WMO: Decision Processes Must Consider Climate Change

The impacts of climate change on water resources -- reduced water availability, a deterioration in water quality, increased runoff, and an increase in groundwater salinity as a result of sea-level rise -- will affect agriculture, energy, tourism, and health. "Mainstreaming climate change in decision-making processes will therefore be central to all development and poverty alleviation efforts," said Michel Jarraud, secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization. Jarraud addressed the 13th World Water Congress in early September in Montpellier, France.

He recalled that six of the eight Millennium Development Goals relate to water resources management. Furthermore, the anticipated increase in climate variability due to climate change is likely to result in severe floods, droughts, and cyclones, thereby having an adverse effect on the global efforts being made to meet these goals by 2015. Accordingly, "… adaptation efforts will have to encompass the current and anticipated climate variability."

There is a need to update land and water resources development strategies and economic planning through integrated management of water resources, floods, and watersheds. In view of competing demands and the need for inter-sectoral planning, water resources managers require accurate and reliable climate information, which is not always readily available at present.

Therefore, WMO has launched an appeal for funding to set up hydrological information systems that can provide timely, accurate, and comprehensive water resources information. The capacities of developing countries must be strengthened in this area. Jarraud said that there was a growing need for the wider international exchange of hydrological data and products.

Among the many challenges to be met, Jarraud referred to the problem of access to water by society, which has increasing demands. Water resources will be affected by the decrease in groundwater, particularly in rural areas, on small islands, and in regions that depend on water from snowmelt and glaciers, which represent one sixth of the world population. Drinking-water intakes in many cities may be adversely affected by lower low flows or sea-level rise. Mortality rates for waterborne diseases, such as cholera or malaria, will increase in the wettest and driest scenarios.

Because of precipitation variability, there is a need to develop and optimize the use of irrigation in food production. At the local level, the use of irrigation in agriculture may, however, present additional challenges linked to variations in spatial and temporal streamflow distribution. The economic and social pressures envisaged for the coming decades may further increase the competition for water resources between food production and other agricultural sectors, including biofuel production. Hydroelectricity, a renewable energy source, will be increasingly affected by changes in river discharge.

To address the needs of decision-makers, WMO has taken action to promote the provision of climate information. This action should help develop adaptation strategies for various sectors at the national and regional levels and ensure that these strategies are reflected in national development plans.

The World Climate Conference-3, which will be held Aug. 31 to Sept. 4, 2009 in Geneva, will focus on climate prediction and information for decision-making. This conference should lead to concrete results in terms of improved inter-sectoral coordination, progress in the field of climate prediction and in social and economic fields, in particular for natural disaster prevention.

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