, has increased its contribution to the preparation of the consensus forecasts. In particular we have provided training in understanding and using climate-model-based seasonal forecasts. Notable successes resulting from this project include:

· The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent were able to make timely interventions based upon predictions of an elevated risk of flooding, significantly alleviating the impact of floods during the 2008 West Africa rainy season.

· The Kenya Red Cross purchased and distributed additional maize seed based on a prediction of higher than average rainfall during the 2009 East Africa short rains season which resulted in a bumper harvest for the many areas.

6. Statistical prediction methods - currently the main method used at RCOFs - are however becoming less reliable because the historical information on which they are based is becoming unrepresentative of current climate. One advantage of using a model-based forecast is that they are climate change ‘proof’ - they take account of natural and man-made influences on climate variability and change. There are therefore large potential benefits to be reaped from continued development and application of model-based seasonal forecasts and, although a relatively new area of science, they have already been successful in many parts of Africa.

Climate Science Research Partnership (CSRP)

7. The Climate Science Research Partnership (CSRP) is an ongoing 3-year, £3.2M, DfID funded programme supporting 8.5 Met Office Hadley Centre scientists and facilitating capacity building activities with African scientists to conduct and use climate science. Through its consultation process and knowledge management activities the CSRP responds to the need for much closer and sustained partnerships between producers and users of climate information. A steering committee including DfID, Met Office and external (non-executive) directors has been established to guide and monitor the CSRP programme.

8. The CSRP’s overarching purpose is to advance capabilities for sustainable poverty reduction in Africa through: improved understanding of the drivers of African climate variability and change; improved prediction on monthly-to-decadal timescales; and strengthened capacity for use of climate science in Africa. The specific objectives have been shaped through a consultation process with African stakeholders to determine the climate variables and parameters for which improved prediction is most urgent, and to identify priority requirements for capacity building. Stakeholders included the main regional climate organisations, National Meteorological Services, universities, NGOs, government ministries and boundary organisations acting on climate information to aid vulnerable communities.

9. There was wide recognition that there is an urgent need to improve understanding and modelling of African climate to provide reliable seasonal early warning systems. There was a very strong signal that development of capability to predict the onset of the season, its duration and frequency of dry spells were the greatest needs for the agricultural sector. The need for decadal-range information for adaptation was also recognised.

10. In response to the consultation, work has started to assess model performance for rainy season onset. It was found that the average onset date for the West African Monsoon in the Met Office model closely matches the observed average onset date. This is an encouraging result, suggesting that model representation of the driving processes is not unduly biased. There is also emerging evidence that we are able to predict interannual variations in onset date.


11. The Met Office Hadley Centre’s regional climate modelling system, PRECIS, was developed in order to help generate high-resolution (50km or 25km) climate change information for as many regions of the world as possible. The system has recently been extended to enable users to explore the implications of uncertainties in the large-scale patterns of climate change. This is an important step in moving towards risk-based climate predictions. The intention is to make PRECIS freely available to groups of developing countries in order that they may develop climate change scenarios at national centres of excellence, simultaneously building capacity and drawing on local climatological expertise.

UK Voluntary Cooperation Programme (VCP)

12. In addition to building capacity in climate science, it is important to consider the entire meteorological value chain, including the provision of equipment, services and training to the local National Meteorological and Hydrological Services.

13. The Met Office is involved in the World Meteorological Organization’s Voluntary Cooperation Programme (VCP). The main purpose of the VCP – run in cooperation with other donor National Meteorological and Hydrological Services across the world - is to help improve local capacity to forecast weather and climate to enable better mitigation and response to natural hazards, and, ultimately, aid sustainable development. The UK VCP covers a range of projects from supporting the collection and effective management of weather and climate observations, to assisting with the dissemination of weather forecasts and warnings to the public.

14. Delivery of climate services requires effective national Climate Data Management Systems with skilled people able to manage these and able to use and apply the data to problems in food security and climate risk analysis. These are also essential as the evidence base for local climate change studies and for analysis of impacts.

15. We have helped develop a Climate Database Management System called Climsoft, in conjunction with experts from Zimbabwe, Kenya and Guinea, which is designed to be simple to use and economical. This system has already been installed in over 20 countries in Africa, the South Pacific, the Caribbean and south-east Asia. Climsoft can be used to record and manage ongoing weather/climate observations as well as digitising historical data.

16. The SIAC course, run by the Statistical Services Department at the University of Reading, provides training in the use of climate observations for practical applications, such as agriculture, health and emergency/disaster planning. Since 2000 we have been involved in supporting this training - mainly in Africa. – both the e-learning course as well as face-to-face courses in statistics.

23 December 2010