World

Early Warnings for All initiative gains momentum

Countries commit to action at UN General Assembly Ministerial meeting

New York, 21 September 2022 (WMO) - Momentum is gathering to achieve a plan to ensure that every person on Earth is protected by an early warning system in the next five years, thus grabbing one of the most effective “low hanging fruits” of climate change adaptation.

Ministers gathered in New York on 21 September on the sidelines of the 77th United Nations General Assembly High-Level week to commit support to the UN Early Warnings for All initiative as an urgent climate adaptation measure.

Organized by the United Nations, Government of Egypt, and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the ministerial Early Warnings for Climate Adaptation Event brought together countries from around the world, donors, international development agencies and the private sector. The event was hosted by the Permanent Mission of Finland to the United Nations in New York.

“We must make sure that every person, community and nation has access to effective early warning systems within the next five years,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres told the opening session of the UN General Assembly on 20 September. “It is high time to move beyond endless discussions. Vulnerable countries need meaningful action, “ he said.

Mr Guterres has requested the WMO to present a roadmap to the UN Climate Change conference, COP27, in Egypt in November to achieve the life-saving campaign. COP27 will move the focus from promises and pledges to action on the ground.

“One out of three persons globally, primarily in Small Island Developing States and Least Developed Countries, and six out of every ten persons in Africa lack access to effective early warning systems. This is why the Secretary-General has called for a global plan to ensure universal coverage of Early Warning Systems within the next five years. We have the technological tools and financial resources to get this done. Protecting the lives and safeguarding the livelihoods of those on the frontlines of the climate crisis must be a collective global responsibility, “ said Assistant Secretary-General for Climate Action, Selwin Hart.

An estimated 3.3 to 3.6 billion people live in situations which are highly vulnerable to climate change. Over the past 50 years (1970-2019), a weather, climate or water-related disaster claimed the life of 115 people per day and caused US$ 202 million in losses daily. The number of recorded disasters increased by a factor of five, driven in part by human-induced climate change and more extreme weather.

In testimony to the success of early warnings, the number of lives lost decreased almost three-fold in the past 50 years because of better weather forecasts and proactive and coordinated disaster management.

“The statistics speak for themselves,” said WMO Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas. “Early warning systems are a proven, effective, and feasible climate adaptation measure, that save lives and money. We can and must reach the most vulnerable and ensure that they are translated into early action.”

Effective Climate Adaptation Tool

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Sixth Assessment Report on Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability recognized early warning systems as one of the key adaptation options.

The 2019 Global Commission on Adaptation flagship report ‘Adapt Now’ found that Early Warning Systems provide more than a tenfold return on investment – the greatest of any adaptation measure included in the report.

The report also found that just 24 hours warning of a coming storm or heatwave can cut the ensuing damage by 30 per cent and spending US$ 800 million on such systems in developing countries would avoid losses of $3-16 billion per year.

"Least Developed Countries are among the most vulnerable to climate change. We must accelerate efforts to help Least Developed Countries to adapt to new and future climate risks. Ensuring Universal Coverage of Early Warning Systems is a critical first step on this path," said Eisehower Nduwa Mkaka, Minister of Natural Resources and Climate Change of Malawi and LDC Group Chair.

"Small islands are on the front line of the climate crisis. We need the international community to deliver on their commitments to accelerate action on climate adaptation. Early warning systems save lives and prevent economic losses. All small islands should be protected by early warning systems as a matter of urgency," said HE Molwyn Joseph, Minister for Health, Wellness and the Environment of Antigua and Barbuda, and chair of the Alliance for Small Island States.

Financing commitments

A range of new and pre-existing innovative financing solutions are required to implement the plan to protect every person on Earth. These include a scaling up of the Climate Risk Early Warning Systems (CREWS) Initiative, the Systematic Observations Financing Facility (SOFF), and accelerated investment programmes of climate funds, such as the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and the Adaptation Fund.

CREWS already supports 75 countries and has received nearly US$80 million in contributions since it was launched in 2015, spearheaded by France.

« We need to go further and faster and we now aim to raise an additional US$ 155 million by 2027, » said Chrysoula Zacharopoulou, Minister for State for Development, Francophonie and International Partnerships of France. She announced that France would double its annual contribution to CREWS, starting in 2023, to 8 million Euros per year.

German Parliamentary State Secretary to the Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, Bärbel Kofler, also expressed commitment to CREWS and to SOFF, one of the other foundational building blocks of the Early Warnings for All initiative is SOFF.

“Recognizing the urgent need to act, Nordic Development Fund made a substantial contribution to the Systematic Observations Financing Facility (SOFF) – a foundational building block of the UN Early Warning Systems Initiative. SOFF can close the gaps of basic weather and climate observations in the most vulnerable countries, leading to improved weather forecasts, early warning systems and climate information services. This can only be achieved as a collective international effort, and we look forward to seeing more countries joining the SOFF UN Multi-Partner Trust Fund”, says Karin Isaksson, Managing Director at the Nordic Development Fund.

What is an Early Warning System?

A Multi-Hazard Early Warning System is an integrated system which allows people to know that hazardous weather or climate events (floods, storms, heatwaves) are on their way, and informs people how to act to minimize impacts. End-to-end MHEWS include risk knowledge, observation, communication and response.

The practicality, implementability, and universal political appeal of early warning systems makes them a fitting focus area of COP27.

H.E. President El-Sisi of Egypt recently highlighted turning promises and pledges into implementation on the ground as a top priority of Egypt’s COP27 Presidency. President El-Sisi also underscored the need to enhance the size, quality and mechanisms of climate financing that are available to developing countries, including to help them to adapt to the negative effects of climate change.

In this regard, both COP26 and COP27 Presidencies have called for developed countries to follow through on their commitments made in Glasgow to at least double their climate finance for adaptation to developing countries by 2025, aiming at achieving balance between funding adaptation and mitigation.

COP26 President Alok Sharma stressed the UK’s support for the Early Warning for All initiative. He voiced concern that there was some “rowing back » on climate commitments made in Glasgow. “That is not acceptable, » he said.

WMO and partners are working to ensure that the early warnings are translated into early action and reach the last mile.

As a young indigenous women, I welcome the UN Secretary General's call for Early Warning Systems for all, under the leadership of the WMO,” said Ms Archana Soreng, member of the UN Secretary-General’s Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change. “Countries should prioritise Early Warning Systems for all people, and ensure meaningful participation – at all levels of the process - and leadership roles for young people, indigenous and local communities, and other marginalized communities who are most affected by the climate crisis. I urge countries to ensure language diversity in the delivery of Early Warning Systems for all, so we are leaving no one behind,” she said.