Dr Hamadoun Touré, Secretary-General of ITU,
Dear Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,
On behalf of the World Meteorological Organization, I wish to express our appreciation to Dr Touré and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), for the amiable invitation to address the High-Level Segment of the 2008 ITU Council.
This is a welcome opportunity to recall that both organizations were born in the wake of Samuel Morse's historic development of the telegraph in 1844, which led humanity into the telecommunication age. Although internationally coordinated meteorological networks were established in Europe as early as 1654, they were short-lived due to the practical difficulties in transmitting and concentrating weather information in useful time. However, shortly after this technological breakthrough, the International Telegraph Union (ITU) established in Paris on 17 May 1865. In 1873, the First International Meteorological Congress met in Vienna marking the creation of the International Meteorological Organization (IMO), which became WMO in 1950 and one year later a specialized agency of the United Nations System.
I would like to congratulate the ITU Council for having selected "Climate Change and Information and communication technologies (ICTs)" as a key theme this year. As you are aware, the UN Secretary-General has affirmed that the climate change challenge and what we do about it will define us, our era and, ultimately, our global legacy. This is indeed an area in which WMO has already made substantial contributions, since by 1976 WMO had issued the first authoritative statement on the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the potential impacts upon the Earth's climate.
In 1979 WMO organized the First World Climate Conference, as a result of which in 1988 WMO and UNEP co-established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which they continue to sponsor successfully to this day and which, at the end of 2007, approved its Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) and received the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize. In preparation for the 1990 Second World Climate Conference, which WMO co-sponsored, WMO and UNEP established in 1989 the Task Force on the Climate Convention and, at the request of the 49th UN General Assembly, they convened the first Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee session (Washington D.C., February 1991).
Excellencies, Dear Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thanks to these efforts, it is now widely accepted that global warming is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice and rising average sea level. The IPCC AR4 has underscored that most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely (an assessed likelihood >90%) due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations. Mitigation and adaptation are necessary complementary pillars in our coordinated response to this challenge, and ICTs will play a key role both in terms of greenhouse gas (GHG) emission alleviation and the development of an enhanced resilience to climate change impacts, particularly in response to the projected increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme events.
Between 1980 and 2005, nearly 7,500 natural disasters worldwide took the lives of over 2 million people and produced economic losses estimated at over 1.2 trillion US dollars. Ninety per cent of these natural disasters, 72.5 per cent of casualties and 75 per cent of economic losses were caused by weather-, climate- and water-related hazards, especially droughts, floods and tropical cyclones. Despite the rising global trend in the occurrence of disasters and associated economic losses, global loss of life associated with meteorological, hydrological or climate-related hazards in 2005, decreased to one-tenth of levels in the 1950s, demonstrating that preparedness and prevention, combined with effective emergency management and early warning systems, can significantly contribute to reducing the impacts of hazards on human lives. I wish to recall that on the occasion of the World Conference on Disaster Reduction (Kobe, January 2005), WMO organized a thematic meeting on ICT applications in natural disaster reduction.
To ensure effective hazard monitoring and forecasting, WMO coordinates activities in the acquisition and exchange of observational data by the global network of National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs) of its 188 Members, under its Integrated Global Observing System (WIGOS), comprising some 10,000 land stations, 1,000 upper-air stations, 7,000 ships, 3,000 aircraft and a constellation of 16 meteorological, environmental, operational and research satellites, as well as 35 Regional Specialized Meteorological Centres and 188 National Meteorological Centres. The nervous system of this structure is the WMO information system (WIS), an overarching configuration for information exchange, management and data processing. The WIS utilizes dedicated telecommunication systems and international standards for ICTs, hardware and software to guarantee the appropriate quality of service.
In this respect, interference-free radio frequency bands are a crucial requirement to relay the observations and products needed to enable scientific research, climate monitoring and the protection of lives and property. Traditionally, there has been excellent cooperation between ITU and WMO; successive World Radiocommunication Conferences have ensured the availability and protection of radio-frequency bands for radiosondes, weather radars and wind profiler radars, as well as meteorological and Earth exploration satellites. Satellite-borne infrared and microwave sounders also provide vital temperature and humidity profiles across the atmosphere, as well as information on the distribution of greenhouse gases, the ozone layer and other environmental data. Moreover, the Global Positioning System Radio Ocultation (GPSRO) remote-sensing technique provides valuable information on the atmosphere's temperature, pressure and water vapor, on the basis of radio signals exchanged among GPS satellites. The ITU-WMO Handbook “Use of Radio Spectrum for Meteorology” has just been updated and WMO is confident that its vital collaboration with ITU will continue and even increase.
In the critical moments just before natural disasters strike or immediately afterwards, when the telecommunication infrastructure may be significantly incapacitated, ICTs can make a vital difference in the provision of warnings or for the support of disaster-relief operations. A major challenge is the fact that many developing countries, which are among those most at risk from natural disasters, have very limited access to ICTs. However, it is invigorating to note that during the last years the private sector has made significant contributions to facilitate the “last mile” access to weather and climate hazard information by populations at risk, particularly in Africa.
ICTs also play a critical role in addressing climate change through mitigation of its effects and the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It is true that the expanding use of ICTs can contribute to global warming. The ITU Secretary-General recently announced that worldwide mobile cellular subscribers are likely to reach the 4 billion mark before the end of this year, and each of these devices is often left to charge overnight. However, ICTs are also part of the solution, for example, through videoconferencing and other technologies which contribute to reduce the need for carbon-generating travel and facilitate innovative "work-at-home" solutions. Beyond a reduction in transmitter power, further technology development will be required to make ICTs a cleaner technology, since other powerful greenhouse gases are on the rise in addition to carbon dioxide, particularly nitrogen trifluoride (NF3) which is a byproduct of the information technology manufacturing industry.
Excellencies, Dear Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today there is increasing awareness by governments and stakeholders on the key socioeconomic value of weather, climate and water information and services. To support policy formulation and decision-making involving climate change impacts on socially-sensitive sectors such as water resources, health and food security, as well as to strengthen capacity building in climate risk management, WMO will hold with a number of partners a third World Climate Conference (WCC-3) in Geneva, from 31 August to 4 September 2009, under the theme "Climate Prediction and Information for Decision-making". I am confident that the ITU community will be able to make key contributions to this Conference.
Before closing, I would like to reiterate WMO's appreciation to ITU for this invitation and for the collaboration and partnership that have developed between our communities over the past 135 years. WMO and ITU will continue to join efforts in the context of the UN system, in order to "deliver as one" with a principal focus on ICTs and climate change. In 2000, UN Members adopted the Millennium Declaration as a renewed commitment to human development, including the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). However, climate change impacts will tend to offset progress being made to meet the MDGs by 2015, so it will be crucial to empower developing countries by facilitating their access to the ICTs needed for climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction.