To mark World Meteorological Day 2022 (March 23), United Nations secretary-general António Guterres has announced a major new initiative: everyone on Earth should be protected by early warning systems against extreme weather and climate change within the next five years.
Guterres tasked the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) with leading the effort by presenting an action plan at the next UN Climate Conference, COP 27, in Egypt, from November 7-18, 2022.
The theme of this year’s #WorldMetDay is ‘Early Warning and Early Action – Hydrometeorological and Climate Information for Disaster Risk Reduction’ and is intended to highlight the vital importance of hydrometeorological and climate information for disaster risk reduction.
Speaking at this year’s #WorldMetDay ceremony, Guterres said, “Human-caused climate disruption is now damaging every region. The most recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) details the suffering already happening. Each increment of global heating will further increase the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.
“We must invest equally in adaptation and resilience. That includes the information that allows us to anticipate storms, heatwaves, floods and droughts,” he said.
However, one-third of the world’s people, mainly in least developed countries and small island developing states, are still not covered by early warning systems. In Africa, it is even worse as 60% of people lack coverage.
“This is unacceptable, particularly with climate impacts sure to get even worse,” said Guterres. “Early warnings and action save lives. To that end, today I announce that the United Nations will spearhead new action to ensure every person on Earth is protected by early warning systems within five years.
“We must boost the power of prediction for everyone and build their capacity to act. On this World Meteorological Day, let us recognize the value of early warnings and early action as critical tools to reduce disaster risk and support climate adaptation,” he said.
Prof. Petteri Taalas, WMO secretary-general, said, “Climate change is already very visible through more extreme weather in all parts of the world. We are seeing more intense heat waves, drought and forest fires. We have more water vapor in the atmosphere, which leads to extreme rainfall and deadly flooding. The warming of the ocean fuels more powerful tropical storms, and rising sea levels increase the impacts.
“We expect this negative trend to continue. Early warning systems are a proven, effective adaptation measure, which save lives and livelihoods,” he said.
A WMO report on disaster statistics for the past 50 years showed that there were more than 11,000 disasters linked to weather, climate and water-related hazards between 1970 and 2019, or almost one per day. There were two million deaths, or 115 per day.
The number of disasters has increased five-fold over the past 50 years and the economic cost has soared. That trend is expected to continue.
However, the number of casualties has fallen dramatically – almost three-fold – thanks to better weather forecasts and more coordinated disaster management planning.
Supercomputers and satellite technology have facilitated huge leaps in our forecasting ability and the emergence of user-tailored services, underpinned by decades of research.
There is stronger international, regional and national coordination, matched by active community mobilization.
But much more remains to be done. There are large gaps in weather observations, especially in least developed countries and small island developing states. These gaps pose a risk to the accuracy of early warnings locally and globally.
Mami Mizutori, special representative of the secretary-general for disaster risk reduction in the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), said, “In 1736, famous statesman and inventor Benjamin Franklin advised the fire-threatened people of Philadelphia that, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Some ideas lay at the heart of the human condition; and these famous words are as relevant today as they were hundreds of years ago. They speak to the power of early warning and early action, which is not only the theme of this year’s World Meteorological Day, but also the theme for the International Day for Disaster Reduction 2022, held on October 13.
“Our two organizations chose this theme for a simple reason: early warning and early action save lives,” she continued. “And in a world of rising disasters, in both frequency and intensity, early warnings and early action will save even more lives. The evidence is indisputable and the need is clear.
“We are grateful to the WMO for collaboration toward the important goal of mitigating risk from climate change and extreme weather. In particular, we look forward to our jointly established Centre of Excellence for Climate and Disaster Resilience, to advance joint research, policies and capacity building.
“As we look at the year to come, there are many additional opportunities to make progress on these fronts. In particular, UNDRR’s Global Platform, to take place in Bali, Indonesia, is one such entry point – and we encourage your active participation in the many plenaries and thematic sessions.
“Our plan is to continue spreading an important message, which resonates highly with the theme message of this year’s international day: disasters may not be our preference, but with strategic early warning and early action, they don’t have to devastate,” she said.
Following on from today’s announcement, the WMO will convene key agencies, countries and groups to build on existing efforts and create a global plan by COP 27. The new plan seeks to build on existing WMO activities and partnerships, including:
- The WMO Global Multi-hazard Alert System (GMAS) leverages progress in early warnings against hazards such as tropical cyclones, flooding and coastal inundation.
- The Systematic Observations Financing Facility (SOFF), which was established at COP 26 jointly with UNEP and UNDP as a new financing mechanism. It seeks to significantly increase the availability of basic weather and climate observations data and close the gaps, especially in the least developed countries and small island developing states. This data is the basis of all weather forecast and climate services and so these gaps undermine the effectiveness of all climate adaptations actions and investments. The Nordic Development Fund (NDF) recently committed €10m (US$11m) to SOFF.
- The Climate Risk and Early Warning Systems Initiative (CREWS) bridges the capacity gap in life-saving early warning systems for vulnerable countries. The initiative ensures that prediction and warnings of extreme events are received, understood and acted upon by people most at risk. It has been widely lauded as a success story and now has a portfolio of more than US$90m. In 2022, WMO is scaling up its action on early warning systems in Africa through CREWS with a new US$5m early warning program for the Central Africa region. Similar programs are being prepared for the Horn and East Africa regions.
Celebrating #WorldMetDay around the globe
In Zimbabwe, the Meteorological Services Department celebrated #WorldMetDay by holding a groundbreaking ceremony for a new radar system that will strengthen early warnings for tropical cyclones, heavy rain, thunderstorms, hail, lightning and strong winds for the entire country. It also announced plans to revamp its meteorological stations with automated weather stations and digital instrumentation.