Free exchange of Earth system data vital to strengthen observing system and meet increased demand for services in era of climate change
GENEVA, 24 June 2021 – In a milestone decision, the World Meteorological Organization’s Executive Council has endorsed a unified policy on the international exchange or Earth system data to help its Members meet the explosive growth in demand for weather, climate and water services as the world grapples with the dual challenges of climate change and the increasing frequency of extreme weather events.
The draft data policy resolution, which must be adopted by the full 193-Member World Meteorological Congress extraordinary session scheduled for October 2021, paves the way for a sweeping update of policies on the free and unrestricted exchange of data that have been the bedrock of WMO since it was established more than 70 years ago.
The WMO Unified Policy for the International Exchange of Earth System Data is based on WMO’s strategic integrated Earth system approach to all monitoring and prediction of weather, climate, water and related environmental phenomena, and it will serve as the foundation of a wider push to strengthen the global observing networks and help overcome regional disparities.
“In order to meet the demand for services and forecasts, it is paramount to improve the exchange of weather, climate, water and ocean data. Severe gaps in data and weather observations, especially in Africa and island states, have a major negative impact on the accuracy of early warnings both locally and globally,” said WMO Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas.
“A revision of WMO’s data policy will leverage benefits for the whole of society and will allow our global community to work better together to deliver services that protect life, livelihoods and property,” said Prof. Taalas.
“It is a very, very important step to have such a unified data policy for WMO,” said WMO President Gerhard Adrian. “We have many decisions on data policy, and now we have a united approach where all these parts are collected.”
“This is a great milestone, and a historical moment,” said Michel Jean, President of WMO’s Infrastructure Commission, which had developed the data policy resolution approved during the Executive Council’s virtual session from 14 to 25 June.
Numerical Weather Prediction
Delivery of weather and climate services depends on routine international exchange of weather and climate data, 24/7, 365 days per year, often within minutes of real time.
Observations are ingested into numerical prediction models, and the output from these models is used as a basis for weather and climate services. A primary aim with the establishment of WMO in 1951 was to create a coordination mechanism for the acquisition and international exchange of such data, both the observational input, and the resulting output – in the early years primarily weather watches and warnings and long-term climate statistics, later on also extended to model output.
WMO’s current data policies are laid out in three separate Congress resolutions – Resolution 40 (Congress-XII, 1995, covering weather) and two subsequent resolutions (Resolution 25 (Cg-XIII) and Resolution 60 (Cg-17)) covering water and climate.
The new WMO Unified Data Policy resolution, in comparison, covers seven domains and disciplines – covering all WMO-relevant Earth system data – in a single policy statement, and it thus extends beyond the traditional areas of weather, climate and water data to incorporate also the areas of atmospheric composition, oceans, cryosphere and space weather.
Increasing the volume of observations that are shared internationally for use in global and regional Numerical Weather Prediction (NWP) models will help significantly improve the quality of these data products. The policy will also provide developing countries with better access to these key data products. The resulting improvement in forecasts and other services will be felt everywhere on the globe, but it will be especially pronounced in areas where the current observational data coverage is poor, including in many developing countries.
In addition, the data policy resolution expands from addressing just national meteorological and hydrological services to endorsing relevant data exchange among all partners, including agencies beyond meteorological and hydrological services, the rapidly growing private sector and academia.
“As a fundamental principle of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and in consonance with the expanding requirements for its scientific and technical expertise, WMO commits itself to broadening and enhancing the free and unrestricted international exchange of Earth system data,” says the Executive Council resolution, agreed on 22 June.
The resolution agrees to maintain a two-tiered approach:
- WMO Members shall provide on a free and unrestricted basis the core data that are necessary for the provision of services in support of the protection of life and property and for the well-being of all nations and which are required to monitor and predict seamlessly and accurately weather, climate, water and related environmental conditions.
- Members should also provide the recommended data that are required to support Earth system monitoring and prediction activities at the global, regional and national levels and to further assist other Members with the provision of weather, climate, water and related environmental services in their States and Territories.
This differentiated approach will, firstly, protect and ensure international exchange of those data that are essential for the protection of lives and livelihoods. Additionally, it encourages exchange of the much larger realm of data which will allow Members to enhance and improve their monitoring and prediction of the Earth system.
The specific details on what are considered “core data” and “recommended data” is contained within WMO technical regulations, which can be amended, extended and updated to keep pace with technology and emerging needs, rather than requiring a fully-fledged amendment to the policy resolution itself. Updates to technical regulations are still subject to Congress approval, but due to their narrower focus and limited scope, the approval process is generally significantly less involved than for data policy.
Resolution 40 (exchange of weather data) – already contains language that requires Members to exchange the minimum data required for effective decision-making at all levels to underpin essential public services. The new policy will over time allow data also from other Earth system disciplines to be labeled as “core data”, as requirements for data exchange mature and become globally recognized.
Global Basic Observing System
In addition to the unified data policy, Executive Council also approved a resolution setting out detailed provisions for a Global Basic Observing System, the implementation of which will guarantee exchange of a minimum supply of critically needed surface-based observations from all Members into the global NWP systems that provide the basis for all weather, climate and related Earth system services.
While GBON will provide economic benefits conservatively estimated to be more than 5 billion dollars per year, based on expected improvements in weather prediction alone, WMO recognizes that the implementation of this network will be challenging for many of the least resourced Members.
The proposed Systematic Observations Financing Facility (SOFF) therefore aims to provide the necessary financial and technical support for Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States to support the implementation of GBON, but in terms of filling the current gaps in observational data coverage and to help sustain the operation of the observing network in the long term.
The Executive Council also approved a set of recommendations to be adopted by the Cg-Ext (2021) on the Comprehensive Review of the WMO Regional Mechanisms and Approaches as part of the second phase of the WMO reform.
The recommendations are intended to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the regional associations business and increase intra and inter-regional cooperation, partnerships and resources mobilization.
Specifically, the recommendations will lead to enhanced implementation of WMO Congress and Executive Council Decisions by WMO members; better engagement with the UN system, Regional Economic Commissions, and Regional Organizations; strengthened capacity of the WMO regional Offices to coordinate regional partnerships and activities; strengthened engagement of the private sector and academia; more effective support and capacity development of WMO Members.
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