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Scrutinising Climate Services

Some of the delegates attending the Caribbean Meteorological Council's 50th Session Board of Governor's meeting.

Meteorology experts and government officials from across the Caribbean region met in Cayman for the 50th session of the Caribbean Meteorological Council.

The programme began Thursday 18 November, launched by a meeting of the Board of Governors. Events continued through Tuesday 23 November, with the official opening taking place the previous day.

One topic high on the agenda addressed how Caribbean experts might assist regional governments with plans and policies designed to minimize economic fallout from the likely impact of climate change and variability.

Climate change refers to long-term atmospheric changes attributed to greenhouse gas emissions which cause the earth's atmosphere to retain heat. In contrast, climate variability refers to short-term fluctuations in climate patterns.

Scientists believe that the effects of this variability are sometimes worsened by human activities such as deforestation and pollution.

Interviewed prior to the CMC50 meetings, Coordinating Director of the Caribbean Meteorological Organisation (CMO) Tyrone Sutherland explained that experts would specifically look at how Caribbean meteorological organizations can provide appropriate and media-friendly climate prediction services to both governments and the public.

He added that while scientists around the world still debated the effects of climate change on the frequency and intensity of storms, there was regional consensus that climate change and variability had already changed rainfall patterns, increasing flood and drought conditions across the Caribbean.

"Meteorological services must become an integral part of our strategic planning because ignoring the effects of climate change could have dire economic consequences," he said.

From that perspective, he explained that the first day of the 50th session would be spent scrutinising the operations of the Caribbean Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology in Barbados and how that body might train regional professionals to deliver climate services.

Mr. Sutherland, who is also 2nd vice president of the World Meteorological Organisation, further advised that the WMO's Secretary-General, Michel Jarraud would attend Monday's official opening to share how the Caribbean can be part of a global framework for climate services.

And such a framework is necessary; data gathered by the Mainstreaming Adaptation to Climate Change Project (a UK-funded programme) indicates that surface temperatures in the Arctic have increased by 5 degrees Celsius, causing global sea levels to rise 20 to 30 cm in the 20th century.

Expanding on this, Cayman's National Weather Service Director General, Fred Sambula noted that a group of scientists that recently visited as part of a UK Overseas Territories climate change assessment team, concluded that surface temperatures in the Caribbean are also rising.

"They further noted that rainfall frequency is declining and patterns changing; this means heavier rainfall over shorter periods of time, causing more flooding," he said.

Mr. Sambula also noted that the potential effects of climate change and variability cut across sectors to include areas such as agriculture, health, education, tourism, and construction.

"Warmer temperatures inevitably mean increased energy costs and similarly, a lack of moderate rainfall may affect water resources, and increased flooding may cause more water- and mosquito-borne illnesses, impacting the health sector and requiring additional resources," Mr. Sambula added.

In the agricultural sector, temperature changes and possible seasonal shifts might lead to changes in planting and harvesting and even crop viability.

Pointing to the fact that many small island states have economies based on tourism, he emphasised that they would not be spared the ravages of climate change: "Rising sea levels and heavier storm surges may damage beaches, for example, combined with other effects such as coral bleaching. Warmer temperatures may also affect the comfort level of visitors, leading to an expanded demand for investment in this sector."

He explained that the shift towards climate services represents an effort to assist governments to improve governance through scientific data that will support forward planning and sustainable national development.

"When we look at the potential fallout, meteorologists must move from merely giving short-term weather forecasts, to researching and predicting future climate impacts. We must help governments stay ahead of the game," Mr. Sambula concluded.

(GIS)

For further information contact: Prudence Barnes