Current constraints in providing climate services to the most vulnerable

Checking experimental CIAT beans at harvest time, near the Colombian town of Darien. Source:
Climate data and projections can help climate vulnerable areas reduce potential crop- and livestock loss from drought. Photo: N. Palmer (CIAT)

by Cecilia Schubert

Provision of climate services and weather data to small-holder farmers is important in order to adapt to an unpredictable climate. Without any knowledge of future conditions, there is no possibility to plan, which in turn might hinder investment and innovation among small-holder farmers in developing countries. The problem with today’s climate services is that they’re not reaching the end users and the most vulnerable, due to lack of understanding in how they can be reached effectively and timely. The importance of extension services for climate adaptation and the progress with the implementation of the Global Framework on Climate Services was discussed during a side event convened by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) at the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological (SBSTA) meetings in Bonn, Germany.

Progress with the global climate extension service framework

The Global Framework on Climate Services (GFCS) was initially established in 2009 by WMO, through partnerships with relevant stakeholders. The aim was to develop a framework that could support and help prepare climate affected sectors to better understand and cope with climate risks. It aims to strengthen production, availability, delivery and application of science-based climate prediction and services. It has four priority areas ranging from climate change adaptation within agriculture and food security, health, water management and risk reduction management. The GFCS is still in its initial stage, but aims to scale up in order to promote free and open exchange of climate-relevant observational data. It is built on the principle to build capacity in climate vulnerable developing countries, and improve availability of, access to and use of climate services for all countries. 

Main constraints in distributing and ensuring accurate climate data

However, the framework is constrained, among other things, by the lack of historical climate data from developing countries. “Observations are fundamental for climate services, because without them we can’t make projections for the future”, said Adrian Simmons, Global Climate Observational Services (GCOS) Steering Committee during the event. “The observations made over past years define climate, how it varies and how it is changing”. It is therefore used in developing and validates models to predict future variations and change. Current observations help identify current extremes and consequently vulnerabilities, which then provide the starting point for forecasts, enable monitoring the climate system as a whole. There are gaps in climate data from all countries however, many of the developing countries are lacking climate service systems that can provide insights to future projections.

But there are techniques to overcome these gaps, such as rescuing past data, going through paper records and digitalize them, journals as well as use model-based techniques, and appropriate national database management systems. Another main concern is that while many observation systems exist, there is no global coordination mechanism, which needs to change.

View live streamed presentation on: How good are current climate at predicting agricultural impacts in Africa and South Asia?

At the moment there is also a need to complement current information systems. The complementing data is required to support provision of climate services. There is a need to enhance observations and/or data exchange for a number or variables such as precipitation, river flow, snow depth, marine conditions in coastal zones, urban condition (temperature, humidity, airquality) and other aerosol types among other things.

Provision of climate services is important to small-holder farmers because they can contribute to reducing livestock and crop loss in climate vulnerable areas. That is why it is important to invest in climate service extensions to fill the gaps in observations and data, said Kanta Kumari Rigaud, Lead Adaptation Specialist at the World Bank during her speech. Distribution of climate data is currently being hindered by lack of knowledge in extension services. Kumari pointed to the fact that it is less challenging to build infrastructure than institutions, strengthening capacity and sustaining these. More targeted support is therefore needed to reduce degradation of hydrological agencies and services together with better technical guidance how to build or modernize them. Climate services go beyond hydromet agencies and need multi-agency support where country coordination is key. She concluded that "there is no universal or quick solution to improve national hydromet services. Instead we need long term engagement and investment".

More on climate services from the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security:

Watch Robert Zougmoré, Regional Program Leader West Africa, talk about climate-related challenges farmers in West Africa face, and how forecasts and other types of information can improve decision making:

Read the accompanying blog story: "New project looks to bring weather information to farmers in the Sahel"

Watch Arame Tall, a gender grant recipient talk about how local communities need alerts, not jargon, for effective adaptation:

Read the accompanying blog story: "Local communities need alerts, not jargon"

This blog story was written by Cecilia Schubert, Communications Assistant at CCAFS Coordinating Unit. Follow the coverage of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) meetings all week on our blog and on our Twitter account @cgiarclimate and Facebook.