From Prediction to Action: Meteorology and the War on Climate Change

By Bedritsky, Alexander I. | Harvard International Review, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview

From Prediction to Action: Meteorology and the War on Climate Change


Bedritsky, Alexander I., Harvard International Review


The year 2007 was a special one for many international environmental organizations, as well as for the wider climate change scientific community. This was so thanks, in particular, to the successful approval of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) co-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report, which clearly categorized climate change as "unequivocal." Thanks also to the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize awarded to the IPCC and Al Gore in clear recognition of the fact that climate change is an issue with potential implications for world peace. If unabated, climate change will markedly increase the risk of conflicts over prime resources such as water, food, and energy. This in turn may lead to massive population resettlements, including migration to areas that do not have the capacity to shelter, feed, or employ new refugees. In addition, 2007 concluded under the auspicious aegis of the roadmap agreement reached in Bali, Indonesia during the thirteenth session of the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This also served as the third meeting of the Parties to the kyotp Protocol.

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These are just a few of the reasons for the increasingly prominent role that the WMO and other international environmental organizations are now playing in the climate change arena, clearly transcending the exclusively scientific issues that one were their unique realm. The media has responded to this novel prominence, as expected, by focusing even more on climate change issues. Decision-makers have done so as well, in part as an organic response to the magnitude and transcendence of the new scientific evidence, but also in order to better represent central concerns of their respective constituencies.

In a speech given during the G8 Summit in Heili-gendamm last year, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, said that climate change was "a defining issue of our era." It is now generally accepted that human activities are altering the climate at an increasingly alarming rate and that although positive mitigation actions like greenhouse gas emissions reductions would certainly help to alleviate this problem, adaptation measures must also be considered among the options currently available to society. Observations, especially those made from space, show a marked global decline of snow and ice cover. This cover is retreating increasingly earlier in the spring, and most mountain glaciers are shrinking. Sea ice in the Arctic is also shrinking in all seasons and most dramatically in the summer. In 2007, for the first time in recorded history, the legendary Northwest Passage was open to unaided navigation for a few days. Reductions in permafrost, seasonally frozen grounds, and river and lake ice are also now reported. Increasingly important coastal regions of the ice sheets on Greenland and West Antarctica, as well as the glaciers of the Antarctic Peninsula, are continuously thinning and contributing to sea level rise.

Why did these issues reach a crescendo in 2007? Simply because it was due time. The culmination of these events corresponds to the maturity of the WMO and its experience on a path which it set out quite a few years ago. Established in 1873, the International Meteorological Organization (IMO) that was responsible for international cooperation in meteorology from its creation became the WMO in 1950. One year later it became a specialized agency of the United Nations System for meteorology (weather and climate), operational hydrology and related geophysical sciences. Since its inception, the WMO has established itself as a leading authority on an issue that is likely to thrust the WMO and other such international environmental organizations into a position of unprecedented political relevence. It will require collaboration on a global scale if these organizations are to conquer one of the century's greatest challenges: climate change. …

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From Prediction to Action: Meteorology and the War on Climate Change
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