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New study shows socio-economic benefits of weather observations

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Behind every weather forecast, every early warning of life-threatening hazards, and every long-term climate change projection are observational data.

A new report published by the World Bank, produced in collaboration with the World Meteorological Organization and the Met Office (UK), estimates improving the collection and international exchange of surface-based observational data will deliver additional socioeconomic benefits worth more than US $5 billion a year.

This is a conservative estimate and does not include the huge non-monetary benefits such as potential lives saved and improvements to well-being, particularly for developing countries.

In their report, lead author Daniel Kull from the World Bank and his co-authors argue that “In view of the growing climate- and weather-related challenges facing humanity… surface-based observations should be treated as a critical public good”.

Whilst satellites are becoming increasingly important, this does not diminish the need for reliable and accessible surface-based observations.

Lars Peter Riishojgaard from WMO, one of the co-authors of the report, points out that there are big gaps in the ground-based observing network in particular in Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS), and that these gaps reduce the quality and accuracy of numerical weather prediction products, which form the basis of most weather and climate forecasts, early warnings and related services for decision-making on a day-to-day basis.

The report estimates that highly weather-sensitive sectors such as agriculture, energy, transport and construction and disaster risk management can benefit by over US $160 billion per year from potential improvements in weather forecasting capabilities that would be within reach given our current state of scientific knowledge and our technology.

Several regions have severe gaps in the basic weather and climate observing systems, especially African, some Latin American, Pacific and Caribbean Island states. This has a major negative impact on the reliability of the early warning services in those areas, but also worldwide. There is an urgent need to invest in improvement of basic ground-based and balloon sounding stations to enhance the capacity of less developed countries to mitigate climate risks, like storms, flooding, drought, heat waves, forest fires and sand/dust storms. At the moment the limited weather and climate observations are an obstacle to development and human welfare.

One of the recommendations of the report is to increase the quantity of observations that are exchanged globally by investing in the countries where these data are sparse. “Observations taken in the areas where few are currently available are known to have the highest impact on the quality of weather predictions and climate analysis products” says John Eyre from the Met Office, another co-author of the report.

Therefore, investments in LDCs and SIDS are expected to generate the highest return from an overall global perspective. “Increasing the number of surface-based observations in these regions delivers a global benefit to cost ratio of more than 25,” says Kull. In other words, for every dollar invested, at least twenty-five dollars in socioeconomic returns could be realized.

Systematic Observations Financing Facility

The findings of the report will inform discussions at a first Funders Forum of the proposed Systematic Observations Financing Facility (SOFF) on 24 March, 2021.

This new financing mechanism will specifically seek to close the observations data gap that undermines our weather and climate services locally, regionally and globally. It is calling for a global, coordinated and long-term response in support of countries with the largest capacity and financial gaps.

The creation of the SOFF is spearheaded by WMO in collaboration with a wide range of international organizations, including the members of the Alliance for Hydromet Development. The Alliance is a coalition of major climate and development finance institutions to close the capacity gap on high-quality weather forecasts, early warning systems and climate information.

As an urgent priority, the SOFF will support SIDS and LDCs to improve and maintain the generation and exchange of surface-based observations. In doing so, it will help strengthen climate adaptation and resilience across the globe, especially for the most vulnerable.

Global Basic Observing Network

The SOFF seeks to accelerate progress towards full implementation of the Global Basic Observing Network (GBON), which was approved in principle by the World Meteorological Congress in 2019. GBON is based on an agreement by which the basic surface-based weather observing network is designed, defined and monitored at a global level.

The world has yet to fully implement the system envisaged under this agreement, as there are still huge gaps in observations. The lack of data from Africa, parts of South America and Asia, and from small island states in general is often caused by lack of sufficient resources to generate and exchange the data—in particular to operate and maintain the observing system in the long-term.

The new report published by the World Bank in collaboration with WMO and the Met Office assesses the socio-economic benefits of the Global Basic Observing Network overall, and in particular it provides an estimate of the benefit/cost ratio of the investment required to progress from the current status of our networks to a full implementation of GBON.