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  • Guest Editor collection: 5 Dec 2014 Filipe Domingos Freires Lúcio
    Global Framework for Climate Services

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Filipe Domingos Freires LúcioDirector Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS)

Reducing disaster risk through climate services

Advances in climate science make it increasingly possible to generate seasonal and other medium-term predictions about climate variability. Knowing that a few months from now the climate will probably be wetter or drier than usual, or hotter or colder, allows decision-makers to prepare more effectively for the most likely disaster risks. At the same time, scientists can now better assess the vulnerabilities and risks facing a particular region over the coming decades as a result of greenhouse-gas-induced climate change.

Storm Islands

These longer term scenarios can be used to minimize disaster risks through better informed urban planning, infrastructure investment, and development policies. This session will explore specific ways that climate services can provide cross-cutting information and predictions to reduce disaster risk.


Every year, natural hazards cause significant loss of life and erode gains in economic development. Nine in ten of the most commonly reported disasters are directly or indirectly related to weather or climate. Vulnerability to disasters is increasing as more people inhabit high-risk areas. Since 1970, the world’s population has grown by 87%. At the same time, the proportion of people living in flood-prone river basins increased by 114% and on cyclone-exposed coastlines by 192%. Rapid urbanization and the growth of megacities will increase exposure to natural hazards. Climate change is expected to increase the frequency and intensity of the most severe weather-related hazards in the decades to come.

Both short-term weather forecasts and seasonal climate forecasts delivered through weather and climate services can be used to build reliable risk scenarios and, in turn, to strengthen disaster preparedness. Warnings of fast-onset hazards make it possible to prepare for an early response, including by pre-positioning stockpiles of medicines, food, water, emergency shelters and body bags; dispatching skilled personnel for rescue operations and for providing medical, communications, engineering and nutrition services; and accessing contingency funding.

Seasonal forecasts can also support preparedness efforts such as training volunteers, mobilizing community disaster-response teams, planning the logistics. Seasonal forecasts can also be used to secure emergency funding. At the community level, longer-term preparedness includes the development of community preparedness plans and related infrastructure, e.g. shelters and raised mounds for flood evacuation, as well as measures such as carrying out other community disaster preparedness activities and micro-mitigation projects.

Seasonal forecasts have been proven invaluable for contingency planning, which are plans to address and respond to specific events or scenarios for different hazards and settings and at various scales, such as citywide flooding or agricultural drought. Similarly, seasonal forecasts enable transboundary coordination to manage water resources in countries sharing rivers in order to reduce downstream impacts.

Based on the information and predictions provided by national and international climate services, countries can develop risk-management strategies using early warning systems to reduce casualties; medium and long-term sectoral planning (such as land zoning, infrastructure development, water resource management, and agricultural planning) to reduce economic losses and build livelihood resilience; and weather-indexed insurance and risk-financing mechanisms to transfer the financial impact of disasters.

Scientific progress

Traditional weather reports offer valuable tactical information, but climate information can be used to guide strategies and long-term plans for building climate resilience and reducing disaster risks. Fortunately, climate information and prediction is becoming ever more reliable due to advances in weather and climate science.

Forecasters and researchers are using improved observations and computing power to study and predict natural cycles and broader patterns in the climate system. As a result, they are increasingly able to provide useful seasonal climate predictions. For example, they can predict the probability that the next season will be hotter or wetter than usual. Just as today’s five-day weather forecast is as reliable as the two-day forecast of 20 years ago, climate predictions for the next El Niño, monsoon or growing season are becoming increasingly accurate and useful.

Climate science can help countries to reduce the risks of disasters caused by climate variability through integrated assessments of vulnerabilities, potential impacts, and early warning systems. It can provide predictions and advice on climate fluctuations that will affect food security, public health, water resources, and other climate-sensitive sectors. The benefits of an informed response to climate variability are huge: they include lives saved, livelihoods protected, and property secured.

In addition to greater knowledge about natural climate variability, scientists have made enormous progress in understanding greenhouse-gas-induced climate change. They are able to produce scenarios of future climate change and assess the vulnerabilities and likely impacts of specific regions. This knowledge is invaluable for longer term planning and action. By integrating long-term climate projections directly into impact assessments, it is possible to estimate the risk that future storms will cause power outages (for example, by combining data on climate conditions with data on an area’s tree types), one can assess how a long-term trend towards more droughts or floods will affect energy resources and infrastructure requirements. This knowledge can be used to take action on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, for example by rationalizing energy consumption through the optimal timing of renewables production and allocating resources more precisely for agriculture, construction and transport.

Using climate services

To ensure that improved climate knowledge can be acted upon, it is vital to understand how people use and apply weather and climate information and predictions. Climate service providers are gaining valuable insights into how to develop and offer customized information for a wide range of users. They are building partnerships with decision-makers and communities to identify needs for climate knowledge, tailor information for specific sectors, and provide targeted assessments of climate impacts and risks. They are studying the technical and professional language of climate service users in order to develop and communicate data, charts and results in a way that these users can understand and act on. Each user has specific needs for particular types of climate knowledge and the frequency and format with which it is delivered.

Conclusion and view points

Climate services can make a major contribution to the goals of the Post-Hyogo Framework to be adopted in Sendai in March 2015. These services can help to reduce the disaster risks resulting from today’s climate variability, but they can also help to boost long-term climate resilience and develop disaster risk reduction strategies in the face of greenhouse-gas-induced climate change.

As sea-levels continue to rise in many parts of the world, communities and infrastructure will become increasingly more vulnerable to storms and sea surges. Typhoon Haiyan that struck The Philippines last year, for example, caused much more damage than it would have a few decades ago because sea-levels in that region have risen by some 60 cm, much higher than the global average.

Many regions face an increasing risk of disasters caused by droughts. Knowing this, policymakers can use climate information and predictions to take actions today to improve water-resource management, assist farmers to shift to more drought-resistant crops, and guide emerging settlement patterns.

Similarly, predictions delivered by climate services of increased rainfall and flooding, or of worsening heatwaves, can be used to reduce disaster risks by adapting urban planning, infrastructure investments, health planning, and food security strategies to anticipate future needs.

Just as the climate community must learn more about the climate information and predictions that are needed by decision-makers in diverse fields, decision-makers in all climate-sensitive sectors need to learn more about how climate science and climate prediction work. We must break down the silos we are used to working within and build multidisciplinary partnerships if we are to succeed in further reducing disaster risk in the future.

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