On the continent most vulnerable to climate change, officials from across Africa have committed to working with international partners to strengthen national weather and climate services that are critical to helping countries adapt to the changing conditions.
Climate change is already adding to Africa’s burdens of poverty, disease and conflict with impacts like desertification, deforestation, sea-level rise, reduced availability of fresh water, more intense cyclones, coastal erosion, the spread of malaria and food insecurity.
“Africa gives off less greenhouse gas than any other part of the world but it is the most threatened by climate change,” President Obama told the Ghanaian Parliament in Accra during a visit in 2009. “A warming planet will spread disease, shrink water resources and deplete crops, creating conditions that produce more famine and more conflict. All of us — particularly the developed world ― have a responsibility to slow these trends, through mitigation and by changing the way that we use energy.”
To tackle these and other issues, more than 400 participants, including many experts from the United States, attended the first Conference of Ministers Responsible for Meteorology in Africa, held April 12–16 in Nairobi, Kenya. The conference was organized by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the African Union.
Weather and climate experts from Africa and around the world met for the first three days and African ministers met for the last two days to hear recommendations from the experts and adopt the Ministerial Declaration (PDF, 28KB) on Meteorology and Climate in Africa.
“One of the major positives of the meeting was the level of interest and enthusiasm. All the countries were represented, including Somalia,” Simon Mason, chief climate scientist at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI), said. “There was wide recognition within the continent that the whole question of weather and climate needs to be taken much more seriously.”
IRI’s main funding comes from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), whose National Weather Service has trained staff from nearly every African meteorological service, Renee Leduc Clarke, a policy adviser in the National Weather Service’s International Activities Office, said.
“What this conference brings to light is that there are people in Africa who recognize the global implications of the gaps in information that exist in Africa,” Leduc Clarke said. “In terms of putting together this global puzzle of climate, you need the information inside Africa, especially since it’s expected that all of Africa’s impacts are going to be even larger than in some other areas.”
National Met Services
WMO, with 188 member countries and territories, helps national meteorological (met) services, especially those in developing countries, contribute to their countries’ development plans and become full partners in global collaborations. Nearly all countries have national met services that provide weather observations, forecasts and services for their own citizens and, through WMO, contribute to global observations, forecasts and climate information.
Most African met services struggle with a lack of funding, climate expertise and equipment for weather observations such as ground-level weather stations ― the critical basis for efficiently delivering weather information. WMO estimates that Africa should have 10,000 weather stations but has only 744, less than a quarter of which provide observations that meet WMO requirements. This creates a large weather “data gap” in Africa.
“These weather services range from a country like Liberia that might have two people with very limited training,” Leduc Clarke said, “but they’re still getting out there and making those consistent weather observations, to countries like South Africa, Morocco and Kenya that have larger operations but are still dealing with very significant observation gaps.”
Many of Africa’s met services are monitoring weather primarily for aviation purposes and translate the information into a format useful for agriculture.
“With growing concern about climate change, a lot of the governments in Africa are recognizing that meteorology services have a lot more importance than just servicing the aviation industry,” Mason said.
“What’s starting to be recognized now,” he added, “is that if more investment is put into the meteorological services, they could provide valuable information.”
New Strategies In Africa
In the declaration delivered April 16, the African ministers acknowledged that the challenges of climate variability and change in Africa call for “decisionmaking based on scientifically sound data and information by governments and communities in order to develop adaptation strategies and action plans.”
Weather and climate information and services, they wrote, are needed to support climate-sensitive social and economic development sectors like health, agriculture and food security, transport, disaster-risk reduction, natural resource management, water resource management and energy generation and distribution.
As part of the declaration, they agreed to establish the African Ministerial Conference on Meteorology as a high-level mechanism for developing meteorology, and to hold the meeting every two years.
They also agreed to develop a strategy for enhancing cooperation among African countries to strengthen their met services. They also plan to establish a mechanism that gives African met services access to the Copenhagen Green Climate Fund, established at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in December 2009.