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ITU participates in World Climate Conference
New monitoring framework announced
A research station monitoring polar ice
Photo credit: Shutterstock
A research station monitoring polar ice

ITU participated in the World Climate Conference-3 (WCC-3) that took place in Geneva from 31 August to 4 September 2009, under the theme of “Climate prediction and information for decision-making”. It was the third international conference to be organized by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) on monitoring the Earth’s climate and how it is changing.

WMO and its partners organized the first World Climate Conference in 1979, as a result of which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was formed. In 1990, the second conference called for the establishment of a climate convention, and led to the creation of the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS). And on 3 September 2009, at the end of WCC-3, a Global Framework for Climate Services was adopted by representatives of more than 150 countries “to strengthen production, availability, delivery and application of science-based climate prediction and services”.

The framework’s development was supported by the 1500 scientists who took part in the WCC-3 Expert Segment. They called for a strengthening of five essential elements:

  • GCOS and all its components, encouraging exchange of, and access to, climate data.

  • The World Climate Research Programme, underpinned by adequate computing resources and increased interaction with other global climate research initiatives.

  • Climate services information systems, taking advantage of existing national and international arrangements.

  • User-interface mechanisms, focused on building linkages and integrating information between the providers and users of climate services.

  • Efficient and enduring capacity building through education, training and strengthened outreach and communication.

ITU’s role

WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud spoke at the High-Level Segment of the ITU Council meeting in Geneva in 2008 and invited ITU to participate in WCC-3, stressing how “traditionally, there has been excellent cooperation between ITU and WMO”. Addressing the conference, ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun I. Touré stated that “at ITU we are taking climate change very seriously indeed — and continuously looking at ways in which we can contribute towards better climate monitoring and use of the positive benefits of information and communication technologies (ICT) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” He underlined that ITU’s involvement goes back a long way — to the International Radio Conference of Atlantic City in 1947, when ITU Member States included the Meteorological Aids Service (MetAids) in the Radio Regulations and allocated the necessary radio-frequency spectrum for MetAids applications.

“Successive ITU World Radiocommunication Conferences (WRC) have taken into account WMO’s need to ensure the availability and protection of radio-frequency bands for observation tools such as radiosondes, weather and wind profiler radars, and space-borne infrared and microwave sounders,” Dr Touré noted. And in recognition of the vital importance of this field, WRC-07 allocated additional spectrum for systems that are used for monitoring the environment. In 2008, the ITU Radiocommunication Study Groups initiated additional studies and developed Recommendations on the further development of remote-sensing applications, which should improve the precision of monitoring and the prediction of climate change.

The ITU/WMO Handbook “Use of Radio Spectrum for Meteorology: Weather, Water and Climate Monitoring and Prediction” is the most recent example of cooperation between the two organizations, which will hold their first seminar on this topic on 16–18 September 2009. “I am confident that ITU and WMO will continue to work closely together, within the context of the UN system, to ‘deliver as one’, with a principal focus on ICT and climate change,” said Dr Touré.

Delivering the Earth

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addressed the conference, having recently returned from a visit to the edge of the polar ice, north of the Norwegian island of Svalbard. “I have just been in the Arctic. I witnessed the sober reality of change with my own eyes,” Mr Ban said, adding that “many of the IPCC’s more distant scenarios are happening now,” and urgent action is needed. “We have to deliver this planet Earth to our succeeding generations so that they can live in a more hospitable world and in an environmentally sustainable way,” he said.

The UN Secretary-General described WCC-3 as “a natural bridge for connecting science to the climate negotiations in Copenhagen,” referring to the 15th session of the Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to be held in December 2009. The results of WCC-3 will feed into the process leading up to the meeting in Copenhagen. “Scientific knowledge must be the basis for global climate policy, both for mitigation and adaptation to inevitable climate impacts. The Global Framework for Climate Services is an important step toward strengthening the application of climate science in local, regional, national and international decision-making,” Mr Ban said. After the conference, he visited ITU’s headquarters in Geneva.

climate change
Photo credit: Shutterstock
Environmental data from the skies

One example of the monitoring work coordinated by WMO — and that makes full use of ICT — is the programme it initiated called Aircraft Meteorological Data Relay (AMDAR). Essential information can be gleaned in the region of the Earth’s atmosphere where commercial aircraft normally fly. Equipped with AMDAR, some 3000 of these aircraft automatically gather environmental data and stream it to users on the ground via satellite or radio links. The system helps countries with weather forecasting, climate prediction and early warnings of natural disasters. AMDAR can capture weather observations for places that lack ground-based monitoring, as well as over the oceans. It can also provide data in high resolution that help to define critical atmospheric phenomena that are not seen in detail by other systems.

In a keynote address at WCC-3, Rajendra Kumar Pachauri, Chairman of the IPCC that was co-winner of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, said that rising sea-levels are inevitable and will threaten millions of people. “Given that the inertia in the system will result in climate change and its impacts, even if we reduced our emissions to zero today, the global community has to address the need for adaptation measures, particularly in the most vulnerable regions of the world”, he said.

The Global Framework is a landmark instrument for implementing those adaptation measures. However, noted Mr Jarraud, work has only just begun to establish a formalized system that ensures the availability of user-friendly products for all sectors to plan ahead in the face of changing climate conditions. “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,” he said.


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