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The power of climate science

1 August 2013

Climate Service UK will help decision-makers manage opportunities and risks arising from climate variability and change both in the UK and abroad.

Throughout history, society has faced risks arising from natural variations in climate. Today, society faces additional challenges from human-induced climate change. However, we are now able to be more strategic in our response to climate-related risks and opportunities due to our expanding knowledge of climate science, ever-improving climate forecasts and growing understanding of how climate hazards impact society and the environment. The need for information and tools to help society navigate the challenges of a changing climate is real and urgent.

"This is a fantastic opportunity to deliver the value of the government's investment in climate science."

Every year, there is ever growing evidence of society's vulnerability to extreme weather. In 2012, for example, the UK began the year with a drought and a warm, dry first three months. This was abruptly followed by an exceptionally wet period for most of the country. 2012 eventually became the UK's second wettest year on record since 1910. There were serious consequences, especially on farming and infrastructure. There are numerous examples beyond the UK: droughts across large parts of the United States, heatwaves and wildfires in Australia, flooding in Pakistan, heatwaves in Brazil and Russia - the list is long.

Recognising that advice is needed worldwide to support decisions on managing exposure to climate variability and change, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and other United Nations agencies have created the Global Framework for Climate Services (Global Framework) with strong engagement from users, donors and service providers worldwide. The Global Framework will ensure climate information is used effectively in decision-making at the global, regional and national levels.

National frameworks to empower decision-makers

The Global Framework calls for countries to establish their own national frameworks with their national meteorological services as they are likely to be well positioned to undertake a central role. The national framework needs to identify and coordinate activities relating to the development and provision of climate information, products and services to meet national needs. Engagement needs to take place between the users of climate information; the organisations that maintain the official climate record, develop operational climate products and provide climate science inputs to climate services; and the organizations that provide authoritative, credible, usable and dependable science-based climate information and advice.

As WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud stated, "National frameworks for climate services are vital for empowering decision-makers to respond to the risks and opportunities of climate variability and change."

In the UK, the Met Office is ideally placed to deliver to this remit. "We already have strong relationships in place both nationally and internationally which we can now build on to establish devoted climate services," explained Kirstine Dale, Head of Climate Programmes for Government.

Chris Hewitt, Head of Climate Service Development at the Met Office, has been working with the WMO and other key UN Agencies since 2011 as part of the core team developing the Implementation Plan for the Global Framework. He is, therefore, well qualified to ensure that the activities of the Met Office and its partners align with, and support, international activities.

Building on strengths

Climate Service UK

The UK has developed close interactions between research councils, universities, the Met Office, stakeholders and end users both at home and overseas. The UK has world-class capabilities that will allow it to take a leading role in developing and delivering climate services. The Met Office already provides services at the national scale (for the UK and for other nations) as well as regionally and globally based on strong collaborations. It will develop these further, particularly to draw on multidisciplinary expertise to support decision-makers.

The Met Office, particularly through the Met Office Hadley Centre, and other climate centres, is constantly expanding the observations and monitoring of past and current climatic conditions, making advances in forecasting the regional climate and climatic extremes for the coming seasons, and improving the understanding of climate change.

"The power of climate science is realised through the decisions it supports," explains Kirstine. "Major developments in the underpinning scientific capability are exciting but the real power of the science in the decisions it supports."

Into the public eye

An event to showcase Climate Service UK as the Met Office's response to the Global Framework took place on 3 June at the Institute of Physics in London. Over 100 leading figures from UK government, academia and business attended the event. UK Secretary of State for the Department of Energy and Climate Change Edward Davey and WMO Deputy Secretary-General Jerry Lengoasa presented keynote speeches. The Met Office is taking a lead in showing how science can be drawn on to deliver real value both nationally and internationally. "This is a fantastic opportunity to deliver the value of the government's investment in climate science," said Kirstine Dale.

Climate Service UK creates the necessary framework for providing support and advice for managing climate-related risks and opportunities. It will draw together the necessary expertise to meet the needs of society and its decision-makers, both in the UK and overseas. By working with users to understand their vulnerability to weather and climate, it will support timely, far-sighted and well-informed decisions to address the risks and opportunities posed by a changing climate. Through Climate Service UK, the Met Office will promote sustainable growth in the face of extreme weather and climate challenges, meet international capacity-development objectives, and provide a framework for ensuring that public investment in climate science can be used to maximum effect.

Climate Service UK is the next stage in ongoing developments at the Met Office and in the UK. The Met Office Hadley Centre Climate Programme, funded by the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), was launched on 20 June 2012. It has enabled the Met Office to take a leading role in delivering the national climate capability. This is the core science used to help Government to make decisions to advance the UK toward becoming more resilient to climate variability and change. Just one year on, the Climate Service UK shows how that science is being used to deliver real value.

Risk and opportunities

Secretary of State Davey is confident that Climate Service UK will make the most of world-leading climate knowledge here in the UK and further afield. "Climate Service UK builds on a foundation of world-leading science," he said, "and I'm sure will become an essential framework for advising on the risks and opportunities of a changing climate."

Those two words, "risks" and "opportunities," demonstrate how wide-ranging the service is. Climate Service UK does not just provide advice about the risks that can arise from variations in the climate, it also enables opportunities for growth and development. A growing number of countries are utilizing the expertise at the Met Office to help them understand climate variability and change and assess their risks and opportunities. Climate Service UK, along with key collaborators and partners at the national, regional and global levels, will contribute to the successful implementation of the Global Framework.

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