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Experts Say Better Information Will Help Nations Adapt to Climate Change


About 2,500 decision makers and scientists from 150 nations are attending the third World Climate Conference, which aims to help nations cope with the worst effects of climate change. The five-day meeting, organized by the World Meteorological Organization, will draft a plan to provide nations with the accurate and timely information they need to adapt to the extreme weather conditions that are expected to occur with global warming.

Scientists warn climate change will lead to rising sea levels, more devastating floods and hurricanes, longer lasting droughts and other extreme weather phenomena. They say every economic-social sector will be affected. No one will be spared.

Until now, nations have focused almost solely on ways to mitigate climate change by reducing greenhouse gases. This is the first global conference that aims to tackle the problems that result from climate change and devise strategies to help nations adapt to these changes.

The Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization, Michel Jarraud, says the conference is working on a plan to strengthen global observation networks to improve climate predictions. But, predictions are not enough.

He says the information must be tailored to the various sectors. For example, he says the health needs that will arise from climate change are not the same as the needs of farmers.

"If you are in Africa, agriculture is mostly rain-fed," said Michel Jarraud. "So, key questions are with respect to the next rainy season. What we are doing now is organize regional climate outlook for before the rainy season. This is done in an ad hoc fashion. It is not done in a systematic way. One concrete outcome of the Conference will be to formalize, to institutionalize it so that users can rely on that information. They know it will come. They know that it will be of a certain level of quality."

Delegates here say climate change is a global problem and can only be solved globally. Wealthy countries are dependent on poorer countries to provide accurate weather information. So, it is critical to strengthen observation systems in developing countries.

The political climate at the Conference appears to have changed for the better. The United States has sent a large delegation to participate.

Sherburne Abbot is Associate Director for Environment, Science and Technology Policy at the While House. She says climate change is a major priority in the Obama Administration.

"President Obama has made it a clear commitment to revolutionize the way that we use energy, including mandatory cap and trade legislation, long-term submissions reductions goals and a commitment to renewable energy technologies," said Sherburne Abbot. "And, the President's budget for 2009 in the recovery act had the largest increase for R&D [Research and Development] that we have seen in recent years."

Mitigation will be the focus of the Copenhagen Conference at the end of the year. That is when governments will meet to hammer out an agreement on climate change to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on gas emissions.

Delegates here do not deny its importance. But, they note that mitigation and adaptation are linked and cannot be separated.

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