By Land, Thomas
Contemporary Review , Vol. 269, No. 1566
Accurate very long-term weather forecasts based on existing scientific knowledge and data gathering facilities are about to move into commercial application.
Leading research and training institutions worldwide concerned with climate change are to collaborate under the auspices of a new global scientific centre intended to generate accurate and commercially available weather forecasts for periods of two years and more.
Such a service developed from existing scientific knowledge and data gathering facilities would offer enormous economic benefit to many industries and especially insurance, agriculture, shipping, energy, trade, construction and tourism. It should be made possible as a result of a series of recent breakthroughs achieved in studies of El Nino, an oceanic and atmospheric phenomenon that periodically triggers a predictable climatic upheaval dominating the global weather.
Proposals for the institute have been put forward by the United States and welcomed by many industries and countries as well as research centres concerned with studies of the ocean, atmosphere, land surface and other elements of the climate system.
The new institute would make use of the existing climate observation infrastructure of the United Nations Geneva-based World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and focus global research into aspects of very long-term weather prediction.
The interest of commerce and industry in these studies is fuelled by unprecedented recent losses caused by extreme climate events. The insurance industry alone has been hit by over $50bn losses in claims arisen in just 12 storms since 1987, including Hurricane Andrew in Florida ($17bn in 1992) and Opal ($2bn in 1995). At the same time, there has been a significant increase in severe floods and droughts worldwide.
Some of the world's major reinsurance and insurance companies have expressed grave concern over the effect of climate change on their business prospects. 'Given only a slight increase in the scope for windstorms, drought-related wildfires and floods, the insurance industry would be in danger of global collapse,' comments Jeremy Leggett, a senior scientist with Greenpeace, the environmental pressure group.
A group of insurance companies have signed a commitment to co-operate with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) in promoting climate research and discouraging industrial practices that hasten climate change. The UNEP steering committee for the group includes the National Provident Insurance and General Accident Fire and Life Insurance Corp. (both of the United Kingdom), Gerling-Konzern Globale (Germany), Sumitomo Marine and Fire Insurance Co. Ltd. (Japan), Swiss Re (Switzerland) and Uni-Storebranbd SA (Norway).
These companies may well be among the first to benefit from recent scientific achievements leading to the prediction of the behaviour of some major components of the global climate system coveting an entire season or even a whole year, available already in some regions.
The proposed research institute is intended to focus these achievements in the fields of enhanced observation capabilities, the advent of computer-based numerical forecasting of seasonal weather patterns and improved understanding of the physics of the climate system.
Proposals for the institute were first made at the recent UN conference on environment and development. The United States has since then run a successful pilot project exploring the use of focused research and held a forum attended by specialists from many countries endorsing the establishment of the research institute.
They are now in the process of forming a working group comprising representatives from interested industries, governments and international organizations as well as the scientific community. The group is to produce a detailed strategy for the establishment of the institute with its multinational capability for seasonal-to-interannual climate prediction and applications. …