IGOS Partnership Forum during the UNISPACE III Conference

(Vienna, 21 July 1999)

Global Climate Observing System (GCOS)
Overview and Results from COP-4

Dr. Alan R. Thomas
Director, GCOS Secretariat

I am pleased, as the new Director of the GCOS Secretariat, to present a brief overview of developments in GCOS with particular attention to decisions from the Conference of Parties (COP-4) to the UN Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) that affect global climate observing systems

There has been significant progress in the development of GCOS plans and we are now entering the implementation phase for many of the GCOS networks. This has been accompanied by an ever-increasing recognition of the importance of global climate observing systems in providing data for
  Climate predictions, such as the recent El Nino/ La Nina event,
  Monitoring climate change and extreme events,
  Assessing climate and its impacts,
  Research and modeling,
  Input to national and regional economic applications.
  In addition, there is a growing realization that society also must explore options for adaptation to climate changes.

The progress in GCOS owes much to the past efforts of Prof. John Townshend, who was chair of the GCOS Steering Committee from 1994 to 1998 and of Dr. Thomas Spence who was Director of the Secretariat since its inception until last year. As you know they have prominent roles in this Forum.

A global observing system for climate is dependent on cooperation and partnerships with both international and national organizations. The new MOU between the 4 sponsoring agencies--Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO, UN Environment Program (UNEP), International Union for Science (ICSU), and World Meteorological Organization (WMO)--is one step. More critically implementation must occur in the observing systems implemented within the countries and coordinated by:
  Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS),
  Global Terrestrial Observing System (GTOS),
  Global Atmosphere Watch (GAW),
  World Hydrologic Cycle Observing System (WHYCOS),
  World Weather Watch (WWW), as well as the
  Committee on Earth Observing Satellites (CEOS).
You had heard presentations on these observing activities during this forum.

A critical element in the development of climate observations, has been the work of the 5 scientific panels composed of experts from many countries. The work of these panels has resulted in practical proposals for making steady progress on systematic observations.

  Atmospheric Observations Panel for Climate is cosponsored with the World Climate Research Program (WCRP). Activities have commenced to implement a Global Surface Network (GSN) with its nearly 1000 stations and the Global Upper Air Network (GUAN) with its 150 stations, which are built on the WWW. Commitments have been made for monitoring the real-time GSN data stream by the Deutscher Wetterdeinst and the Japan Meteorological Agency and for the GUAN by the European Center for Medium Range Forecasting (ECMWF). The National Climate Data Center in the US will perform the non real-time QC and data management for both GSN and GUAN.

  Ocean Observations Panel for Climate is cosponsored with IOC and WCRP. GCOS relies on the climate module of GOOS and operational programs in oceanography, such as those under the new WMO/IOC Joint Commission on Oceanography and Marine Meteorology (JCOMM), which was approved recently by the WMO Congress and IOC Assembly. JCOMM will provide a common framework for a number of current operational observational programs and related development activities. Two recent initiatives of OOPC, the Global Ocean Data Assimilation Experiment (GODAE) and the ARGO project, offer promise for furthering operational oceanography and climate prediction.

  Terrestrial Observations Panel for Climate is cosponsored with the Global Terrestrial Observing System (GTOS) of FAO. Currently GTOS is developing several climate networks, including the Global Terrestrial Network (GTN) for Glaciers (GTN-G) and for Permafrost (GTN-P).

GCOS, GOOS and GTOS jointly sponsor two of the panels.

  Global Observing Systems Space Panel (GOSSP) is working closely with the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS) to assess the capabilities of satellites for meeting multiple observational needs. Illuminating requirements for and investigating means to integrate satellite and instu data is integral to the work of the domain panels too.

  Joint Data and Information Management Panel (JDIMP) is responsible for data management issues common to the G3OS. One project, G3OS Information Center (GOSIC), is developing a prototype data management framework, which provides a common window for accessing the databases and systems critical to the G3OS.

Over the last several years, GCOS has had extensive involvement with the Conference of Parties of the UNFCCC, on behalf of all global observing systems for climate. The GCOS report #48: 'The Adequacy of the Global Climate Observing Systems', requested by COP-3, has been an important input to COP-4.

Arising from decisions at COP-4 in Buenos Aires, GCOS is involved in four substantive items:
1. Guidance for the preparation of National Plans;
2. Intergovernmental Process to address priorities for action on observing systems
3. Funding for the participation of developing countries and for coordination
4. Implementation through regional workshops

Firstly, in decision 14, COP requested information on national plans and programmes for systematic observations as an element of national communications under the UNFCCC. Based on recommendations from its Steering Committee, the GCOS Secretariat is preparing guidance to the Parties on reporting on systematic observations. Draft Guidelines are under review by scientific panels, national representatives and will be provided to SBSTA prior to COP-5 in late October 1999.

Secondly, COP decision 14 also asked for an Intergovernmental Process, which was explored with the international agencies associated with the climate agenda earlier this year. Existing mechanisms do not focus on all aspects of the climate agenda while a one time intergovernmental meeting on systematic observations would have only limited benefit. Currently we are discussing the option of an Intergovernmental Board of perhaps some 20-30-government representatives, selected with due consideration for regional and other balanced representations. The Board would consider the policy and financial issues identified by the climate observing systems and provide guidance to the programmes on how governments might be approached to address the priority issues, including perhaps the timing and nature of larger intergovernmental fora. A Board could also address the research agenda for climate as well as systematic observations, discussed with the World Climate Research Programme.

Thirdly, funding for systematic observations is a problem for almost all nations. The recent WMO Congress agreed that the Subsidiary Body for Science and Technological Advice (SBSTA) of the COP should be informed that significant new funds are required both for the Secretariat to discharge its work load and the Members (of Congress) to be able to implement the atmospheric and hydrological components of the GCOS plan, and that a similar situation existed within the oceanographic and terrestrial domains.

Developing nations face the need for (1) training and development of their human resources, (2) observing equipment that is consistent with their level of infrastructure, and (3) ongoing funding for supplies and maintenance. The first two of these requirements may be tractable using existing mechanisms such as the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and bilateral aid programmes. Long term funding for ongoing operations is not addressed by any of the financial mechanisms.

The international co-ordination of observing systems also is under severe financial constraints and developing the necessary responses to the COP decision will require additional financial support.

Finally, let me make several comments on implementation. Although we seek to build global networks, we believe that regional or more targeted approaches will be needed to implement global systematic observations. Regional workshops could be used to inform nations about the process of national planning for systematic observations. Building on the experience of the few nations that have plans, workshops would explore the guidance prepared for systematic observations and assist the development of national communications. Specific needs of the Parties in a given region could be defined and then taken to the Intergovernmental Board and/or the funding agencies such as the GEF

The WMO Congress gave unanimous support for actions by GCOS in support of the UNFCCC. Members expressed their willingness to participate in the process of national planning for global observing systems for climate and to involve others from the oceanographic and terrestrial communities, both research and operations.

In conclusion the agenda for GCOS and its partners presents both challenges and opportunities. The tasks are daunting since we must build new mechanisms to organize, to fund, to manage and to assess our results. But we have new opportunities since climate is receiving greater public visibility and scientific and technical capabilities are improving rapidly and we can hope that the political insight and will is emerging to see that global observing capabilities are a necessary requirement to address the climate issues facing the world today.

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