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Climate data matters

  • Published at 06:04 pm February 18th, 2019
Gobeshona Conference_2019_2
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Integrating climate information into decision-making process

Better understanding on Climate Services 

Climate change science has witnessed incredible progress in recent times. Climate services offer science-based information and forecasts that empower decision-makers to manage the risks associated with climate variability and climate change and to discover opportunities. 

While the generation of climate information and forecasts is growing rapidly by climate scientists, many developing countries in the world still lack the capacity in the form of data, technology, knowledge and expertise they need for their people to benefit from using that climate information. 

The International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) at Columbia University defines the climate services with four pillars which are Production, Translation, Dissemination and Use. 

When generating climate information, it’s important to first identify the need for the information. After generation, climate information needs to be translated by analyzing the data for the user group such as agriculture, public health, disaster, natural resource management or other relevant sectors. 

After climate information has been translated, it comes to the point to transfer the information, which can be through different formats or media. The transferred climate information then needs to be used in various operational decision-making processes, policies or plans. However, if there is no institutional buy-in, the impact of climate services would be very negligible.

Uncertainties and challenges with Climate Services 

In reality, there are gaps in the use of climate information from decision making at different levels. The first challenge is the quality and availability of climate data, as climate data is the foundation for climate services. Even if the data is available, limited access, understanding and use of the available data makes the process difficult. 

A gap also remains in integrating climate into policy and practice level. There are lots of uncertainties associated with climate change and its impacts, and other socio-economic factors, and adaptation can be characterized as decision-making under uncertainties. 

As we all know that with the climate change and variability, the function and services of a system, the outcome and effectiveness of an activity and policy decision, or the longevity of an infrastructure would be compromised. So, the providers of climate services need to consult with users to determine what kind of information they need, when and how often, and in what format. They then deliver the information and assist their clients to interpret and apply it.

Temperature, rainfall, solar radiation, evaporation, sea level, wind, pressure, humidity, sea surface temperature are the common climate variables used for climate impact and risk assessment. All these climate variables have several impacts on various agriculture, water resources, human health, infrastructure, forest and biodiversity, disaster and in many more sectors. 

Adapting to climate change requires long term capacity building and planning, but information at shorter timescales is also crucial for decision-making under uncertainty. Climate services is needed to identify constraints, risks, tolerance to uncertainty, and temporal components of climate information and decision-making processes, as decision makers working in climate sensitive sectors requires better information to act quickly.

The Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar is a hilly area facing rapid deforestation with biodiversity loss and crammed dwelling conditions. The area is extremely vulnerable to potential landslides and flooding. During the rainy season, water quality and sanitation are major issues, since a lot of latrines are not respecting international standards and there is a high risk of latrines contaminating tube wells. The shelters are made of plastic and bamboo, and hence they are not resistant to strong rainfall and winds. 

It is very challenging to disseminate information to a mass population within a short period of time. There are a lot of people who are sending climate data to the organizations working there, and sometimes when it is out of context, it is not necessarily useful. It can be confusing and potentially harmful if it is not used in the right way. So, there is huge concern from the organizations in the camps about the availability of good quality data and how to link the data to specific decisions.

When the work is mostly dependent on climate sensitive ecosystems, the rapid transmission of critical information is necessary. Hence the timescale of climate information is an important issue to consider when it comes to decision making. Bangladesh Academy for Climate Services (BACS) to bridge the gap between climate information producers and users 

To meet this demand and bridge this gap between climate scientists and decision makers, Bangladesh Meteorological Department (BMD) together with the International Center for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD), the International Wheat and Maize Improvement Center (CIMMYT), and the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) at Columbia University have jointly founded a climate services academy.

The academy was presented and discussed in the 4th symposium called “Gobeshona” in Bangladesh held during January 2018. Since then, this academy has become a dynamic, participatory platform to centralize and coordinate efforts on climate services, that brings together multiple actors and sectors, with various levels of knowledge on climate information in the form of design workshops and training dialogues. The intention of the academy is to link data providers and data users, and make the information more accessible, clearer and informing people about what is relevant in their field, for a wide variety of people those are outside of the science community. 

Tasfia Tasnim works at ICCCAD. Her working majors are climate finance, livelihood resilience and natural resource management connected to socio-cultural dynamics.