More than 1,000 decision makers and scientists, including dozens of heads of state and ministers from more than 150 countries are expected to attend the Third World Climate Conference, which opens in Geneva on Monday. The week-long meeting, organized by the World Meteorological Organization, aims to help nations cope with climate change by improving the way climate information is collected and shared among governments.
Scientists predict the world will get hotter over the coming decades. A major conference in Copenhagen at the end of the year will focus on ways to mitigate the worst affects of global warming. It will present measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to slow this process.
But, the World Meteorological Organization says mitigation alone is not enough. Largely overlooked in this process is the need for adaptation. WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud says countries must have the tools to adapt to a changing climate. They must be able to respond to a world that is likely to experience more extreme weather events, such as floods and hurricanes.
"For the health sector, it will be to be ready to cope with a disease, which will spread in areas where they do not spread or which may become more serious," he said. "Like malaria will spread to areas which are not affected right now."
Jarraud notes farmers in certain parts of the world will have to adapt to a dryer climate. He says they might have to modify irrigation systems or consider growing crops that do not require much rain.
He says global warming is likely to increase the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events. Therefore, better and more timely information on these phenomena are essential to make decisions on climate variability and change. To do this, he says, weather observation networks must be strengthened.
"Let me give you probably one of the weakest links in that-hydrological networks in Africa are totally insufficient," said Jarraud. "Many water basins are managed without any information on precipitation, run-off, amount of water at the ground water table. So, we need to strengthen that foundation."
The WMO chief says climate change is a global problem. And, everyone needs everyone else to solve this problem. He says even the biggest, richest countries cannot do it alone. He says the developed world needs reliable weather information from developing countries and vice-versa.
"If you think about hurricanes in the Caribbean, hurricanes start their lives as waves, what we call easterly waves over Western Africa," he added. "So, to improve the quality of hurricanes over the U.S.A. five days in advance, you need to get better information over Africa. So, you see, everything is linked. The climate is a global problem."
Jarraud says the Conference will draft an action plan to better manage climate-related risks. He says access to user-friendly climate predictions and information is essential to respond to climate change.