UN talks hope to improve climate data and aid poor

About 150 nations met in Geneva on Monday to discuss how to plug gaps in climate information to help the world cope with global warming and threats such as floods, wildfires or rising sea levels.

The August 31 to September 4 World Climate Conference aims to boost everything from weather monitoring to distributing forecasts, especially to help poor nations in areas such as health, agriculture, fisheries, transport, tourism or energy.

”There’s a major gap: how can we better link decision-making with information?” Michel Jarraud, secretary general of the World Meteorological Organisation which is a leading organiser of the talks, told a news conference.

”What we need is a formal system that all people can trust to access vital information that can save their lives and protect property and economies,” he said of the planned ”Global Framework for Climate Services” to be agreed in Geneva.

He said the conference applied both to weather alerts and to longer-term shifts in the climate. People along coasts, for instance, are sometimes not alerted about a looming cyclone.

In the longer term, shifts in monsoon rains could affect where a company decides to site a hydro-power dam. Or better understanding of ice sheets in Antarctica or Greenland could help predict sea level rise and risks of coastal floods.

”It’s not only governments, it’s the private sector, it’s individuals, it’s farmers — everyone who has to make a decision that is affected by the climate,” Jarraud said of the spinoffs of the planned ”Global Framework for Climate Services”.

The conference, with leaders from about 20 nations and ministers from 80 attending the final two days, is due to agree to set up the framework, with a task force to work out details.

Better advance warning of disasters like hurricanes has already helped cut the number of people killed in climate-related disasters to 220 000 in the decade to 2005, from 2,66-million in the decade to 1965, UN data show.

But the number of weather-related disasters rose almost tenfold and economic losses surged 50-fold in the same period, it said. Damaging wildfires, such as those in California now, are projected to become more frequent with rising temperatures.

Among people left out, farmers in the Horn of Africa were not told of a widely predicted drought in 2006, said Gro Harlem Brundtland, a special envoy for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the conference.

If they had been alerted, they could have slaughtered and sold their animals earlier, rather than see them starve to death. ”It is always the poor who are left out of the information stream,” she said.

The conference could contribute to a deal in Copenhagen in December meant to end with a new UN climate treaty.

”Geneva is essential to Copenhagen,” said Sherburne Abbott, associate director for environment at the White House.

She said improved forecasts would help around the world. ”Everybody gains because we all become less vulnerable,” she said. — Reuters

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