Strengthening climate services

Published October 10, 2021
The writer is an expert on climate change and development.
The writer is an expert on climate change and development.

CLIMATE change was not on the horizon when the Planning Commission was first charged with the country’s economic development in the 1950s. Realising that policy planning must be informed by empirical research, a specialised arm was created in the form of the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics.

With changing climate scenarios, our development model needs to undergo a paradigm shift, creating a second climate science arm. All economic planning and investments, out of necessity, need to be an exercise in planning and investment in climate adaptation, duly informed by institutions generating climate knowledge and providing climate services. Climate services can help the country pursue three tracks: climate adaptation, disaster-risk reduction and sustainable development.

The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) has just released its annual report State of Climate Services 2021: Water. It is part of a series on the state of climate services released annually by WMO since 2019 on the request of UNFCC (UN Climate Change) to facilitate the development and application of methodologies for assessing adaptation needs.

This year’s report is particularly relevant for Pakistan as climate change is fast “increasing variability in the water cycle, inducing a greater number of extreme weather events, reducing the predictability of water availability, and adversely affecting water quality”. Three water-related issues are central to climate adaptation in Pakistan: a) water stress, reflected in increasing uncertainty and scarcity, b) hazards and disasters, reflected in floods, droughts, storms surges, and glacier lake outbursts, and c) water quality, reflected in the deteriorating quality of ground and surface water used for drinking, irrigation and industry.

Read: Water crisis confronts both Pakistan and India, says UN report

Based on an assessment of 101 countries, WMO has found that most countries, including Pakistan, lack proper water services or do not even have the complete life cycle of climate services. They seriously lack in hydrological data collection, analysis, policy usage, and communication with primary users — policymakers and the public and private sector.

Three water-related issues are central to climate adaptation in Pakistan.

As the early warning systems continue to be underdeveloped and underutilised, the national meteorological and hydrological services remain weak. National public institutions mandated to provide hydrological information, therefore, lack the necessary capacities needed to provide climate services for water. The results are perilous: human, social and economic losses are continuously soaring as floods have globally increased by 134 per cent and droughts by 20pc in the last two decades. This gives Pakistan all the more reason to augment climate services.

What are climate services and how can they be strengthened? A climate service is essentially scientific climate information provided in a decision support system for improved ex-ante decision-making. The WMO, almost a decade ago, developed a Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS) for mainstreaming climate science into decision-making at all levels of governance. The primary purpose was to help developing countries become well-equipped to access and apply the relevant climate information in key climate-sensitive sectors particularly agriculture, water, biodiversity, health, town planning or tourism.

Despite international support and growing climate vulnerabilities, Pakistan has not developed its National Framework for Climate Services. The presence of an NFCS will provide an institutional mechanism to coordinate, facilitate and enhance collaboration among national institutions to improve, jointly produce, deliver and use science-based climate projections and services.

Some regional countries like China and India who developed robust national frameworks have successfully accessed global science and technology, as the GFCS seeks to build on continued improvements in climate forecasting to increase access to the best climate data. Planners, investors and vulnerable communities have the right to benefit from easy-to-use information so that they can plan and cope with projected trends and scenarios.

Since Pakistan’s datasets on temperature, precipitation, soil moisture, snowfall in glacial areas, ocean conditions and winds are absent or inaccessible, policymakers are not always informed about long-term historical averages of these parameters or their risks. Development planners end up shooting in the dark by taking decisions without knowing long-term projections and trends.

Who can provide climate services? Two institutions are at the core of climate services in Pakistan: the Global Climate Impact Study Centre and the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD). The first one, GCISC, was designed to provide climate services particularly on the slow onset of climate systems, linked to global premier institutions and networks. Despite enhanced capacity in recent years, government departments and ministries have rarely utilised climate services from GCIS.

The second one, PMD, was designed to provide weather services but it has taken upon itself to also provide some climate services. The technology at its disposal as well as its linkages with WMO and other climate service providers has made PMD an important player. It has been oddly placed in the Aviation Division, erroneously assuming that its primary function was to facilitate air traffic or weather warnings.

Two secondary institutions of climate and water services are Suparco that with its space satellites can feed satellite images for policy planning on urbanisation, land-use, forestry, air quality, or environmental degradation. Likewise, Wapda’s weather monitoring systems in the Indus basin and watersheds support flood forecasting with PMD’s flood forecasting division in Lahore.

A potential first user of climate services is the National Disaster Risk Management Fund, now managed by the Planning Commission. NDRMF is currently managing with PMD a large hydromet project designed to modernise the PMD and improve its service delivery to various sectors.

The Planning Commission, therefore, is now poised to fill the lacunae to integrate climate services with policy and practice. In addition to bringing together these disjointed efforts into an ecosystem of climate and environmental services by simply connecting the dots, strategic recommendations of the WMO report can help Pakistan set the direction of its journey and set its eyes on eight ambitions: 1) no one is surprised by a flood, 2) everyone is prepared for drought, 3) hydro-climate and meteorological data support food security, 4) high-quality data supports science, 5) science provides a sound basis for operational hydrology, 6) generation of thorough knowledge of water resources, 7) water quality is known, and 8) hydrological information supports Pakistan’s sustainable development.

The writer is an expert on climate change and development.

Published in Dawn, October 10th, 2021

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